Jan 5, 2010

Turn the page...

Enough time has passed, a new year has begun, and I'm finally ready to close this chapter in the ever evolving book of my life. Mainly, this post is for the rest of the family members who were unable to be there; but it's also for friends who have listened to my harrowing/wacky Miss Lillian stories for years. This is the last one I have to tell. I'm ready to move on; ready to write new ones.

Unfortunately, the event was not recorded, and the sheer hilarity of Miss Lillian's funeral has not been preserved, but I think the eulogies below say quite a bit about her and how she was regarded by those who knew her. One of the many things I learned from her was that funerals could indeed be funny...it's all in the delivery.

ML and I were never close; we didn't have the kind of mother-daughter bond that I longed for, but I learned not to expect it, and that made the ride somewhat less jarring. You can't miss what you didn't have. But if I were writing the screenplay of our story, in terms of sheer character development...she's a veritable goldmine, so I have that to be thankful for.

And thanks Mom, for bringing me home.


Eulogy for Miss Lillian by MHR

September 11, 2009

As men, we are all equal in the presence of death. - Publilius Syrus

When I started thinking about all the things that I could say about my mother, I realized that I had a lot to wade through. But the word that kept coming back to me over and over again was “character”. Not character as in: that thing that makes each of us unique, that defines who we are. No, I meant character as in: "my mother was a..."

And she was such a character. A master storyteller. A woman of infinite mystery. She kept the details of her life very carefully guarded, and many of you here know her better than I ever will. If you have anything you want to share, any insight you'd like to give...I'd really appreciate it.

My mother believed in maintaining connections with people, and in her own unusual and intense way, she cultivated her relationships. I’m so pleased to see those relationships represented here. I can tell you that she is pleased as well.


If you look up the word "diva" in the dictionary, right next to that picture of Mariah Carey – you'll find a picture of Lillian Ryan. They both shared a love of drama, of an adoring audience… and a near psychotic need for bendy straws. I think my mother would be pleased to know that she’s been giving the ultimate Diva a run for her money.

When I was going through her belongings, I found a poem that she had written many years ago, called “Things I Have Taught My Children.” Well, let me tell you about the things that I learned from my mother.

First and foremost, she taught me to love Shakespeare, which turned into a lifelong love affair with the power and rhythm of words. For that I am forever grateful.

She taught me that if you look at it in just the right way…pretty much anything can be funny. That has gotten me into trouble more times than I can count. It still does.

She planted the seed for my love of comparative religions and methods of worship, by exposing us to as many as were available to us in our area. She showed by example that it doesn’t so much matter how you seek your higher power – what is critical is that you do.

She taught me that you get what you give.

And in these last few months she taught me about selflessness, compassion, and the healing power of forgiveness. Those things are far easier than we think they are, and it feels really good to carry them around in your heart.

I know that my mother walked a hard road for most of her life; some of it by circumstance; a good deal of it was self-imposed. But I also know that her current road is one paved with unconditional love and grace; and I know that it feels good to her. It's about time.

Thank you for coming.


…On Being Aunt Lillian

By Evelyn Debro

September 11, 2009

This week Aunt Lillian has dominated my thoughts. My earliest memories of her are of thinking she was beautiful and rich. I thought she was rich because she didn’t work and she came in several times a year and stayed as long as she wanted to. I remember receiving a box of clothes before school started; at least twice. Thelma and I called it our “care package.”

One summer she took Thelma and me to Akron for the summer; but when we learned that Margaret was born, we didn’t want to stay any longer. Aunt Lillian and Uncle Sam weren’t coming back until the end of the summer; but we were so unhappy she explored her options and the only way we could travel alone was by plane. In 1952 there were very few people flying in this area – and definitely no black children flying alone. But Thelma and I did.

Thanks to Aunt Lillian, we were treated like celebrities. We were allowed to go into the cockpit and sit in the co-pilot’s seat. We were given wings and certificates, and nicknames: Mamie and Flamie. Aunt Lillian was like the Pied Piper, collecting children wherever she went until she had children of her own.


Aunt Lillian always tested your love for her. She pushed you to your limits and beyond, and if you did come back…you loved her; and she kept testing us until the very end.

She was a very intelligent and crafty person. She was the first black person in Lebanon to graduate from high school. The black school in town only had a junior high…and she demanded more. She was informed by the school board that there was no money to send her go boarding school in Christiansburg. She informed them that was ok... because she’d just attend Lebanon High on Monday, but by Sunday funds were found to send her to Christiansburg where she graduated.

Her Daddy – my Granddaddy Charlie – was very political and passed his passion to all his children. All 5 boys were named for politicians. Aunt Lillian was always involved in politics, running for office or fighting for some cause. When she was working here before her marriage, she was a member of the NAACP when it was first organized.

When her eyesight was failing to the point that she could no longer read, she found a way to cope. Since she never trusted anyone completely, she would call us to come at different times and each of us had to read the same mail. That way, if you lied, she would know. She even signed her own checks until the last two months.

I would rather be hunted by the FBI and the CIA than Aunt Lillian. She found out whatever she needed to know, long before the internet. If she had looked for Bin-Laden, she would have found him.

Aunt Lillian had a friend in Jack Ashby, who called her daily to read the Akron Beacon Journal to her. And Mr. Newby, who had known her since her 20’s, said she stopped traffic when she walked down the street.

Mrs. Annie Ruth Gillespie was her dearest friend in Johnson City. At Aunt Lillian’s 80th birthday party, she was still living in Ohio, but her party was in Lebanon. Mrs. Annie Ruth said they had been friends for 60 years. We all laughed knowing that would change when she moved here.

She was always the Devil’s Advocate. If you were a Democrat, she was a Republican – and vice versa. She lived to debate you, and if you didn’t argue with her, she didn’t respect you. She talked to us, and knew us until two days before she died, and before she left she told us all that she loved us.

She always quoted the last stanza of this poem by William Cullen Bryant –


“So live that when thy summons comes to join

That innumerable caravan that moves

To that mysterious realm, where each shall take

His chamber in the silent halls of death,

Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,

Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed

By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”


Vampire Hours said...

Great eulogies and lovely video tribute. Although I never met her, I can tell that she made quite an impact on those around her and that does say a lot.

That and the fact that someone would rather be hunted down by the FBI and CIA than Miss Lillian.

That says a lot and still makes me chuckle.

Thanks for sharing this. A wonderful tribute!

offkilter said...

Beautiful. It does make me think maybe I should have argued more with her though - I don't think I ever realized that was a way of gaining her respect. Mostly I remember that I would stay silent and let her go off, or nod and agree. The main thing was to get the hell out of her way. I am surprised no one mentioned her annual run for public office and her slogan "Don't pine, vote Ryan". As Mags has said, it may not have in Akron but in the south - it does rhyme.

Sissy said...

Ahhh TFMR...you were one of the lucky ones. She always liked you, and I was convinced that she never wanted to piss you off. As we all know and have discussed often - she just never knew how to show it.