As the author of several books relating to aging and faith, Missy Buchanan has listened to the stories of many older people. Her latest book tells one of those stories: My Story, My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections on Life and Faith, by Lucimarian Roberts, as told to Missy Buchanan (Upper Room Books). Lucimarian Roberts is the 88-year-old mother of Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts, who also weighs in with reflections throughout the book. Released April 1, the book has already claimed a spot on the Upper Room’s “top 10” list of best-sellers.
Ms. Buchanan is a member of First United Methodist Church in Rockwall, Texas, and writes a regular column, “Aging Well,” for the Reporter. She spoke recently with staff writer Mary Jacobs.
How did you come to write this book?
It was a funny story. I got a call one day in 2008, after my first book, Living with Purpose in a Worn-out Body, was written. Lucimarian had a copy of it, and she read it and called me at home.
So I heard this sweet voice on the other end: “Is this Missy Buchanan?” I said, “Yes, it is.” She said, “Is this the Missy Buchanan who wrote Living with Purpose in a Worn-out Body?” And I said, “Yes, it is.”
And she said, “Well, my name is Lucimarian Roberts, and you probably don’t know me, but you might know my daughter, Robin Roberts, of Good Morning America.”
We probably talked 20-30 minutes that day. You know, sometimes you can just strike up a conversation with somebody and it’s very easy and very comfortable. That’s the way it was with Lucimarian. She’s not that way just with me, she is just that way in general.
So why did she call you?
She said, “I had to call and ask one question: ‘How did you know what was going on in my mind?’” I told her, “That’s been the greatest review I ever could have wanted,” because she was the audience for whom I was writing the book. She is 88 and (at that time) was just beginning to have health issues. I think that my experience with my parents and their health issues helped me understand where she was in her life at that time.
We found that we had some things in common. Each one of us has a church pew in our home! She has a large one from her church in Mississippi, which was flooded in Hurricane Katrina. It still has the water marks on the wood.
So we became friends. I know it’s a cliché, but Lucimarian has never met a stranger. She’s a great conversationalist and easy to be around.
I dedicated my fourth book, Aging Faithfully, to her. Robin and Lucimarian talk almost every day, and Robin heard about my books. Eventually that led to an interview with Lucimarian and me on Good Morning America about aging and faith, and that in turn led to writing this book.
What about her story appealed to you?
This is not a celebrity book. The part that appealed to me, and I thought would be wonderful if I could get it across, is the impact that music, the hymns and the spirituals, has had on her life. She plays the piano like a dream. She can just sit down and play anything. I know a lot of hymns, but I don’t know the third and fourth verses, and she does! She tells me that she plays almost every evening, and how music has comforted her so much through the years. That registered with me, because music is important to me as well.
To be a “celebrity mom” who had such a great faith story, I thought that was real important. Lucimarian was born in 1924, and she knows what it is to be poor and to believe that your only option in life is to follow in your mother’s footsteps as a domestic worker. She has felt the void of an alcoholic father and the sharp pangs of racial injustice.
Lucimarian’s long life has been an unlikely adventure. Being the first to go to college and later marrying a Tuskegee Airman. Raising four children and creating a home in 27 different places as the wife of a military officer. Surviving Hurricane Katrina and now facing the realities of growing old. She says it was her faith, molded in her grandfather’s church in Akron, Ohio, that kept her life from crumbling during difficult times. It was her faith . . . and a number of key people who encouraged her along the way and challenged her to dream bigger dreams than she had ever imagined.
What affected you most about her story?
It was how her faith has filtered her perspective of the racial injustice that she experienced. I said, “Lucimarian, how did you not be bitter about that?” I’d be getting angry. She said over and over, “My momma taught me to be more Christlike, and to never use race as an excuse.” But it was that whole faith thing, and the fact that her faith was rooted so much in her childhood. She has never lost sight of that. Every time, like when she was in Japan, and everyone was rejecting her, she would go to the chapel and just play the piano or the organ by herself. She said, “I had to reconnect with God so I could be ready to move on.” So she did that instead of being angry. It was not a matter of retaliating or being vengeful, it was, “How would Christ handle this?” That meant a lot to me.
Also, the fact that her faith has also influenced her perspective about giving other people credit for walking alongside her in life. At the end of the book, the acknowledgements go on and on. It’s because she didn’t want to forget anybody. She’s so quick to give other people credit. So she’s a very positive person in that regard, and that’s a faith thing.
What led you to include the reflections from Robin Roberts?
From a marketing perspective, obviously, that helped. For me, it made it more personal. I think it shows that relationship between Robin and her mother. They’re no different than any other mother-daughter relationship. They get upset with each other. Lucimarian would tell me that there were times she’d hung up the phone on Robin, about something on the show that she didn’t like or didn’t agree with. I just cracked up! So they’re no different.
Robin and her brothers and sisters are trying to navigate that way of, ‘How do we help our mother, and not interfere? How do we support her and yet know that she’s safe?’ They’ve gone that route and they know how hard that is.
Is there something you hope that United Methodist readers might take away from this book?
For one thing, it’s important that they know that you can be a celebrity and you can be a person of faith. Sometimes we lose sight of that. Although Robin doesn’t wear her faith on her sleeve, doesn’t try to cram it down other peoples’ throats, she is a great person of faith as well. It is interesting to be with her family, to see how comfortable they all are with that and with prayer. Also, perseverance, that someone like Lucimarian in her generation, and of her race, what she’s gone through, and that we can be inspired by that. I heard what people had done to her, and I said to her, it made me angry but it also made me more sensitive. Not to beat ourselves up, but to say, we don’t want to be that kind of people. We can be better than that.
I have the opportunity to interview older people from time to time, and they have great stories, I sometimes feel as if their wisdom is a wasted resource that we don’t tap into often enough.
Yes! I have a 99-year-old friend who says to me, “Everyone always tells me that I’m such a wise person, so why doesn’t anybody ever ask for my wisdom?” I thought, “Wow. How true is that?”
So when I speak to groups that have adult children, I’ll say, “When was the last time you asked your older loved one to share that wisdom with you?” So this was a wonderful opportunity for Lucimarian to share those life lessons that she’s learned. Hopefully others would be receptive. Sometimes I think they’re more receptive in hearing from someone other than their own family members. It’s sad but I think that’s true.
Tell me a little about the writing process.
I had so much fun writing the book. The first time I went to Pass Christian, Mississippi (where Lucimarian lives), it was for 10 days. Each day, I’d wait for her to call me and tell me when it would be a good time to come over to talk. Lucimarian has another daughter, Sally-Ann, who is a news anchor in New Orleans, so she watches Sally Ann first and then she watches Robin in the morning. So usually we’d start after lunch. It was just fun. It was just conversation.
People asked me, “Were you nervous?” and I said, “No, it’s just like sitting down with a good friend.” When I went back and listened to the tape recorder, I got tickled at how much we had just laughed. She has a great sense of humor and did not hold back anything.