Almost anyone who knows me well knows the name Mabel Beach. I’m sure her name came up in conversations along the way. In fact, I’ve written about her in church newsletters I edited in my congregations in Virginia, Vermont, and New York.

For the longest time, I couldn’t bring myself to call her “Mabel.” When I was a junior high school kid in church, she was Mrs. Beach. As the mother of my friend Janet, she was Mrs. Beach. As the co-proprietor (with her husband) of Beach’s Bike Shop around the corner from my childhood house, she was Mrs. Beach.  When I wrote her from college and seminary to thank her for her supportive letters and occasional checks (“I hope you’ll accept this check for $10 and buy yourself a nice steak dinner,” she would write —  in the early 1960s when steak dinners could be enjoyed for $10), well, she was Mrs. Beach.

I’m not sure when it was, but years later when I had reached my own mature (everything’s relative) adulthood, I finally brought myself to call her Mabel. But it wasn’t easy.

She was so proud that in a two-year period (1969 -70) three of us from the Union Presbyterian Church youth group were ordained to the ministry. (One was her daughter Janet, who called her neither Mrs. Beach nor Mabel.)  Through the academic challenges of college and seminary, it was Mrs. Beach who remained most steadfast in my corner, with her encouraging notes and supportive conversations. And her prayers…many of them, I’m sure. When that day came in college when I got the note from the dean that I was being suspended for academic failure, I knew it would be hard to tell my parents and my pastor, but even harder to tell Mrs. Beach.

I remember leaving campus and going home, and knocking on her door. She looked as disappointed as I had expected, but not at all angry or stern. “Well, Jeff, if the Lord wants you in the ministry — and I KNOW he does — then this will all work out.”  She was right, of course. With her strong evangelical faith, things did work out.

Except for that one time a few years earlier when I didn’t do as she had wished. As the leader of the youth choir, she wanted so much for me to join in the singing. But my voice was changing and there was no way I was going to showcase that awkward adolescent yodel in the choir loft, not even for Mrs. Beach. I know she forgave me. Because as she aged and eventually thought about her funeral, she made me promise (it wasn’t hard, neither her making nor my promising) to lead her service. She reminded me of it many times, until her Alzheimer’s meant no more reminding. She had long since moved to Minnesota to be near Janet, but her funeral was held at Union Presbyterian Church just a couple or years back, and I led the service for one whom I have always considered one of  “the saints in the light.”

A footnote about senile dementia and deep-rooted faith: Janet kept me abreast of her mother’s decline, but noted that while Mabel had little memory to count on, she could still go to the piano and play the old, old hymns and choruses that had fed her musical soul through all her years. When I had checked in with Mrs. Beach as a young rock radio producer (Google “Celebration Rock Radio”) she was less than enthralled with my choice of music, just as I was luke warm to her gospel hymns. But, Lord, I give thanks that those songs nurtured and expressed her faith, and that her faith fed mine, sumptuously!

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