Den mother to us all had endless energy


I have written before in this space that if you’re lucky, you’re friends fathers become your father as well, trying to help you get a foot hold in this life.

While we all have certainly lost a number of our “fathers” here in the past decade. This past week, we lost one of the mothers, or as I like to call her, the den mother to us all.

Jo Randall passed away at age 86 last Thursday and I feel like there is a little less energy on the earth since then.

Both our families moved to Rockdale on the same day— July 4, 1972—the Randalls from Tennessee, my family from Louisiana.

Feeling like we had been dropped into a time warp, her youngest son Danny and I became fast friends the first day of high school, standing in the hallway in disbelief.

Middle brother Doug and I played ball together and became friends as well.

While they were older, I became well acquainted with elder brothers Steve and Scott whom I embarked on many adventures with.

Jo Randall was incredibly proud of her Norwegian heritage, displaying the flag of Norway in her front yard. Jo Randall was incredibly proud of her Norwegian heritage, displaying the flag of Norway in her front yard. Both had hair to their shoulders, which was cool to a 14-year old, and for the first two years I knew him, I could not understand a word Scott said.

He had his own language: “Scottspeak.”

I spent a lot of time in the Randall household and most people thought I was the fifth Randall brother because we were all tall.

And if you were around back then, most of the time that was a good thing.

Most of the time I slept in a sleeping bag between brothers Danny and Doug’s beds. For those who remember those days, Danny and Doug fought like, well, brothers and argued all the time.

And, I will swear on a stack of Bibles, that while I was laying there on the floor between them in that sleeping bag, Danny and Doug would argue in their sleep.

While I spent a lot of time at their house, Jo never once questioned why I was there or suggested that I leave.

It was just okay, you’re here, we’ll set you a place at the table and oh yeah, can you take out the garbage?

The former Jo Sandvold was extremely proud of her Norwegian heritage and it was a real treat when on Thanksgiving or Christmas, she would break out the Norwegian cookbook and make us authentic dishes.

Basketball of course, was a huge part of our lives and we spent most of our spare time on the Randall’s court, perfecting our games, at anytime of the night or day.

No cable television, no video games. All ball—all the time.

When we lowered the goal to nine feet, it was “no broken bones, no foul.”

I am quite certain that I have a sack of skin and a bucket of blood embedded in that cement court.

Karen Whitmire, who lived next door, was the only girl who we allowed to participate in the festivities—an honor she should forever cherish.

She was also a part of the wall of measurement—a grid in the garage where we chartpower ed our growth throughout the years with a pencil. That chart is still in the garage to this day, despite several coats of paint surrounding it.

Karen was horrified when she noticed Jo in the garage with a can of paint and paint brush one day, thinking she was going to cover it up.

Jo assured a concerned Karen, “it will be here forever.”

Jo was always upset that she couldn’t get in a game. She would shoot while we were taking a break. She would let us know how good she was—and she really was.

She was a standout basketball and volleyball player in her native Iowa.

The angular post played semi-pro basketball and once scored 63 points in game.

She had three sons play college basketball. They got that from her.

When I moved back home seven years ago, she was one of the first ones to come and welcome me back.

Ever since then, she made it a habit to come and visit me, normally once a week, sometimes once a month. I was on her list of things to do and if you knew her, that was quite a lengthy list.

“I’ve got to come see one of my boys,” she would say.

At Halloween, she brought me her special popcorn balls.

Anytime one of her 12 grandchildren had done something, she couldn’t wait to get here to show me a newspaper clipping or tell me about it.

One of the last few times she visited, she brought me a picture of the old basketball team that she had played on.

She dared me to pick her out. I recognized the smile right off.

Another time, not too long ago, she brought in a piece of jewelry. This wasn’t just any costume bauble.

It was a medal she had won as a member of that barnstorming basketball team.

She brought it in, in a piece of cloth and she was smiling like I had never seen her smile before.

She said I could hold it, but I better be careful and not drop it. I was honored.

Music was her passion and she made sure it was all around her as choir director at Peace Lutheran Church, a member of the Matinee Music Club and was state president of the National Federation of Music Clubs.

Each Christmas, she would make us stand out in the front yard and sing Christmas carols. She was born on Christmas eve.

She would also come looking for me if I failed to show up at her house for Christmas.

She drafted her son Scott and granddaughters AnnaMarie and Ashley into the church choir. They performed for her one last time Saturday.

She “recruited” most of the members of the choir.

Like her oldest son Steve said at her memorial service, “You only thought you were in charge until Jo Randall showed up.”

So much so that she had planned her own memorial service.

Jo only knew one speed—all out.

As I mentioned before, I feel like there’s a little less energy floating around today and if you knew her, you should understand and probably feel the same way.

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