Chapter 2 Excerpt: "Potato Salad Time"

November 13, 2018

I had never felt so alone in my life. I stood in a well-kept cemetery just off highway US 67 in Hope, Arkansas. I stared at the cold stone marker on which the names of my parents were etched, along with the dates of their births and the dates of their deaths.
It was rare for me to be alone. I had asked the governor’s security detail from the Arkansas State Police to give me some space. My mother had died on the last day of September 1999. For the first time since I showed up on this planet, my only family links, other than my sister and my wife, were my descendants. When my mother drew her last breath, I became the oldest living link my children had in their bloodlines on my side of the family.
The depth of my grief was not so much over the circumstances of my mother’s death. Since a brain aneurysm and series of strokes  n early 1992, her health had declined steadily. In her last days, it was no longer merciful to pray for continued existence as she was experiencing it. I was comforted by my unwavering faith that there was in fact a God in whose arms she would fall. I knew death was not the worst thing that could happen to her. Continuing in her state would, in fact, have been worse.
It wasn’t so much that she had died as it was the fact that her death had closed the book on an entire generation. Her passing had taken away my last link to the past and forever physically separated me from the one in whose womb I was formed.
It would have been easier if I could have wept bitterly. God has a wonderful way of washing away our grief with a cleansing shower of tears. But some pain is far too intense to be expressed with the same emotions we once used for a scraped knee, a sad movie, or a loss in a championship basketball game. In that moment, I understood better Romans 8:26: “The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (nkjv). The phrase “groanings which cannot be uttered” became more meaningful as I sought in the depth of my soul to find a vehicle of expression for my grief.

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None of us gets to choose how we come into this world. We can’t choose our parents, our hometown, or the physician who ushers us into this life. Unless we end our lives by our own hands, neither do we choose the circumstances or date of our deaths.
Even though we don’t choose how we start life or how we end it, we most certainly choose how we live. It is how we live that may determine how people feel as they stand staring at our names chiseled  into the gravestones. It is how we live that will affect generations to come and countless people whose names we don’t even know.
In the South, there’s a time-honored tradition that friends of the deceased bring more food to the grieving family than can ever be eaten. Obesity among Southerners may in fact be tied to the number of funerals we are part of. After a loved one dies, there will soon be a parade of people, a pastor’s visit, lots of hugs, and, without fail, large bowls of potato salad. The potato salad is such a Southern fixture during the period of grief that some refer to it as “potato salad time.”
“Potato salad time” is a good time to do some serious reflection about what really matters. No matter how busy we are, it’s often in the presence of the potato salad that we are brought to a halt and reminded of how temporary this life is. Consuming large quantities of potato salad may not be good for your health, but being consumed by overwhelming doses of reality can be helpful.

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Comments 1-19 of 19

  • Judy Kay Hudson

    12/08/2018 02:19 PM

    Governor,
    I have your book on order and anxious to start reading. Judy

  • Anne Odendhal

    11/15/2018 04:01 PM

    This brings back memories of listening to the audio book about your family Christmas memories. Thanks for documenting the external and internal experiences with which we identify. It's too easy to feel alone though reality constantly evidences otherwise. We are not by ourselves in the human condition and struggle in our broken, beautiful world.

    I miss my mom everyday and daily grieve my own children who have a Christian mom who loves them yet they choose not to be in relationship. I pray they will come to their senses before it is too late and the opportunity for relationship is no longer available to them. I pray for healing for their hurts and hearts and that they will see that there are no perfect people, let alone parents and that forgiveness and restoration are beautiful gifts for the giver and receiver.

    Mike, thanks for how you keep me laughing even when crying is in order. Wish we could join you on the Baltic trip!

    Blessings, Anne Odendhal in Charlotte, NC

  • LaVerne Wisdom

    11/14/2018 11:01 PM

    I relate totally to your experience of losing your Mother and the feelings we feel at that time in our life, as if our rock is gone and WE have to be the rock now and questioning if we are strong enough to be the rock....our only comfort at that time in our lives is knowing we will be together again in Heaven where there will be no tears or separation.

  • Rhonda Robinson

    11/14/2018 03:13 PM

    I am so glad to hear someone had the same feelings that I had/have. I too have felt that same complete aloneness in the last year and a half. I stood by a cold granite stone down in the Sardis Cemetery on Sardis Road south of Hope just short year and a half ago and said goodbye to my daddy. My mother left us 2003. I can honestly say that even though I was surrounded by friends and family, I have never in my life felt so alone. You expressed it so well, Mike! You were so right that it closed a chapter on a generation! I am now the oldest in my family, and everyone looks to me for all sorts of things. Never would I want my parents back here to live the poor quality of life they had come to live in their last days. But, oh, to just hear their voice one more time! I am so glad we have you as a trusted voice as well as the voice of reason in these troubled times. I feel a kinship simply because you are from Hope, and I graduated high school at Bodcaw, when there was such a school. lol My husband Tony and I both say "Sarah Sanders for President!!" We love your daughter and her ability to take a stand for the right and not get frustrated in public by the many who try to tear her down. We pray for you and your family!
    In Christ, Rhonda Robinson

  • Cathy Cornforth

    11/14/2018 12:20 PM

    Thank you, for everything.

    Blessings and prayers to you and your family.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Richard Quitliano

    11/14/2018 11:10 AM

    When I read Hope Arkansas, I thought this might be a Bill Clinton story... but it's a touching tribute, not only to your parents, but to Arkansas and the South as well. I managed cemeteries in Ft. Smith for around 10 years until I retired and was invited to many of the post-funeral feasts. Let me take this opportunity to tell you that you and your daughter both are a testament to how fine the people of Arkansas are. One of my hopes was to see you in the White House one day.

  • Eric H Read

    11/14/2018 09:59 AM

    Regarding your commentary, "Potato Salad Time:" I am in a similar situation. My first wife passed away in 1998 followed 7 months later by my father, and 8 days later by my mother-in-law. In 2012 my mother passed away. I am also the oldest of my siblings by 5 years. Three of them, two sisters and a brother, have also left this life. It is a strange situation to find oneself in: being the elder statesman so to speak of the family line. I have only one uncle still living, and he is in his 90's now. Talking with others about the neighborhood we grew up in, I find that none of them have the memories that I do. Many of them were not even alive when the housing area opened up. Even my surviving sisters and brother, don't remember much about our move since only one of them was alive. My second wife's parents have both passed on as well. This is a part of life that we come to accept as the normal process. And, by the way, I really enjoy potato salad. My mother's recipe, unfortunately, went with her. I sure do miss her cooking.

  • Pearl Baker

    11/14/2018 09:39 AM

    Mike, I know exactly what you felt at your Mother’s gravesite. Eventually we all end up being the last of our adult family and it’s a lonely feeling. I really enjoy your posts and your Saturday night tv shows. If you’re ever searching for a performer, our friend Natalie Stovall is a talented singer living in Nashville. Her dad, Ret. COL. Larry Stovall and my husband served in Vietnam in the same unit. We plan to come over and enjoy one of your broadcasts in person some time.

    We’re in your home State of Arkansas, Hot Springs Village. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. ??

  • C Michael Roberson

    11/14/2018 09:29 AM

    I love you Mike.

  • Jane Tilton

    11/14/2018 09:15 AM

    I hadn't realized you were from Hope. My Granny was born and raised in Washington and a lot of her family lived around the area and in Hope and Texarkana. She was a Borden and her mother was a Carruth. Quite a lot of my people are buried in Washington. My cousin, Martha Lee Stephenson and her husband Roy lived in Hope--at one time, I believe they had a flower shop. My sister and I, and my children, are the only descendants of our Granny, who was born in 1871 and died in 1951, so my children never knew her. I can identify with your feelings.

  • Jane Tilton

    11/14/2018 09:13 AM

    I hadn't realized you were from Hope. My Granny was born and raised in Washington and a lot of her family lived around the area and in Hope and Texarkana. She was a Borden and her mother was a Carruth. Quite a lot of my people are buried in Washington. My cousin, Martha Lee Stephenson and her husband Roy lived in Hope--at one time, I believe they had a flower shop. My sister and I, and my children, are the only descendants of our Granny, who was born in 1871 and died in 1951, so my children never knew her. I can identify with your feelings.

  • Craig Gross

    11/14/2018 09:13 AM

    Once again your beautiful way with words touched my heart. So many things I could comment on; but I’ll just say keep up the good work and thanks for all you do.

  • Julia Castillo

    11/14/2018 06:51 AM

    Huck, I so appreciate your sharing the emotions and feelings you experienced when your mother moved on to heaven. I lost my father the same year to cancer and I, too realized it was more merciful to pray for God to lift him up to his heavenly home than to pray I could continue to hang on to him. To this day, I still think about my father and his influence in my life. JC

  • Ann Bouchard

    11/13/2018 09:52 PM

    We actually do choose before we are born who our parents will be etc.. Just that we have forgotten. We accepted the challenges of life here. I don’t know what I was thinking!, but I’ll have better choices next time around. Everyone thinks differently from one another. I used to eat potato salad. Love the taste of it, gave it up for my health. I make better choices now, and prepare healthy dishes. Keeps me busy.

  • David Jones

    11/13/2018 09:43 PM

    Thanks, Mike. That was beautiful, and sad, and deep, and spirit-filled.

  • Brenda Betts DeShields

    11/13/2018 04:43 PM

    Thank you Mike......had not really thought about that until reading your posts of being the oldest member in your direct family line.
    Thinking about that....I am #3 in the Betts Family Line of the oldest.

    Brenda Betts-DeShields
    Rio Vista, CA

  • Brenda Betts-DeShields

    11/13/2018 04:36 PM

    Hi Mike
    Looking forward to reading your new book. I was born in Hope, Arkansas. My Dad, Clifton "Pete" Betts was the son of Eldridge & Ellie Betts, from Springhill, Arkansas. My Dad took me to the family cemeteries there in Hope, & Springhill.
    Enjoy watching you on TV & reading your facebook posts & newsletters. Love your sense of humor.
    Brenda

  • Fran Wilson

    11/13/2018 02:08 PM

    Mike, Thank you for your comments about your mother's death. It expresses my feelings exactly. Your feeling about being the only living link to the past is so true. I did so feel this way as well. It is good to know that others understand how you feel. I used to love to listen to my mother and her mother and sister talk about their lives as they grew up (I used to ask my mother to tell me about the "olden days". She would laugh, and tell all kinds of stories of how she grew up, etc.) I felt so lost after she died, knowing that she was the only one who knew about some of the things of the past. But, you are right, she is now with God in heaven, and some day, I can ask her again to tell me about the olden days. Thanks so much for your ministry to the country (and to the world). I always stop and listen when I see that you are on TV commenting about something, and my husband and I make it a point to watch your TV show every Saturday evening. Our condolences to your announcer who lost his son. Thank you again. Fran Wilson, Fort Worth, TX

  • Donna Berry

    11/13/2018 01:33 PM

    The passage in Romans you spoke about, opened my eyes to understand it better. Thank you for pointing out this passage in a way, I fully can appreciate it now. I enjoy your stories and know about the fixture "Potato Salad time," since I'm from your home state.