This Old Rugged Cross

“So I’ll cherish the
old rugged cross,
Till my trophies
at last I lay down.”

My mom, Beatrice C. Sparks, known to most as just “Bee” died 3 months ago this Saturday just passed. Sunday would have been her 90th birthday.

I remember, before Dad died, Mom often wearing a silver cross on a slim silver chain. Mom worked as the Dining Room supervisor at Camp Mihaska, and was a “Lunch Lady” at Clayton High School for more than 20 years. She was fond of white polyester “smocks,” as she called them, and I clearly remember her cross hanging from her neck as she leaned over to wipe down another table, swap out another pan of food, or pick up another dustpan of mess from the floor. It was a lot shiner back then.

Sometime after Dad died, Mom gave me her cross. I remember her telling me she wanted me to wear it so I would remember that Jesus died on the cross for me, and that I would see my dad one day in Heaven. I wore my mom’s cross regularly, almost daily, for a number of years, as the reminder she wanted it to be.

I actually believed that bit about seeing my dad in Heaven until I was about 18-19 years old, when the doubt (and reality) started to sink in. By the time I was 20, I had no place in my life for a cross on a chain, even if it did once belong to my mother.

A few more years passed, and with time came experiences, and experience. Some better than others. I think I really got in touch with my Irish Temper from age 20-24, and at some point I came to the personal realization that I needed to chill out, and to make the challenge of being a better man a part of daily life. Somewhere in there Mom’s cross came back out of the jewelry box and made it back around my neck. This time, Jesus and Heaven had no part in my decision to wear the cross. Years later, when I was 28, I met my wife-to-be, and once she asked “Well, if you don’t believe in God, Heaven, and Hell, why do you wear a cross around your neck?” My answer, “It’s my reminder from my mom to be good. To try to be the good guy.”

As time moved relentlessly forward, new experiences and adventures with my wife and daughter gave me a variety of new neck wear, and I started swapping out necklaces for mood and occasion. Somewhere along the line, the slim silver chain holding Mom’s cross, now dark and tarnished like the cross itself, broke. The chain disappeared, while the cross went into a jewelry box to be temporarily forgotten.

A couple of weeks ago my new HOG (Harley Owner’s Group) membership packet arrived in the mail, with a brand new 2019 HOG pin. Every time I get a new pin, I can’t find the whole collection (because I haven’t pinned them to my vest, yet) which results in a time of panic trying to find my important jewelry, pins, mementos, etc. This time was no exception. But, this time, we decided to go through all of the jewelry boxes and re-familiarize ourselves with the contents, and hopefully find my stray HOG pins. We found the HOG pins, and Mom’s old, worn, and tarnished cross, without a chain.

My favorite silver chain is one I got with a gift card from my mother-in-law almost 10 years ago now. Two Christmases ago my daughter gave me an awesome dog-tag key chain, which I decided to make a neck pendant rather than a key chain. When I found Mom’s cross, I added it to my chain along with my “daddy dog-tag.”

Now, I wear Mom’s cross every day, not to remember Jesus, not to remember to be good, but to remember my mom. When I think of Mom, I’m still having difficulty thinking of good times through years long passed. My mind and heart still wants to think about the last weeks, months, and year of Mom’s life, and not the good parts. When I straighten out the cross around my neck, or I see it in the mirror brushing my teeth, I think of Mom, and just Mom. I think of Mom, young, happy, and surrounded by people she loved, doing a job she loved. I remember Mom loving me, trying to give me a happy life, and trying to keep me on the “good path.”

I don’t have many tangibles from my mom. An afghan that’s extra warm and comfy. A Christmas tree skirt my wife made for her many years ago.

And, this old, rugged, cross, that I will cherish till my trophies at last I lay down.

2 thoughts

  1. Beautifully written Jim… I wear a silver puzzle piece on a chain to remember my dad. I’m sorry for your loss and hope that one day it will be easier. But truth be told, I’m 5 years in and there’s still a piece missing from my heart.


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