Back home in our little rural town are in the mountains of Bryson City, North Carolina. One of my fondest memories is how I remember meal times in our home. It was such a joy when we’d gather ‘round mom’s table at mealtime. Oh, how she could prepare a feast! It didn’t matter how meager the resources she had to work with; when she would make her spread, why, there wasn’t any restaurant anywhere that could compete. We’d say grace and dig in, man; I thought I was in heaven.
Then as the family was finishing up and the dishes were being collected, Mom would always remind us: “Just hold on to your fork, I’ve got a surprise coming!”
We had learned down through the years that this meant Mom had prepared some special desert. It could be a cake or pie, bread pudding or hand-shaped cookies—she had so many great mouth watering recipes—and they were all worth waiting for. As good as her cooking was, the last part of her meals was what we kids always looked forward to.
Each meal and desert always seemed a little better than the last one. With Mom, it was impossible to pick a favorite. Down through the years, we had learned we could count on the main course being good but that the best was in what followed. Looking back, I’d have to say that sitting there holding that fork was one of the most joyful times of my life anticipation of the best yet to come!
As it is with us all, one can’t stay a child forever; moms and dads do grow older as time passes on. So, as the years passed, I watched Momma’s auburn hair turn silver and could see her body growing feebler until she could no longer take care of herself, let alone her family.
In my visits with Mom, we would sit and reminisce about the “good ole days.” At times she’d drift off into a conversation about her life as a Christian and how good God had been to her. She’d praise Him for all her children, her friends, the wonderful life she had lived. She never had a negative complaint about her lot in life and always glorified God’s wisdom and care over her. But I noticed near the end, she would talk more and more about heaven and how wonderful it would be. She would always remind us, no matter who was present: “This life has been grand, but the best is yet to come!”
We knew her time was growing shorter, but she never seemed sad at the prospect of dying; when she would talk about her eternal home, about Jesus and family waiting on the other side, her face would always beam. We knew when it was her time to go, many would feel sad (not for her, but us.) Oh, how we would miss her sweet, positive outlook.
Then along came the dreaded day the doctor informed us Mom only had a few days to live. One by one, we kids took turns sitting with her, cherishing every minute of time we had—wanting more—yet knowing we would have to turn her loose soon.
It was one day before her death that she called the preacher into her room and spoke to him as she handed him her Bible and some notes. She began instructing him on what scripture she wanted read, the songs she wanted sung and even the dress she wished to be buried in. Mom had made a list of people she wanted him to give a personal invitation to.
The pastor took notes and agreed with everything from the topic of his sermon to making sure he preached from her bible. Then Mom said something to him that brought a puzzled look on his face. “Preacher, I want my bible lying near my chest and I want you to place cloth dinner napkin under my chin.” Then Mom pulled from under her pillow an old, yet shinny fork. “I want this placed in my right hand. You just read that note in my Bible and you will understand it all. Now, say a prayer and let me rest awhile.” Though a bit confused, he didn’t dare question her; he just shook his head and assured her that her final wishes would be honored. He prayed for her as she drifted off to a sleep from which she never awoke.
Overhearing the conversation, I pulled the preacher aside and told him what Mom meant by that. I shared with him our family practice —a tradition passed down for years. We kids had all come to understand the fork in the hand meant the best was yet to come. He mentioned the note she had written him, assured me he would read it and begin praying about her upcoming funeral and what he would say on her behalf. Knowing Mom, I knew she had already taken care of every detail, so I shook his hand and thanked him for coming.
Preach Tucker wasn’t one to show a lot of emotion, a kind of serious man; nothing seemed to move him. But the day of mom’s funeral, as he stood up to deliver his sermon, there was not a dry eye in the house, not even his. He addressed the congregants with words like …
“On behalf of the Taylor family I wish to extend all our heartfelt sympathies with them. But if the truth be known, it is we who are the losers today, because God has taken a wonderful servant and dear saint of God from our midst. Now, we all know Sister Taylor and how she loved her family, her kids and grandkids, her neighbors and most of all, her Lord. You all know she suffered a bit in her final years, but she never complained, no sir!”
You could hear a few amens as folk agreed with him.
He continued… “Now, praise God, she has gone on to a better place; a place where there’s no sickness, no suffering and no pain. A place where the cool river of life flows to refresh every weary traveler entering that domain.”
More amens could be heard+ some wiped tears from their eyes. The preacher had taken out his handkerchief and stopped speaking while he dried his eyes and wiped his glasses.
“Yes, brothers and sisters, she is getting reacquainted with her loved ones again and meeting the King of kings and the Lord of Lords. She is busy going ‘round from place to place enjoying all the wonderful things of Heaven. But one thing this dear sister is so looking forward to, she told me herself… is when she would gather round that great dinner table in glory, where Jesus sits at the head of the table.”
He went on to share all the wonderful things she would experience and then recounted his final visit with momma. He said, “Now, Sister Taylor asked me to put this funeral together and to invite you here. She asked me to tell you that she had a great life on earth, that her God was good to her and that there was nothing he had dished out on the table of life that wasn’t good for her to eat. She knew that all things worked together for her own good.
The folk cried and laughed; the atmosphere was so sweet in that little country church that Sunday afternoon.
But then the preacher stopped in the middle of his sermon, reached inside his jacket pocket and held up a pure white dinner napkin for all to see. Then he reached in his other pocket and pulled out a shinny object… Mom’s fork. He held them both up for a few seconds for all to see. Once he had our attention, he walked around to Mom’s open casket. He placed the napkin perfectly under her chin, covering her beautiful necklace. Next, he bent down and placed that fork in her right hand, sticking slightly up towards heaven.
The entire congregation had grown quiet; people were on the edge of their seats. Now, no one had ever seen Preacher Tucker so animated. Once he had put the napkin and fork into place, he turned to face the crowd and said, “Sister Taylor said she wanted all of us to know that no matter how wonderful this ole earth is, or how great it is to be with her family, friends and loved ones… no matter how pretty the birds may sing down here, how sweet the fragrance of the beautiful flowers, or how wonderful the fellowship…”
It was if everyone knew where he was going. The atmosphere became electric. With every added comment, one by one, people started standing, some raising their hands, some waving handkerchiefs, some crying, some laughing…
Then the preacher literally ran back up to the platform, reached inside his pulpit and pulled an extra large napkin from inside along with a very large kitchen fork. He raised them in his hands towards heaven and shouted… “Children… no matter how good this here life is…” He shouted louder. “No matter how good…hallelujah… the best is yet to come!”
Needless to say, the place blew apart on that note. That church had never experienced a service like that before, and none like it since.
In honor of Mom, a fork wrapped in a napkin was given to each visitor that day. I don’t know if Mom knew what an impact her last wish would have on that little church and community, but I know that one day, many will be seated at the marriage supper of the Lamb around the table of the Lord in the Kingdom of God with fork in hand, knowing the best is yet to come!