Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 82. On her 80th birthday, her dearest friends gave her a wonderful birthday party. Although she’d been battling one illness after another for several years, she had a good day that day and had a wonderful time surrounded by people she loved, and who loved her. She died before she could celebrate her next birthday.
So today I’m going to share with some memories that might give you an idea of how this incredible woman shaped my life and helped me become the person I am today. These are thoughts that I shared in eulogy at her memorial service. This is a longer post than usual, and perhaps no one will bother to read it, but if you do, I think you will be blessed. Because even from the grave I think my mom has valuable things to say, if anyone takes the time to listen.
We didn’t have a whole lot of money when I was a kid, although I never realized it at the time and certainly never felt the least bit deprived. We were middle middle class – always had enough but lived on a budget and didn’t often have excess.
Christmases we would get one “big” gift and then several smaller things, always a book or two and some dreaded clothes, with a new toothbrush and an orange in our stockings.
One Christmas Mom and Dad told my sister and me ahead of time that our brother, Don, was going to get a new bike – a three-speed! Robin and I loved knowing that little secret and keeping it from him.
On Christmas morning we were opening presents as usual when Mom asked Don to run into the kitchen to get her a cup of coffee. We knew that his bike was in there waiting for him, so we all followed him in to see the expression on his face.
In the kitchen was Don’s beautiful new three speed bike – and two brand new, shiny 26-inch Huffy bikes for Robin and me! You’ve never seen three kids jumping around and screaming like the three of us.
I know now that Mom and Dad scrimped and saved all year long that year to buy us those bikes, denying themselves time and again just to watch the joy on our faces that Christmas morning.
And I learned that being a mom meant always, always, always putting your children ahead of yourself.
When I was a kid, I was a tomboy – my sister was the girly-girl that Mom got to dress up in lace and ruffles. For me, it was cut-off jeans and baggy tee shirts, barefoot all summer and hair cropped as short as possible to keep it out of my way. I was never happier than when I was climbing a tree or catching crawfish in the river – or dreaming up new ways to torment my nemesis, Dennis Setzer, who lived next door.
On my birthday when I was about ten, Mom took me out for the whole day, just me. We went to a real restaurant for a fancy lunch – not where you stood in line to order! – and then we went to see a movie, Dr. Doolittle.
After that she took me shopping at Rikes Department Store. She said I could buy any toy I wanted, and one whole new outfit.
I still remember the resignation on her face when I raced past by the girls department and picked out a pair of boys jeans that had reinforced knees. And of course I chose a hula hoop over any of the dolls, even the ones who closed their eyes or really cried.
And I learned that being a mom meant letting your children be who they were and not who you wanted them to be.
Mom and Dad made decisions about what and what not to allow us to do as we grew up, even when the decisions were unpopular and we railed against them. I think they were more lenient with me than with my brother and sister, having already been through it twice and maybe having figured out that some of the things they had prohibited really weren’t all that bad. But there were still plenty of times when I sulked for days because Mom wouldn’t let me do something I thought was eminently reasonable and she knew was not.
And I learned that being a mom meant sometimes being the enemy rather than being a friend.
When we moved out here from Ohio, my brother and sister and I got involved in the Methodist church down the street from where we lived. I was in junior high, so I basically had youth group on Sunday nights, but Don and Robin were in senior high and their youth group did all kinds of fun things, especially on the weekends.
One Friday night I was home with Mom and Dad, who were reading the newspaper and relaxing after a long week at work. Don and Robin were off doing something I’m sure was incredibly fun and exciting. After a while I started feeling kind of sick; I went into the living room and told Mom my stomach hurt.
She made me some hot Ovaltine and let me lie on the couch with my head in her lap while she rubbed my back.
After a few minutes, Dad said he felt like taking a drive and asked if I wanted to go with him. I didn’t really want to but I figured he was getting pretty old – nearly 50 – so I’d better humor him. We drove up into the mountains and looked at the city lights, then drove down to Fosdick’s Ice Cream shop, where we both had a gigantic ice cream cone. My stomach felt much better.
The next day I was doing my chores and straightening up the living room, and as I picked up the newspaper Mom had been reading the night before, I noticed she had written two words across the top – “lonely” and “attention.”
And I learned that being a mom meant understanding what your children are feeling even when they don’t.
There are so many other things I learned from my mom that it would take all day for me to share them with you. I followed in her footsteps professionally, becoming a legal secretary, and she gave great counsel that has served me so well in my career –
She said being on time to work means being at your desk working at starting time, not being in the coffee room gossiping; that you’re no good to your boss if you’re not in the office when she is. She said to make sure your boss has what she needs before she needs it; that there is no such thing as a demeaning task, so never think you’re too good to get your boss a cup of coffee or go out and pick up lunch if that’s what she needs you to do.
She said, don’t tell your boss what you can do, show her what you can do. And remember, when you work at an office, you don’t work just for your boss, you work for the whole firm, so help anyone who needs it. Work hard to make yourself indispensable, but never deceive yourself into thinking you really are. Never think you’re more important than anyone else, from the mail clerk to the errand runner to the other secretaries to the top brass.
And above all, be kind to everyone.
Mom was a great mom to me growing up. She was a great role model to me professionally. She was an awesome grandmother to my children.
During the last five years of her life, as she faced one health challenge after another, I had the incredible opportunity to give back to her a little tiny bit of what she gave to me my whole life – companionship, care, and comfort.
She often apologized to me for being a “burden” and I could never quite convince her that a burden was the last thing she was.
There were times, I admit, when I would head over to her house after work and think to myself, I’m tired, I’d really like to just go home and go to bed.
But then I would remember the times when she would really have liked to have gone to bed, but she sat up with me because I was sick, or because I’d put off that science project to the last minute, or because my heart was broken and I needed her arms around me.
And I knew I wouldn’t have her forever, and I knew that when that day came and she was gone from this world, I would cherish every single moment I’d spent with her.
That day has come, and I do.
Happy birthday, Mom. I hope they’re throwing a party for you in heaven.