With Mother’s day fast approaching, the ladies of Wilson Living called upon their friend Tiffany Cunningham to pen a special feature for the magazine about a few moms that are near and dear to us in the community. We hope this article reminds you to cherish all the special women in your life, not just this Mother’s Day but each and every day throughout the year.
By TIFFANY CUNNINGHAM
Wilson County residents know Andrea Wilke as one of the smiling faces at the Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber of Commerce. And if you see her with her daughter Nicole, son Jimmy and grandson Shane Flatt, you will also soon know her as a pretty fantastic Mom! Those around her quickly discover the special touch this mother and grandmother has, is that of “giving.” Andrea gives of her heart, her home, her time and her wisdom.
Andrea’s twelve year old grandson Shane currently lives with she and her husband Perry. When asked what the best advice his grandmother has given him, Shane quickly noted that, “she tells me to think situations through before I act. If I have to think about it too hard then she says I probably shouldn’t do it to begin with.”
Shane explained that “my grandmother took me in and has taught me to appreciate the things I have in my life. She takes me to church and encourages me
to be a good person and wants me to make good grades in school. I try to make her proud of me.” And of course, Andrea couldn’t be prouder of her grandson especially when he stands before his church and speaks of his faith. In fact, when Andrea talks about each of her children and grandchildren you can see the pride in her eyes.
Nicole explains, “My mother is nice to everyone she meets. She always encourages others to never give up no matter what the situation and has always supported us in everything we’ve done. I hope my daughter, Layla, will always remember Mom for her caring nature and for the time she spends with her.”
Nicole remembers the best times growing up with Mom were “the times playing board games, watching TV and being outside with my mom.” Not to be outdone, Jimmy was quick to add that his mom’s best characteristic was that “she has the ability to forgive others”. He notes, “Another good characteristic is the way she jumps in and takes care of stuff. I know I appreciate her for all the times she’s helped me with things.”
As a mother, Andrea believes that her job is to always be involved in her children’s lives. “Keep an open line of communication and always be the parent. It’s important to discipline them when need be and not be quick to be a child’s friend when a problem occurs. Sometimes tough love is the hardest part of parenting. Always be strong but loving. Show them patience and have a good line of communication and this will see you through.
“Provide your children with a loving and stable home environment and this will set them up with the foundation for being the best person they can be.”
And looking at this family, all gathered together to share their love of their mother and grandmother, it is evident that Andrea did just what she set out to do – raise her children to be the best they can be.
Jo Smith is known to Wilson and thirteen surrounding counties as “Producer Jo” on WANT FM 98.9 Radio. And just like Andrea, Jo is also known for her fabulous cooking and the many dinners she hosts in her home. As she gave me the tour, she told me each part of her home was built around the antiques passed down to her and her husband Dave by their late mothers, Christine Clemmons and Elsie Margaret Smith. Jo referred to these heirlooms as the “family treasures.” Jo beamed when she pointed out the significance of each antique piece and began speaking of her mother, Jo’s most cherished family treasure of all.
“My mother always seemed to be happy and smiling. She was so much fun to be around and brought the fun to my family”. That is surly a trait Jo has inherited as well. She noted that many memories of her mother revolved around the kitchen, her mother’s cooking and the ability to entertain in a traditional Southern manner.
“All of my life my mother made sure each and every gathering was special one. I remember she would often invite the preacher over for Sunday dinner too. When I was a child we lived out in the country, my favorite memories are of her entertaining my brother and me by inviting the neighbor kids over and packing us a picnic to take out to the woods to play.”
Mrs. Clemmons passed away in June of 2003 and the next year Jo held a special Mother’s Day Luncheon in her mother’s honor. She invited five or six friends to thank them for being so nice to her parents when they were sick. “I thought I would have the same friends over each year adding a few more people each time. This quickly grew to about 35 people as different friends would lose their mothers.” Getting misty eyed she said, “I think my mother would be very proud that I carry on her memory this way. She was always a great example to me and I find myself wanting to do everything the way she would have. We swap funny stories, favorite recipes and even shed some tears as we remember our mother’s at the luncheon”.
Jo’s daughter, Jody Gore and her daughter- in-law Brandy Smith joined our conversation. I asked Jody her favorite memory growing up, “All my favorites are of us sitting around the table talking. We always had breakfast and dinner together and I loved being able to tell Momma and Daddy about my day.” Brandy adds, “We do this with our own kids now. We also carry on the family traditions that have been around for years. Like we love to come over here on December 23rd and spend the night so we can all be together on Christmas Eve”.
Gore says of her mother, “She is very hospitable and loves to entertain just like my grandmother did.” Asking Brandy about the advice her mother-in-law gives she smiled, “Jo gives us her advice mostly in a way that you see more than you hear. She gives lots of praise and likes to spend time baking and doing fun things with the grandkids”.
As our visit ended Smith shared more parenting “Set an example, go to church, love each other and give to them what you want them to be someday. Also spend as much time with your mother as you can and cherish each moment of it”.
In Watertown, on a sprawling 180 acre farm, I visited the home of Verne and Sue Reinemann. They are the parents of my handsome spousal equivalent, Jody. The love of baking is something Reinemann inherited from her mother, as Sue is known for her cookies. Her sister, Helen, remembered, “Mom baked cookies for grade school birthday parties and always had chocolate chip cookies on hand at home, especially when company was coming.” Sue says, “Baking chocolate chip cookies is a tradition I like to carry on.”
Sue was often alone with the kids while Verne was out on Submarine duty. Verne and Sue have been married for 43 years. They have two children, daughter Heidi Farris and son, Jody. After meeting in Virginia Beach, marrying in Hawaii where Verne was stationed with the Navy and living there three years (during which time Heidi was born) they were transferred back to Virginia (where Jody was born), then onto South Carolina and remained stationed there for eighteen years.
The Reinemann’s decided to move to Tennessee in 1993 to fulfill the dream of owning a few acres of farm land. They began searching for 10 to 15 acres before discovering their 180 acre farm located between Norene and Watertown.
Sue has four grandchildren ranging in age from five to twenty years old, “I try to encourage them to use their imaginations more. We let them play in
the creek and have had them out camping a few times.”
When asked how she wanted the grandkids to remember her she said, “I hope Justin, Nolan, Matthew and Ally remember me like I remember my mom, I want them to remember that I was always there for them.”
Sue’s advice on raising children, “When my children were young I was big on discipline and respect. With my husband away on maneuvers, it was just me and between working and keeping the family on schedule we all had to be disciplined to make it through as a family.”
Verne noted, “I credit Susie with a lot of how Jody and Heidi turned out. She is a loving wife and a gentle, although stern mother. She always made them mind.” Jody remembered, “Mom did what she could to make sure we had everything we needed but she always made sure we had fun with her too.” Heidi added, “I remember the picnics in the living room and the slumber parties she would let us have.”
I asked Sue to share some parenting advice with other mothers, “Teach your children to respect themselves and others. Teach them to be able to discipline themselves and know the difference between right and wrong. Encourage them to apply themselves to reach their dreams. I suppose you should let your kids suffer some of the consequences for their actions too. I know that is the hardest part about tough love but it helps them grow and accept responsibility. Making them mind doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun with your kids.”
Before leaving the farm (and grabbing a handful of her famous chocolate chip cookies) I asked for any closing advice, “I think you have to teach kids to believe in themselves by showing you believe in them too. The skies the limit and they will never know what great achievements they can reach if they never aspire to try. This should all begin with a little encouragement from home”.
“As they say, ‘if your man treats you like a Princess, then surely he was raised by a Queen.’ It is no wonder why I fell in love with the son of this Queen.”
CAROL FLORY SHEAHAN
Our final stop finds us in Mt. Juliet with a lady I am so proud of. I met Carol Flory Shehan in 2006 when I was assigned to be her daughter’s Support Coordinator and although I am no longer in social work we have remained friends through the years. Carol has two children, John and Jessica and currently has two grandchildren living with her, John and Alexis. There is no person I know that has more courage, fight and hope in her, than Carol.
Her daughter, Jessica, was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at the age of two and a half. Carol raised her two children as a single mother while learning to advocate for Jessica.
“There is no joy compared to becoming a mother. I was very nervous and scared with the birth of my first child. I knew what to expect with my second child; although I was not expecting what would happen after my daughter was born. It was extremely difficult being a single mother. Trying to handle a household financially, being the sole disciplinarian, trying to care for children when ill, those are only a few circumstances that present challenges to being a single parent.
Caring for a disabled child physically and emotionally was even more challenging. When you care for a child who requires your assistance for their every need, you learn that your every other breath becomes theirs. Meaning, before I could do anything for myself, or my other child, her needs had to be met.”
Shehan says the financial challenges were the hardest. “I could budget for day-to-day life planning, but when the car needed worked on, that was a problem. When schools had additional fees, extra money was needed. When a family member had a birthday, extra money was needed, and so on. I found it very hard to balance time between my son’s needs and my daughter’s needs. Maintaining housing was another challenge. Finding affordable housing that was wheelchair accessible was an even bigger challenge. We even faced homelessness in 1988.”
I asked Carol if there was any parenting advice she could give to someone in a similar situation as what she faced as a young mother, “It is essential to find a way to balance your time between your children, yourself, and your spouse. Spending quality time with your children will offer you the memories you will cherish in later years.
Graciously accept every challenge in life. Embrace challenges to the best of your ability. I believe those are the stepping stones God placed in front of you to carry you through to where he wants you to be.”
Through Supported Living services Jessica would continue to become the independent woman she has grown into today. “My daughter and I both battled this decision for a couple of years. My daughter was a 31.5 year old “adult” trapped in a “child’s” mind and a body that wouldn’t let her do what she wanted. We were both fearful and nervous. We were over-emotional. One day she was ready to move out, but I wasn’t ready to let her go. One day I was ready to let her go, but then she didn’t want to be let go. We finally had to take the chance. We had tears; we had hopes. I had to be very strong and assure my daughter that it would be okay. It took me at least a year to realize that my daughter is capable of doing well living out”.
Carol is in awe of Jessica. She chooses to focus on Jess’ abilities rather than her disabilities, “This has been her time to teach me, for me to trust her in her own care, for me to allow her to be the adult she wants to be. I’m extremely proud that she can manage on her own, with the help of full-time staff”.
Carol and Jessica talk daily and visit once or twice a week. Jessica also spends time at home with Neal and Carol during special occasions, weekends, or when they just want time together.
Just three years after Shehan’s two grandchildren, John and Alexis, moved in with her, Jess moved out. I asked if there was anything she would do differently raising the grandkids than when she raised Jess and her son,
“I do a lot of things differently and a lot of things the same. When a person doesn’t have to struggle on a daily basis, there is more time to focus on more important issues, like the children. When the barriers and obstacles to becoming a self-sufficient family are conquered, there is much more energy and time to put into more important things, like building a solid family foundation. I have great expectations and goals of my children, but I have a heightened sense of expectations and goals for my grandchildren. It helps knowing I have someone here helping me help them reach those expectations and goals.”
Carol met her husband Neal in 1997 and married 2002. When asked about some of her accomplishments Shehan smiled, “Well I love advocating for my daughter. I have often said “it’s what I do best.” I take pride in knowing I’ve been a responsible advocate on her behalf.
Carol loves the old saying “Stand up for what is right, even if you’re standing alone. She continued, “I am also proud of how I have always accepted any obstacle or curveball given to me in life. It’s pretty much the “make lemonade out of lemons” theory. In my mind, there is no obstacle big enough for the guided plan God has for me.”
When asked for advice to share Carol noted, “Slow down and spend time with family doing fun things and enjoy making memories. Wake up every day realizing God has given you another day. That should remind you to be thankful, and to remember someone, somewhere, always has it worse than you”. Carol is indeed a woman with conviction and one that inspires anyone that hears her story. She is a powerhouse in a small body and a woman that I am proud to call my friend.
This article is dedicated to my mother, Bernice Blankenship. I hope we have many more years laughing, picking on each other and sharing secrets. Mama, you’re my best friend and I don’t know what I would ever do without you!