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Christmas angel appears, and her Clover church fills with tears of joy

Mary Lee Spoon, 89, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and other ailments. But her appearance as the Christmas angel in a play touched the hearts of members at her Clover church.
Mary Lee Spoon, 89, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and other ailments. But her appearance as the Christmas angel in a play touched the hearts of members at her Clover church.

LAKE WYLIE -- Mary Lee Spoon had no lines. She did not walk across the tiny church stage. But Sunday night, in a wheelchair, wearing wings, on a day like all days that her daughter says as "could be her last," Spoon made her acting debut.

She played the Christmas angel.

Mary Lee Spoon has Alzheimer's disease. She is 89 years old.

"They gave her a standing ovation," said Jo Kornegay, a hospice nurse who has helped with Spoon for more than two years. "Never saw anything like it in all my life."

Spoon's health has declined since suffering strokes a dozen years ago. But this mother of five, the dietitian for so many years at Camp Thunderbird in Lake Wylie, where she was famous for baking special treats for the kids who came from humble homes, has hung on. Alzheimer's disease has robbed her of her memory and even knowing who her family is. She suffers from cardiac disease, too.

"One time, her pulse was 30. She was about to pass. We thought it was the end," said daughter Debbie Burton, who has cared for her mother for 12 years. "I've gone from being her daughter to being like her mother. That is how this disease is."

Past Christmases, three times, were spent in the hospital.

"But the preacher told us one time there might be just one more life she has to touch before her life is finished," said Buddy Burton, Spoon's son-in-law.

This is a lady who had to quit school in the sixth grade to take care of siblings after her mother was found to have cancer. One thing she never was able to do was act in a school play.

That one life to touch -- maybe more -- might have been Sunday night.

The idea to have Spoon on stage for the first time was floated at Faith Baptist Church in Clover a few weeks ago. Debbie Turner asked workers from Hospice Care of South Carolina if they thought her mother could hold up during a performance.

"We thought it was a great idea," said Johnnie Robinson, a certified hospice care aide who, along with Kornegay and others, has been part of the family for two years.

So the play rehearsed and the angel got ready. A costume was made for Spoon. Finally, the stage lights dimmed Sunday night, and Spoon got ready for her debut.

"Standing room only in the place," Kornegay said.

Spoon was off to stage right, "waiting in the wings" as they say in the acting game.

Mary and Joseph sang, then some shepherds sang, then the wise men -- three, of course -- sang.

The wise men were the cue. The angel was next. The angel was pushed up there on that little stage.

"The whole place was just crying," Kornegay said.

"Felt just perfect, special," said Buddy Burton, the son-in-law.

Matt Burton, Spoon's grandson, sang. Then came the song "Let There Be Peace."

And from that stage, the 89-year-old angel who had somehow lived to that night in her life, smiled out at the crowd.

"She knew then," said Debbie Turner, her daughter. "She knew she was on stage."

The clapping started and didn't stop until the lights came up. Then from that wheelchair, beneath her wings, the Christmas Angel smiled one last time at the crowd.

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