By Lynn Richardson
Just ask the Shepard family how they plan to celebrate Mother’s Day this year and you will get the same answer from all of them — “together.”
Having a close knit family has always been the most important thing for Janet Shepard of Johnson City, and her three daughters, often referred to as “those Shepard girls” — Cherie Doyle, Angie Williams and Natalie Norris. So on Mother’s Day, as well as throughout the year, they make certain their family’s tradition of doing lots of things together continues.
“My mom was three years old when her mom died,” Angie said, “Her dad had cerebral palsy, so the two of them had to move in with her grandmother who owned a little store in downtown Johnson City. She was the one who raised my mom, and since her dad never remarried, she never had any brothers or sisters.
“Growing up alone like that made her want to have a family,” she added. “When she did have one, she wanted us all to be close and do everything together.”
Those were good times for the Shepard girls; their childhood is filled with happy memories of being at home, playing together in the yard, taking family vacations and having picnics in the park.
Now grown, all three have busy lives; Angie runs her own preschool, Cherie is a realtor and Natalie works at a local communications company. They are all mothers themselves and now, more than ever, they say they appreciate their mother and the values she instilled in them.
“She has always wanted us to support each other and love each other,” Cherie said. “She always tried to keep us together, and she taught us that our sisters are our best friends.
“Mom taught us to look out for each other when we were little tiny girls,” she added. “We never realized how well that would serve us later in life.”
That family love and support became all the more important when their mother became very ill in 2006. That year, Janet got pneumonia. The disease worsened, sending her into the intensive care unit, and the family worried she might not recover.
It was a frightening time, Natalie said. “She was on life support for 19 days. We spent day and night there and even laid in the bed with her.”
“Finally when she came to, she had to be weaned off the life support,” Natalie added. “She couldn’t communicate, so we found a way to stay close even then. We got her some paper and colorful markers, so we could write and draw funny pictures for each other. It was a bad experience that turned out to be a good one.”
The family is now facing another challenge, this time with their dad’s health. Sherrell, a disabled Korean veteran, has multiple myeloma, and now spinal stenosis. He will need surgery and has spent quite a bit of time in the hospital.
“This is a tough time,” Janet said. “But they’re (daughters) here, right by our side. They’ve brought us food and taken good care of us. My husband said, just the other day, that the things we’ve done for them, they’re doing for us now.”
As their mother, Janet says she couldn’t be more proud of all three of her daughters, and she attributes their closeness to the fact they did so much together as a family when they were small.
“We always had the neighborhood kids at the house,” she said. “I didn’t work, so all of them would go play in the creeks and we had a swimming pool. There was no fighting or feuding going on. They were smothered in love.”
Church was always at the heart of the Shepard family’s life, and they still attend Central Church of Christ on Oakland Avenue in Johnson City.
“We always took them to church and tried to show them what was important in life,” Janet said. I used to sing “Love One Another” to them in the morning when they were getting up and then I would say, ‘just think, you get to go be with your friends at school today!’”
“We always worked through things, and they didn’t cause me any problems,” she added. “I was an only child and it makes me realize what I missed, seeing them as close as they are.”
After 52 years of marriage, Janet says she and her husband have always tried to lead by example.
“Girls look at the mother to see how she treats her husband; and then the son looks at the dad and sees how he treats their mom,” she said.
And now that she is a grandmother and a great-grandmother — with eight grandchildren, Megan, Chet, Shelton, Austin, Alex, Ashley, Taylor and Parker — and four great-grandchildren, Nash, Logan, Ella and Asher — she says she is blessed to have a big family.
“When you get tired of them, you can take them home,” Janet said with a chuckle. “After spending a half day with them, at my age, you get tired. But I enjoy their personalities, and I like taking them places like the library and teaching them how to take care of plants and pets.
“Being a grandparent is getting to do it all again and enjoying the children,” she added.
Always ready to tackle something new, Natalie recalls when her mother, at age 45, decided she wanted to learn to ride a bike — an adventure for both mother and daughters.
“Well it was a long flat road, but it had a big ditch on either side,” Natalie recalls. “She didn’t ride too well and ended up in one of those big ditches. She tried not to fall and grabbed at a tree limb. It smacked her good and down she went!
But she didn’t give up and rides a lot now, Natalie says. “It was kind of ironic – the kids trying to teach the mom how to ride a bike.”
This Mother’s Day, Cherie says she looks forward to getting as many of the kids together as possible. “We try to get all of our children together and go to church and then out to lunch, she said. “That is our tradition and we look forward to it. But the most important thing is that we get together even though everybody’s lives are busy,” she added. “We’ve been through some really hard times, illnesses, divorce.
“We stick together, and I still love it when I hear somebody say, ‘those Shepard girls.’ Whoever is the strong one at the time is the one in charge and we just take care of each other. That’s what our mom has taught us.”