My Mom Adored Rush Limbaugh

Some People Listen to Music to get Them Through the Hard Times. My Mom Tuned Into Rush Limbaugh.

Howie Espenshied / 2.18.21

It’s True. She loved him! This isn’t a joke, she had the superintendent at her apartment complex (in the mid ’90s) rig her front door light switch to her little “boom box” so that when she got home from work, the “current” taped episode of Limbaugh would project throughout her tiny apartment. Hear me: She would come home from a 10-hour shift where she worked fitting prosthetic bras for breast cancer patients (for peanut wages), and she would throw her keys down, light up a cigarette, and flip the Limbaugh switch. That was my mom. My dad had abandoned her in 1987, literally. She was alone.

The soundtrack of my mom’s life from 1987 to when she died in 2001, was … Rush Limbaugh. Yeah, I know — wow. I think we all have soundtracks to sections of our lives. For me and my wife (married in 1985) the soundtrack of our early marriage was “Boys of Summer” (Don Henley), which was the most played radio song the summer we got hitched. I like that about us.

As I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, my mom’s soundtrack was a mixture of The Sound of Music and all of Johnny Cash’s vinyl records, with some Tom Jones and some Kingston Trio sprinkled in. Those dusty vinyl records thus became the soundtrack of my early years. My mom had one of those cool turntables that could hold five records in the chamber and could drop one of them automatically! That was super cool to me. I knew when The Sound of Music soundtrack ended and when it was going to transition to the vinyl drop of “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley” on the Kingston Trio’s Greatest Hits record. I anticipated it every time.

My mom adored her dad, his love of baseball, conservative politics, and all the stuff that comes with all of that. She and I used to argue about Rush Limbaugh a lot. It wasn’t so much about Limbaugh’s message to me (back then, I was pretty malleable, so I didn’t dislike him). It was more the “man.” I’d say, “Mom, he’s kind of full of himself, don’t you think?” She would say, “Yes, but he speaks of the things I have grown up to believe, and he has a sense of humor about it, which my father would have liked.” I had a hard time arguing with her about that, even long after I took Limbaugh off my car’s AM radio preset.

My mom died of lung cancer on January 10, 2001 (our daughter’s 9th birthday), at the age of 63. Rush Limbaugh died of the same thing, this week. I watched my mom die. Dying of lung cancer is no fun. Also no fun today is watching a lot of friends on social media saying “good riddance” (and that’s the people being “kind”) about Limbaugh’s passing. The triumphal vulgarity of it all makes me sad. But it’s probably a little much to expect charity nowadays when mercy is in such short supply (though Limbaugh wasn’t exactly a paragon of charity either). I’m not sad about him dying; I knew he was sick with the same disease my mom had. My mom lasted three months after diagnosis. Limbaugh held on for about three years. Tobacco played a role, for sure, in both lives being cut short.

I’m sad because when my my mom flipped on her rigged-up light switch to the *sultry tones* of Rush Limbaugh, it gave her peace. Those moments gave her respite for her soul. Also in the ’90s, during the Limbaugh years, my mom came to faith in Christ — not because of Rush Limbaugh, but because she heard the Gospel of Christ presented to her clearly (for her understanding) at my sister’s church in Georgia. My mom loved Rush Limbaugh in the ’90s and beyond. She also came to love Jesus in the ’90s and beyond.

Rush Limbaugh was a controversialist and standard bearer for conservative politics. He said things he knew to be inflammatory and did not hesitate to pass on rumors as facts. But I appreciate Rush Limbaugh and am thankful for him. Call it imputation if you want, but at a time when my mom had no one, Limbaugh’s daily radio program became her nightly company. He was an unlikely agent of comfort in her life. He wouldn’t have been the one I had chosen, but that’s often how grace works. When her children were grown and her husband gone, it was Limbaugh’s voice that filled an empty house. Some people listen to music to get them through the hard times. My mom tuned into Rush Limbaugh. He certainly wasn’t preaching the Gospel, but it made life that little bit easier for her and kept her from withdrawing from the world entirely.

My mom’s silly (and awesome) soundtracks resonated with me a lot, and didn’t sometimes, but I can’t help but think that her path to glory is pretty “Tom Jones Cool.”  I am coming to believe that the Spirit of God puts soundtracks in our heads “for such times as these.” Such soundtracks accompany us through the ups and downs of life, singing when we feel like dancing or carrying us when we can’t put one foot in front of the other. These small graces sometimes come through songs, or in my Mom’s case, through a radio host.