This Sunday we will celebrate Mother’s Day, a day which we set aside to honor those women who raised us, played a key role in establishing our moral values, and kept us safe and secure in the formative years so that we could develop into adults capable of supporting ourselves and continuing the ever changing cycle of creation of new life. And while fathers are certainly also important traditionally as the leader of the household, it was our mother who was the one who usually filled the role of principal caretaker and day-to-day life support coach.
For many of us, today is a day when a big family gathering is scheduled where all grown children and their families gather together for a family meal after church. For others, from less close knit families, it might be taking Mom out to dinner at a nice restaurant. And for even others, those who no longer have Mom with us, it might be a visit to the cemetery with flowers of remembrance. But whatever the activity might be, it is important for us to never forget the sacrifice that our mothers made for us so that we grew up happy and well-balanced.
Each of us has special memories of Mom. I will just relay a few about my mom who is no longer with us as an example of how much I loved her. I hope and trust that these words might awaken memories from your own past about your own mother and what she means to you.
Mom was a country girl, born in a small fishing village in the coastal Southeast. She had a normal childhood: doing farm chores after school, tending to her little brother (she was one of nine kids) and from all reports she was quite the tomboy. In high school she was a pretty good guard on the girls’ basketball team and sometimes it was quite painful. It seems in those days they practiced for all games on an outdoor court which used clam shells for boundary markers. In later years she would laugh talking about coming home with bloody knees which her mom would tend to.
Never having been to a large city, she embarked right out of high school for nursing school in New York City, where she met my dad, an intern, and they eventually married before returning to his native Virginia to live after training was done. America was gripped by the Great Depression in those days and she talked of the good fortune of being given gratis tickets to New York sporting events since nurses were considered sister saints by residents of a struggling city. She even had the opportunity to meet Babe Ruth in person.
I was the last of three children born to Mom in Virginia and she chose not to continue in nursing and instead took on raising us three children as a full time duty. She also doubled as the neighborhood nurse for all of our friends when any of us suffered the normal bumps and bruises associated with childhood games in the 1950s and early ‘60s. After all, we didn’t have knee and elbow pads and helmets and the quick answer was always Bismuth Violet, the purple antiseptic that was a badge of courage among little boys back then.
Graduating from high school, I went on to college and then the Army. I didn’t see Mom nearly as much, of course, but I did write to her weekly and visited whenever I could get leave or during school breaks. She always kept me abreast of things and I can remember how she would pull out the scrapbook for memories’ sake whenever I came home. She kept clippings, stories and anything else she thought I might like.
As I reached middle age, Mom started to falter. By then she was in her mid-80’s and except for one operation that I can remember, she was never sick or in the hospital. It must have been that good old country living and exercise, and she religiously took a brisk daily walk for good health. Despite her best effort, however, Mom started to fail. It wasn’t failure in her ambulatory skills but mental.
Mom developed Alzheimer’s and eventually could no longer take care of herself. I offered to move her to Florida but she wouldn’t hear of it, saying she would rather be in assisted living in Virginia than to leave the place she had called home since 1938.
I traveled home to visit her at least once a year and, in 2004, I was preparing for another trip to see her when my sister called and said she had passed. I was sad but didn’t cry; I guess I kind of expected it at any time and since she no longer could remember me she was a shell of her former self. I will say this, though; Mom remembered things from her childhood and New York in detail even if she no longer recognized me.
It was a chilly late October day when we went to view her body at the funeral home the day before she was laid to rest. The funeral director had done a splendid job of making her lifelike, yet as active as she had been in life that couldn’t be replaced.
Seeing her like that, it broke the ice and I cried like a baby. I remembered childhood at home, the family holidays and food, the skinned knees, the discipline when I needed it, but most of all the love and encouragement that she gave to me and my siblings. Not only was she the staying force in my early years, she was the staying force for our entire neighborhood. Any neighbor could stop in at all times of day for a cup of coffee and a chat, and a neighborhood child could find the door open if they needed a place to stay until their parents got home. It was a different time and place and Mom was a different kind of lady.
As we left the funeral, we decided to honor her by stopping for a cup of coffee and a chat before scattering on our separate ways. And we laughed joyously together knowing that she was in a better place. We also knew that she was probably watching us from afar a nodding in our choice of places to say our goodbyes to each other.
It’s now ten years later and I think of her often. And Mom, I hope you are proud of me and what I’ve done with my life. Oh, I’ve made my strikes and errors, but at least know this: I love you and look forward to sometime in the future seeing you again and talking with you over some of that strong coffee of yours because I know you are still drinking it.
I hope my comments here have helped rekindle those memories that each of you have about your mothers and what they did to get you ready for life. Happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere.
Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, my story of life with animals in rural America