I’m sure, given the headaches and heartaches and heartburn that my brother and I caused over the years, that there were times my mom never thought she’d make it to her 76th birthday.
And yet, yesterday she passed it up and started working on her 77th.
It’s easy, when you task yourself weekly with writing these missives regularly to wax eloquent about loved ones and family members. I’m not sure why, but they seem to resonate with people, and I’m always grateful for the comments and feedback you graciously provide. I suppose it’s because those are ties to which anyone can relate; I look back on my life as nothing extraordinary, but the perfect ordinariness of it all is probably what makes it so similar to the stories of your own lives.
My mother’s story may not be spectacular to most, but without her determination, she could very well be married to a retired mechanic or cotton farmer in an off-the-beaten path Mississippi town, and I wouldn’t be here. She grew up in Booneville, Miss., one of those Southern towns trapped in a time warp even today, and a bulk of her childhood was spent on a Mississippi farm, where she was up before light to feed chickens. Her father was a hard-working, miserly Southern man who believed in paying cash for necessities and nothing for luxuries, and she remembers her own grandfather bringing her trinkets and baubles that he would find along the side of the road on his walk into town. They were other people’s trash, but for a girl to whom a piece of candy was a treat beyond imagination, it was treasure.
A small-town way of life and the thinking that accompanied it are perfectly normal, even desirable, for some people; my mother wasn’t one of them. She got out as soon as she could, much to the chagrin of her parents, and moved to Memphis, which I imagine was quite the culture shock for a girl who grew up in a town where the tallest structure was the water tower. She put herself through business college, exploring life and eventually falling in love with my pops, a city boy she eventually took back home to introduce as her future husband. (I can’t say for sure, but I imagine my father’s reaction was something like, “No wonder you wanted to get out of here!”)
They married and spent a few days in a lakeside cabin for their honeymoon, then moved across the state to Knoxville, where they’ve lived ever since. My mother was always a driven woman; it’s only been in the last couple of decades or so that she’s seemed able to slow down and enjoy life instead of always finding something to do. Growing up, I remember her working constantly. She was a housewife, at least until my brother and I got older, but it wasn’t soap operas and chocolate candies.
If she wasn’t cleaning, she was cooking. If she wasn’t doing laundry, she was gardening. If she wasn’t running errands, she was making the house into a place where my father could come home at the end of a hard day and relax. She left the yard work for him, as well as the dinner dishes, but everything else she took on herself. I remember many a night when she watched TV while ironing clothes, having sat down only a couple of times that day to eat.
She lost a daughter two years before I was born. I spent a lot of time wondering what having a sister would have been like, but it wasn’t until I got older and had children of my own that I began to understand, maybe a little bit, the toll that such a loss takes. I remember a lot of sadness, and days of downright unhappiness, as well. A product of her upbringing, she never once considered the notion of therapy or counseling, and so there were days that her long-smoldering grief was directed outward, and we found ourselves walking on eggshells. But she always seemed to rally, and I choose instead to remember the times she did everything in her power to protect us from the harsh lessons that life has a way of teaching us. The one memory that burns brightest is from the summer of 1979, when I was diagnosed with a hearing disorder that was going to require surgery.
I remember that my parents took me to the doctor, and after they got the news, they took me down to Volunteer Landing. I remember sitting by the river, watching the water and listening as they tried to explain, as calmly as possible, how I was going to have an operation. I was 8 years old, frightened, and in shock, I think, but I remember turning to my mother.
Tears were running down her face as she hugged me tight and sobbed and told me she was sorry I had to go through it. Even though I had no idea what surgery meant or what was in store ... even though I was filled with a sudden dread so palpable it made my tiny chest pound ... I knew, right then and there, that as long as my Mom was there, it was going to be alright, or at least as alright as she had within her power to make it so.
That was her job — to make things OK. It’s one she’s done to the best of her abilities and continues to do, and when she sat beside me this week at a recovery meeting and watched me pick up a clean time medallion, there were tears down her face then as well. Only this time, I was the one reassuring her that it’s going to be alright.
Here’s your Friday motivational. Much love to you … and to your mama, wherever she may be.