I was born in El Dorado, Arkansas on October 12, 1939 the third child of Berry Lee and Lydia Mae Moore. My brother Berry Lee, Jr. (Bubba) was 11 years old and sister Marilyn was 3 years old on my birth date. As far as I know the delivery was uneventful, and my first few months of life were marked by joy for my parents and siblings. All of that was to change quickly because our mother Lydia (Mimi) was diagnosed with breast cancer. I don’t know the time frame of my date of birth and the diagnosis because our Dad (Pop) never told me. I never asked because the discussion was just too painful for him.
During my first year of life with the cancer diagnosis well established Pop took Mimi to New Orleans to begin her treatment under the supervision of Dr. James Nix, a well-known surgeon and personal friend of Pop and Mimi. Because the cancer had spread beyond the breast and was present in her lungs and bone, the decision was made to give high doses of irradiation to her breast and affected areas. This is the extent of my knowledge concerning her treatment. Her condition continued to deteriorate until she finally died in April, 1941.
Although I have no remembrance of any details, our family suffered devastating consequences of Mimi’s death. Pop had to continue his extremely busy medical practice in a town already depleted of doctors because of World War II. Bubba, Marilyn and I were raised initially by Grandmother Schmuck (Mimi’s mother from Little Rock) who moved into our home in 1941 and stayed for over a year. She had to move back to her home partly because of a strained relationship with Pop. Pop remarried in June of 1943 to Athelene West (Mom and later Gram Moore). They were married for 25 years until Pop died of a heart attack in 1966. Mom raised and nurtured us, never having children of her own, until her death at age 95 in 2005.
Out of his love and respect for Athelene (Mom) Pop never spoke about Mimi in her presence. When I became a young man in my late teens and early 20’s I spent countless hours with Pop late at night at our breakfast room table listening to his many stories concerning his life and medical practice. I asked him a few questions about Mimi, but he would become so emotional recounting their life together and her sickness and death, I seldom asked about her. He would say something like, “She was the most beautiful person I ever knew, and she was the love of my life.” He would usually end the discussion by saying, “I love your Mommy also, and she has taken good care of your brother, your sister and you for which I am very thankful.”
While in medical school I learned more completely the depth of Mimi’s love for me. When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer during a pregnancy, more often than not she is advised to have a therapeutic abortion in order to save her life. The effects of the tremendous estrogen increase with pregnancy cause the cancer cells to be rapidly and widely spread. I have no way of knowing whether Mimi was offered that option, but am confident had she been given the choice she would have refused. What she did in effect was to sacrifice her life for me.
After Cathy and I moved our family to El Dorado in the early 1970’s we got to spend some wonderful times with Uncle Dick and Aunt Mae (Smith). Aunt Mae was the younger sister of Pop, and because she and Uncle Dick were never able to have children, they treated us very much like their own children. Aunt Mae was so quiet, sweet and very petite. Like Pop she was a good story-teller, but it required some urging to get her to open up. She was about the same age as Mimi, and some of the stories and images I have of my birth mother I received from Aunt Mae.
One day near the end of her own life I asked Aunt Mae to tell me one of her best memories of Mimi. She said, “Your Mimi was such a beautiful person and so full of love for Berry and for you children. I remember one afternoon shortly after you were born when she was descending the stairs of their home while holding you. She was very weak from the effects of her cancer and the radiation treatment, and I was surprised to see her on the staircase. She looked down into your face and said with the sweetest voice, “Oh John Henry I just wish you could know how very much I love you!” I said to Aunt Mae I didn’t think I could handle another story of Mimi right then, while I collected my emotions and wiped my tears.
One of the last times I saw Bubba was at their home about a month before he departed, and he said the following to me just as we were leaving. “Lil’ brother, one day pretty soon I’ll be leaving here to go home, and you’ll probably be fairly close behind. I believe after the Lord Jesus greets you, right behind Him will be our Mimi. I’m sure she will tell you how proud she is of the man you became, and the sacrifice she made for you was well worth it. And I will be right behind her to welcome you home!”
I am fully aware of the sacrifice my mother Mimi made to give her life so I might live. No greater love could a mother have for a child, and I will see her again very soon. After being on my face in reverence and thanksgiving to the Lord Jesus, I will rise, hug my Mimi and tell her I do know how much she loves me!