Lois Jane Kilgore was 17 when she agreed to marry Carl J. McKeever, a 21-year-old she had been seeing for three years. She was a farmer’s daughter with a 9th grade education; he came from a long line of coal miners and dropped out of school in the 7th grade to go to work. He was the oldest of 12, she was the middle child of 9.
They surprised the preacher and got him out of bed that Saturday night, March 3, 1934, and asked him to perform the ceremony. There was no premarital counsel, no fancy surroundings, and for a time, no honorarium for the preacher. Two days later, the coal miners went on strike. An inauspicious beginning for marriage.
Lois had no idea what she had gotten herself into. Nothing from her sheltered, happy upbringing in the church-going farm family had prepared her for married life with that Irishman with the temper, a love for the sauce, and an unruly mob of siblings of all ages.
In time, Carl got his life straightened out, their marriage stabilized, and life was good. But for a couple or three decades, Lois paid a severe price for her determination to make her marriage work and her children turn out well.
As he aged, Carl became a wonderful patriarch in this family, revered and loved. He filled a room when he entered. He loved to talk and tell a story, was a constant reader and avid learner. An active Mason, Dad was also a member of the United Mine Workers Union for over seventy years, if you can believe it. .
I grew up thinking he was the dominant force in my upbringing.
It took my wife to make me see otherwise. Margaret pointed out that this quiet lady who loved to let her man shine was the rock of this family.
In time I began to realize I’m 95 percent about Lois McKeever. I owe her far more than I can ever know or say or repay. Here’s what I mean.
1. I’m a Christian because of my mother.
Mom was a church-goer all her life. When 18-year-old Carl and his younger brother Marion, called Gip, discovered Lois and her sisters, it was at church where the youth were having a Saturday night singing.
As a preschooler, some of my earliest memories are about getting ready on Saturday night for church the next morning. On Sundays, Lois would mobilize the older kids to help the younger ones, and we made it for both Sunday School and church. To do that, we walked a mile across fields and through woods.
In my 8th year, our family relocated from rural Alabama to a coal-mining camp outside Beckley, West Virginia. We moved into the saddest of company housing. Even though mom was a lifelong Baptist and the only church in Affinity was Methodist, that first Sunday morning she had all six of us there.
Where was Dad? Good question. He never went. Sometimes he worked, sometimes he was on a weekend bender with his buddies, and at other times, he was just gone, doing whatever adults do on Sundays when they’re not in church.
For four years, we worshiped and participated in the life of that little church. Mom joined a quartet that sang in church. I learned to love everything about the church, from the pastor to the hymns to the fellowship.
At age 11–by now, we were living back in Alabama and attending the Baptist church–the Lord saved me.
Thanks to mom for having me in church.
2. I’m a preacher because of my mother.
This flows from the first, obviously. If she had not taken us to church regularly as children, I may well have never heard the gospel and been saved, and of course, never have become a preacher.
I was 21, a rising senior in college, and active in a wonderful Baptist church near the Birmingham campus. A two-week-long revival brought hundreds of new people to Christ. On Tuesday of the second week, while I sang in the choir (“Jesus Paid It All”), God invaded my consciousness to inform me I was hereby called into the ministry. Not “to preach,” nothing that specific or limited. Just “the ministry.”
My brother Ronnie, five years my senior, was married with three children when the Lord called him into the ministry.
Our Dad Carl McKeever was pleased with God’s call upon our lives, but Lois McKeever was the reason.
3. My mother showed us how to live the Christian life.
Mom read her Bible through the week and encouraged us in it. As an elementary schooler, I can recall coming downstairs on Saturday mornings reporting to her how many verses I had read that morning. Whether I was learning anything is beside the point.
There were times during those West Virginia years that I would run home from school and have lunch with Mom. We would share soup and sandwiches and listen to her favorite radio preachers. That I was the only one of her six to do this seems a little strange now.
Lois is the personification of perseverance. Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
If I may be permitted to say this, the Lord owes her big time. We praise Him that He keeps His promises.
4. My mother started me drawing.
When I was 5 and Carolyn was 3, Mom gave us pencil and paper, sat us down at the kitchen table, and said rather sternly, “Now draw.” And we did. (Poor Mom had three children at home and three in school. She was forever cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, etc.)
That day I discovered I loved to draw and kept at it. Next year in the first grade at Nauvoo (AL) Elementary, the other children would gather around and watch me draw.
Now, this parenthetical note…
To give my beloved dad his due, let me point out that when I was 8 years old, he walked me to the next town of Sophia, WV, and helped me pick out a Bible. I was the only one of his six offspring to receive this kind of attention. He was not going to church, made no claim of living for the Lord, and yet, encouraged this in me. It was a God thing.
About the same time, Dad would sometimes tell me to get my pencil and paper and sketch him as he relaxed after supper in front of the radio. He would drift off to sleep and awaken after a bit, ask to see what I’d drawn, and make suggestions on how to improve it. Then he’d close his eyes and go to sleep again. He had some drawing talent I could tell, so maybe I inherited something. He did have the most beautiful handwriting in the family, from his school years when they actually taught penmanship in elementary classes.
5. My mother was the humorist in the family.
It took my wife to make me see this. We all had thought of Dad as the source of the love for learning, the delight in hearing and telling stories, and the sense of humor. Our family loved to laugh.
One day Margaret pointed out to me that Dad never once told a joke, but Mom often did. In fact, in my teens, Mom had sold more than one joke to magazines. I recall the pride with which she saw her name underneath the story.
That was a stunner, that the sense of humor had her DNA instead of Dad’s.
All my siblings love a good story and most can tell a story with the best. I’m the only one who does banquets and tells funny stories before audiences. (Rarely are mine “jokes” as such, but they tend to be funny occurences from my half-century in the ministry.)
We owe that to Mom.
We owe her so much, beginning with life itself.
Happy Mother’s Day in Heaven, Lois Jane Kilgore McKeever. You have left a wonderful legacy. I think of this promise from our Lord: The lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting to those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant and remember His commandments to do them. (Psalm 103:17-18)
Well done, good and faithful servant.
Many daughters have done excellently, but you excel them all. Beauty is deceitful and popularity is vain. But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her own hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates. (Proverbs 31:29-31)