I had just dropped my Haley off at school. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” played through the speakers in my car. Nearing Christmas 2013, the radio stations were playing one Christmas song after another. Nostalgia of years gone by swept over me. Memories of being in the Fordsters and doing Christmas concerts every weekend (and some on school days) flooded in.
The guys always looked nice in their tuxedos. The girls, well, we did the best we could to look good in those shiny, long (ahem…hideous) dresses. When we were on, it was really good. I can still see the look on Ms. Ford’s face in response to the beautiful sound. She would sway back and forth as she directed. The best moments were when we sang her to chills or good tears. Music was her passion. Infusing each of us with a love for music was also her passion, and that she did! Many from the ensemble that carried her name, Fordsters, (and others from her chorus classes) went on to become full-time musicians.
She was funny, tender-hearted, and I still remember some of her sayings:
“Don’t show up with a shirt that says ‘Mickey Mouse drinks beer.’”
“Stop putting the em-phA-sis on the wrong syll-A-ble!”
(Introducing us) “I’m the Ford and they’re the steers.”
“Watch me for heaven’s sake, watch my hands.”
I’m so thankful for that moment of nostalgia. It motivated me at 8:30 in the morning to pick up my phone, find her name, and hit send with no hesitation. With her infamous froggy voice, she answered, “Hello.”
I responded, “You know I can’t hear ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ and not call.” Then with the question I always asked at the beginning of our phone conversations, “Do you know who this is?”
Whether she did or not, that was her queue. I imagine her thinking, well I didn’t know but now I do. “Yes! Rivera!” she said. I could hear her smiling through her answer. She shared about some of her struggles through the past year, then went on to tell me she had been teaching Sunday school. I got to share that I was about to finish writing my book. She was particularly tearful off and on through our conversation. I wasn’t sure why.
Never having any children of her own, she claimed us (her students) as her children. Over the years she’s seen a few pass on. Any time they were mentioned, she would cry. She loved us all so individually, yet equally. She had a way of making everyone feel special (even if by teasing). She loved all of her kiddos and never judged. No matter what season of life or what I shared with her, she never loved me any less.
This was a quality in her that reminded me of Jesus. He claims us and loves us all no matter what. We’re God’s children, and we’re all His favorites.
As we were wrapping up our conversation, I promised her after my book deadline (Christmas), I would come and see her in January. Then I did something I had never done. I said, “Ms. Ford, would you care if I prayed with you?”
She said, “I would love it.”
I prayed as God led: I prayed blessings over her. That she would feel the love of God as He wrapped His arms around her. I prayed she would see Him and sense His presence strong in her life in the days and weeks to come. I prayed she would know the love of Jesus like never before.
Weeping, she said, “Thank you. I love you.”
Those were the last words I heard her say. Anna Sue (Susie) Ford passed on to be with Jesus on Monday of this week. The Fordsters will be singing to celebrate her life. I imagine Ms. Ford with that look of heaven on her face again listening to the music, except now she’s hearing the most beautiful sounds (un)-imaginable. She’s singing with the heavenly choir. We love you Ms. Ford. You will be missed. Your legacy lives on in our hearts, and always in the music.