Eulogy for Betty Jean Morton
By Marnie L. Marcus
Audio version: Eulogy for Betty Morton
My mother, Betty Jean Morton was born Betty Jean White on February 10, 1933 in Chattanooga, TN. She was the first child of five born to Thelma Brown White and Eugene R. White. They lived in Athens, Tennessee at the time. This was a long trip by car back in those days and Betty was delivered by C-section with no anesthesia for her mother.
Mama graduated from Pekin High School in Pekin, Illinois. She has always been very intelligent and has been quite savvy with technology. After graduation she worked for an architect, lawyers, at TVA and assisted my dad in his dental office. She sang in the acapella choir in high school and loved to read. In her younger years she read serious works like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and Ayn Rand. I remember her telling me she read “War and Peace” and loved the “Fountainhead.”
Growing up, one of the visuals I have of Mama is her lying on her bed with her ankles crossed and an Agatha Christie paperback in her hand. She spent hours reading. I believe she read every Agatha Christie mystery multiple times. In her later years, she was an MC Beaten fan. She loved British Comedies and British Mysteries.
The Quintessential Southern Lady
Mama was always classy and refined. The quintessential southern lady, and always dressed stylishly and had her makeup on. The last time I saw her in the rehab center, she asked me for her purse so she could put on her eyebrows and lipstick. I had been in a rush that morning to take my boys to school and get up to Soddy-Daisy, I hadn’t even remembered to run a comb through my hair, much less put on makeup. I told her, “Mama, you have more makeup on than me. I completely forgot it.”
Music always filled our home. Mama had me taking piano lessons at five, and she was always playing music. Music was something she and Daddy particularly shared in their later years. They often went to community concerts with Hayden and Ianna Poe.
I remember Mama taking Thad and me to the Red Bank pool for swimming lessons in the summer. We’d swim for hours, and then she’d buy us a hotdog and a sprite from the hot dog stand. Those always tasted so heavenly after we’d worked up an appetite. After we got home, it usually seemed to thunderstorm in Daisy on summer afternoons. She’d put on her Johnny Mathis or some Percy Faith and we’d take an afternoon nap in the thunderstorm.
Keen Sense of Observation that Bordered on Psychic
Lisa and Karen tell a story of when they were little and they lived in Brainerd. They had come home from school on a winter day and had gone down to a cul-de-sac near where they lived. There was a puddle there that was iced over, and Lisa pretended to be ice skating on it. When they got home, Mama said, “Now y’all better not have been sliding on any ice out there.”
When Mama left the room, Lisa looked at Karen and said, “She’s a witch.” To this day, neither of them knows how Mama was aware of the fact that Lisa had been sliding on the ice. The cul-de-sac wasn’t anywhere they normally drove, and Mama couldn’t have seen them from any window.
While Lisa might have thought Mama was a witch, Karen always referred to her as The Burning Bush – so let it be written, so let it be done. If Mama said something was going to happen, it happened. Once she’d promised them ice-cream but her VW bug broke down on the way home with groceries. She managed to get them home with the groceries and then took them back out for ice-cream. If she promised it, it would happen.
Mama had a sixth sense about things, and it went really well with her giving nature. I remember one time when I was a young married mother with two children. I had been doing some laundry in our Ooltewah home, and realized I was out of fabric softener. Within an hour or so, who appeared at my door? Mama, bringing in a new bottle of fabric softener.
Mama would give you her last $20 bill. And she always paid you whatever she owed you down to the penny. She knew how to give, but she had trouble receiving. She wouldn’t let you give her anything without putting up a big fuss.
When my older three children were little, my husband and I were struggling financially and Mama bought my children’s clothes. She kept them well dressed. It seemed like every time she came over she brought some clothes for the kids or some grocery item for me. And every time she came, she helped me clean or do laundry. She loved to do laundry and iron. She had Lisa and Karen ironing pillow cases when they were little. She joked that she hoped when she went to heaven they’d let her work in the laundry.
At Christmas, she always wanted things to be fair – or at least look fair. Even if they really weren’t. She bought almost all of my kids’ Christmas for several years. She would only put hers and daddy’s names on a couple gifts – the same number as what she’d given other grandchildren. And then she’d put Santa or even my name on the other gifts so it looked like the gifts were not all coming from her.
Mama had a work ethic that would not stop. Last summer, when their riding lawn mower broke, Mama weed eated her entire front lawn herself. She did it in little bits and pieces of time. And it looked immaculate. Not bad for an 83-year-old.
She taught her children to work, and being a hard worker covered a lot of other ills in her mind. Didn’t much matter what else a person did, if they were a hard worker and cared about other people, they were okay in Mama’s book. She wasn’t one to judge, but being lazy was not something she admired.
Her father taught her how to work, and she often lamented in her later years that she made her children work too much. But I really don’t think any one of us would agree with that. Yes, we had to work, but that work ethic has served us well and has passed down to our own children.
I remember Mama teaching me how to vacuum. She’d let me do it for a minute or two and then she’d stop me and say, “Let me show you.” Then she’d have me stand there and watch her do the job. You didn’t dare walk away. You were expected to watch and learn the proper way to do a task. To this day, I can’t stand by while other people are working, and I not be doing something myself.
About 8-10 years ago, I went to one of the Days of Service the church held in downtown Chattanooga. We were cleaning up yards in a rundown neighborhood. When everyone piled out of the cars and into the yard of this particularly disheveled home, everyone stood there, a bit overwhelmed about how to begin. It was bad.
I assessed the situation and started assigning people to do what I saw needed to be done. Later, the son of the woman who lived there asked if I was in charge. I said I wasn’t. He said, “Oh, I thought you were since you seemed to know what you were doing.”
I think this was the first time I realized how valuable my mother’s instruction had been growing up. I instinctively knew how to take an overwhelming task, break into pieces and get it done. Mama taught me that. When I got home, I called her and thanked her because I knew that was from her.
Mama had a keen sense of discernment. It sliced through error and left only clarity and truth. My dad said she could size up a political candidate faster than he could. And anybody who knows Daddy, knows how sharp he is in that regard.
I remember in my youth, times when she warned my dad not to do business with certain people. Sure enough, those were the people who took advantage of his easy going nature and trust. Mama never got it wrong.
Not only did she discern the evil, but she saw the good. She saw the good in her children and cheered us on. My sister Karen once gave Mama a jewelry box that played, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” Mama was the wind beneath all our wings. And the words are so fitting:
Did you ever know that you’re my hero,
And everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
For you are the wind beneath my wings.
It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
But I’ve got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it.
I would be nothing without you.
Mama carried within her heart a great love of family history. She did mounds and mounds of family history and documented it thoroughly. She not only did her own family history, she also did daddy’s and Chris’ and Glenn’s. She loved the temple and she saw that temple work was done for more people than I could possibly count.
The departed were not simply names on a pedigree chart to Mama. They were real people with stories. She knew all the family history stories of her family and my dad’s family. I often went to her when I was writing my historical fiction novels because she was such a treasure trove. Her mind was sharp and she remembered details.
Here’s another example of how her sixth sense went to work in combination with her other gifts. When I was writing An Uncertain Justice, which was about my 2nd great grandfather’s murder that occurred during the same period as my paternal grandparents met and married, I was digging into a lot of family history. My dad had mentioned to me that he was at the family history library working with Mama when he found some record of a grandfather on his Springfield line who had fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War and was a deserter at Shiloh.
Since the novel I was writing was about how the Morton’s and the Springfields came together through the union of Sherman Morton and Edna Springfield, and since the Morton’s where Union veterans, I crafted this fun scene. It was about how the Union and Confederate backgrounds would clash alongside some of the other contrasts of these two families. I wrote a scene which I was very proud of. It was rather comical, and I had no intention of ever cutting it from the book.
I told no one about this scene. Not a soul. The same week I’d written it, I went to a Church Stake Conference and Mama sat down next to me and handed me a purple 3-pronged folder and said, “Here, you might need this.” I opened it up and there inside were the enlistment papers of this Springfield grandfather in the Union Army alongside his honorable discharge papers.
It was as if this grandfather had been reading my manuscript over my shoulder and said, “You do not make me a Confederate, and you do NOT make me a deserter.” Mama was so in tune, she rounded up those papers for him and delivered them into my hands.
Mama wrote recently,
“I am very old and in spite of wars and trouble (we are never going to be free of trouble) it was a good life and good people.
I’d like my grandchildren and gg children to know life in the past wasn’t all bad. I’ve had an interesting and exciting life at times. I lived in Germany 8 years after WW2 and saw places that weren’t free, saw burned out buildings from the war still there.”
Mama and Daddy both shared a love for freedom. She was a strong advocate of the US Constitution and was very vocal in her sphere of influence. She loved her country, and she was always concerned that her children and grandchildren live in freedom.
Probably what stands out most about Mama was her faith. She joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints back in 1970 along with my two older sisters, Lisa and Karen. Mama was the first in our immediate family to join the Church and we all owe our faith to her. She rarely ever missed a Sunday. She often said if she felt a little bad, she’d go anyway because by the time church was over, she’d be feeling good again.
Mama loved Relief Society and served in many capacities including Relief Society President, Meetinghouse Librarian and Family History Consultant. Back in the old days she made fudge with the Relief Society sisters, and they’d sell it as a fund raiser. She’d drive her old VW bug up to Knoxville for church meetings, even though the thing would break down on the way almost every time.
Mama had an amazing understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. She taught me the mysteries of God and we shared many long conversations about life, and faith. She was my sounding board and my confidant. Mama exposed me to good books. I used to love to rummage through her bookshelf and find gospel treasures.
I remember her praying with us each morning before school. She’d listen to Luther on the radio, turn it down for a minute, say a prayer over our orange juice, toast and eggs and then turn Luther back up. If I had a test that day, she’d say, “Say a little prayer.” In fact, before anything I was anxious about Mama would tell me to, “Say a little prayer.” That advice has served me well throughout my life. I did not doubt that Mama knew that prayer worked.
If any one of her family, friends, children or grandchildren were struggling in any shape or form, Mama would put their names on the temple prayer rolls.
Throughout everything I have done in my life, my mother has been my cheerleader, my greatest fan. I believe there is nothing more priceless in life than to have someone who believes in you, who will acknowledge the heavy burdens you carry, show sympathy, but have the faith that somehow, someway you’re going to pull through.
Mama was a person I knew I could go to and ask her to pray for me. I knew her mother’s love would cut through the clouds like a beacon of light and call down the blessings of heaven upon my head. I am so blessed to have had a mother who let me know in a million ways that I am loved, that I matter to her and that I matter to God.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I feel and know that the same goes for mothers. Height, nor depth, nor any creature can separate me from my mother’s love. It is pure and holy, timeless and eternal as the love of my Savior. Her love IS my Savior’s love.
Nothing could ever restrain Mama’s love for us or her tender loving care. She has always been our angel mother, and she will ever be… now with more power and glory and even more access to the Savior’s grace.
I feel her near. She is with me in my thoughts. She is forever in my heart. Forever in my soul.
I am overcome with joy that she is in a beautiful place, in the arms of her Savior, her Heavenly Father, who she adored and served ever faithfully. I’m sure she has been greeted by throngs of loved ones and ancestors.
Not many people on this earth are blessed to have the kind of love we have enjoyed from our mother, grandmother and friend. Our hearts break now because it feels we have lost a huge piece of ourselves. She was so much a fabric of the foundation of our lives. But I know she is not lost to us. She will never be forgotten, and she is ever with us. She’s in heaven, preparing a place for us with Granny and Papaw White and Sherman and Edna, Aunt Thadda, and her old lunch bunch friends like Katie and Al Adamz and Marvin and Sarah May.
We teach in this church that families are forever. But Christ-like friends are forever too. Joseph Smith taught that the same sociality that exists here will exist with us there.
Mama left this earth on the afternoon of March 15, 2017, in her own home, in her own bed, and was greeted by a heavenly throng of family, friends, and ancestors who honored and cheered for her as she met her Savior.
Mama can say as the Apostle Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8
May we all remain faithful and join her in those eternal realms of glory, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.