Our Mama

by Emily Carpenter and Katy Shelton

Anne Frazer Drake

1940 – 2023

I’m Emily Carpenter, the third one. Thank you all for coming here today to celebrate our Mom. On behalf of my brothers Henry and Danner, and my sister Katy, I’m honored to share with you all a little bit about my mother from the perspective of her four children. Like all of us she was both simple and complex, easy and difficult to understand, a combination of her past, present, and future. 

My mother was “Anne with an E,” just like the beloved character from the book Anne of Green Gables. She was maybe a tad bit more reserved than book-Anne, but she was certainly as full of imagination, dreams, and a love of words.

She grew up in Mobile, Alabama, in a large, old, white house on Government Street that she and her brother and sister shared with their parents and paternal grandparents. She loved her life in that house and treasured those memories, the connections with her beloved grandmother, Aunt Anne, and cousin Mary and countless other relatives. She adored her younger brother and sister, although she always told me it was quite a shock when they came along to realize she was no longer the center of attention in that house. She loved to tell us stories of her childhood, how safe she felt, how loved, being in the center of all that warmth and activity. It was why she wanted a house full of children. Just as an aside, the two portraits of her up here were painted by her mother, a wonderful artist.

Being a wife was Mom’s highest calling. She adored my father, and he adored her. I don’t think I’ve ever met two people better suited for each other or more connected and dedicated in pure love to one another. They were a true example of lasting commitment. But, as you know, motherhood has a way of interrupting storybook romances like that, and we came along. We four children certainly kept her busy, driving us around town in the old yellow VW station wagon with no AC and then in our Caprice Classic faux-wood paneled station wagon with excellent AC.

There were plenty of baseball, soccer and football games, cheer and ballet and gymnastics practices, track meets and play rehearsal to get us to, and she tried not to miss any, although I’m sure that was impossible. She also sewed countless costumes and cheerleader uniforms and clothes for my sister and me, even outfits for our dolls when we were little. I remember errands and car trips, all taken sans seat belts, because those were the old days. Sometimes we would beg my mom to sing one particular Easter hymn in the car “Up from the Grave He Arose.” She’d sing all the verses low and somber, so serious, so sorrowful, then when she got to the chorus, she’d shout out the words with the most dramatic flair, “Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’re his foes!” We thought it was the funniest thing ever.

Mom gave all her children the gift of a love of reading, taking us to the old Birmingham Library every week in the summer and letting us check out as many books as we wanted. She read us poems and could recite many of them by heart. She had memorized the whole first page of Gone with the Wind when she was a young girl and could still rattle it off as an adult without one mistake.

When we were at home, Mom always wanted to play games. She loved games. She taught us hopscotch, rock school, how to jump rope. She adored board games too. Monopoly, Risk, Battleship, Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, but most of all Yatzhee, Danner remembers. She knew every card game you could think of and was always asking if we wanted to play. If you said yes, let me tell you, you would absolutely make her day. But if you said no, well, she was perfectly content to play a little Solitaire.

Mom was also a woman who rose to a challenge. When our golden retriever Dixie was going to have puppies, she took Danner (3rd grade) and me (7th grade) out of school to witness the event. There were twelve of them, the puppies, born in the space of one extremely shocking hour. As you might imagine, my brother and I were both somewhat…tense…during the process, but Mom handled the affair like a trained professional while we stood back, aghast but impressed at her midwife skills. We learned a lot that day. Most importantly that when the pressure was on, Mama was a person you could depend upon.

She also had a particular empathy for people who might feel out of place or who didn’t make friends easily. Mom said she was shy as a girl, and as a result she took notice of other kids around us who seemed lonely and reminded us to include them. I loved that observant, compassionate side of her.

Katy shared with me that once she asked Mom if there was anything in her life—a hobby or an art or activity—that she felt passionate about. Something she woke up in the morning and looked forward to every day. Her face lit up and she said “YES. Reading the Bible!” Here it is in Katy’s words: “Spending time with Jesus made her feel safe. It made her come alive. It gave her purpose. She was never hesitant to talk about Jesus to anyone, anywhere, anytime. He was her raison d’etre, her reason for being, and if you ever spent time with her, you knew this, because it was important to her that you knew this. She loved Jesus more than any person I’ve ever known in my entire life. She loved His Word, and she loved being His child. I will forever be grateful for the steadfast and unwavering example as a faithful follower of God that she always set for me.” 

It was our particular privilege to take care of Mom at the end of her life. To do the small things for her that she had done for us as children. At the end, as her illness finally overcame her, my dad rarely left her side, doing everything he could to make things easier for her. To make her feel safe. There was someone else, though, who cared for her in a beautiful and maybe even supernatural way. Someone who walked in with a smile on her face, love in her heart, and a halo above her head. Our niece, Danner’s daughter Amelia Drake, who just graduated from nursing school in December. Milla, you are a gift to our family, and you were a gift to Dranny. She loved you so. Thank you, thank you for what you did for her. It will never ever be forgotten.

Through all the struggle of Mom’s illness, nothing was more comforting than to know that she was not afraid because of what—of who—she looked forward to. One of the books she read to us as children was Patricia St. John’s Rainbow Garden. It’s the story of a lonely young girl, sent away from her mother, to live with a vicar’s family in Wales. At one point, the girl finds the partial inscription, “…fullness of joy” on a headstone in a graveyard. Eventually she discovers it comes from the passage Psalm 16:11, “You will make known to me the path of life; In your presence is fullness of joy.” Because of that her life is transformed. I remember that Mom would always cry when she got to that part. I never understood why. Now, of course, I do. We all do.        

My mother spent the greater part of her life seeking God’s presence, and she faithfully taught her children to do the same. I’m so happy—and sad—to say that she’s now with Him, experiencing, at last, true fullness of joy in the presence of her loving Savior.

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