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Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013 12:01 am

‘I’m down but I’m not out!’

CECILE MARIE WOODSON-WHEATLEY May 22, 1935-May 26, 2013

CECILE MARIE WOODSON-WHEATLEY
My mother was born in Vicksburg, Miss., but she had been a resident of Springfield since the age of 2. Most people old enough may remember her as the daughter of the Hay Homes Legend “Virgin Mary Hamilton” (and yes that was her mother’s real name), who was as known for standing out and speaking her mind as she was for her beautiful and elaborate garden right outside her back door, with the most enormous sunflowers you’ve ever seen! Others as children may recall her as the Free Breakfast Lady when she worked for the U of I Cooperative Extension Service (District 186), and hundreds of kids (now adults) knew her as a kind, caring and generous licensed day care provider for more than three decades. Union Baptist members knew her as the Hat Lady of the White Rose Circle and past and present Elk Members knew her as a former Daughter Ruler of the Sarah Price Temple #1267. Maybe you knew her by her own children: Loretta, William, Michael, Allen, Kevin, Lisa, Matthew, Me, Linda, Lesley and Mickey.

Those things make for a great obituary. But that’s not how I remember my mother. I remember her as a loving, forgiving, creative, funny, smart, strong, resilient...champion. I recall my mom and dad and a tough divorce and Mom taking over the finances of the household, and in case you thought she couldn’t manage it, she had William make her a sign, boldly stating “I’M DOWN BUT I’M NOT OUT!” and even bolder, she had it plastered just inside the living room door. I can still recall the feeling of watching a CILCO or CWLP truck go down the street and know (for the first time in a while), they weren’t coming to disconnect us, cuz Momma’s got it! Over the years, I watched her fight diabetes and slowly lose her sight and watched her health decline and yet she never lost her desire to go, be, experience, learn, teach and continue to grow in this life. When she had a stroke in 2006, it was hard and she was forever changed from it, in body...but I’ll be damned if it ever altered her spirit. When she was rushed to the hospital in September 2012 and the end was near, she persevered through another Christmas, Easter, birth of another great-grandson and a birthday in May...before she gently passed away.

One of my greatest memories of my mother was also my darkest moment. It was November 1996. My gambling addiction brought my life and my career to a crashing, embarrassing halt and I had shamed myself and my family. That same summer I was Illinois Times’ “Best of Springfield” Best Used Car Salesman, but by late fall, I was the fired, disgraced salesman who didn’t return the $1,000 I had signed out. I hid for weeks, but sooner or later I would have to face Momma. She had a birthday present for my daughter and of course she expected me to come and get it. I finally did, but I avoided her. I was quick, quiet and almost out the door...but there was Momma, on the couch, in that “I can hear everything” light sleep that a woman who has raised 11 kids has mastered. I had no words, excuses, explanations or reasons for my behavior, but I would have to acknowledge my mother. So as I reached for the door, I whispered, “Momma, I’m down but I’m not out.” And without missing a beat and in a tone filled with forgiveness and love that only a mother can say to a son, to let him know it’s gonna be all right, she smiled and responded, “Been there done that!” –A.J. Woodson, son

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