Today is my mother’s birthday. She is 91 years old today. She has been on the other side of eternity for the past six years. Can that really be true? I question that we’ve been separated for that long. In fact, I question that we’ve been separated at all. I have such a debt of gratitude for her love that I refuse to think of myself as independent from the things she held dear. What is true for me is also true of my younger brother.
My mother died two days before her 85th birthday. Both my younger brother and I were privileged to be present. The same was true for our wives and for each of our daughters and sons-in-laws. Larry had telephoned me in Austin a few hours before her death and said the doctor had pronounced that time was near. Though I was not thinking clearly, Treva and I threw some clothes in a suitcase and immediately headed to the airport. There was only one thing on my mind and that related to our need to get to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in time to bid mother farewell. Fortunately, my daughter and her husband made it from Austin in time as well.
The need to be there was only academic. I had no idea what we were doing other than following our heart. Tears stream down my cheeks as I recall those moments, but they were precious and I’ll forever be grateful for the memories. I was privileged to be with dad when he died and it never occurred to me that anything other than that would be the protocol for mother as well. What I never considered was how early it would come. My mother was only two days shy of her 85th birthday. Her mother had lived to the age of 99. I had hoped the same for her as well.
Dad had died almost three years earlier. Prior to his home-going, Mother had forfeited her cognitive ability to cherish the connections that had always held us together as a family. She was in another place devoid of recognition and connectivity, but none of that really mattered. We knew who she was and we were determined to hold the course.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve known so many people that didn’t have the privilege of being the apple of their mother’s eye, but hands down, there was no doubt about it. What was true for me was also true for Ronnie and for Larry. My mother had the capacity of loving each of her children 110%.
In fact, when it came to being a source of encouragement to children, she was always at the top of the leaderboard. She was like the pied piper. She never met a kid she didn’t like and she was perpetually an advocate in their behalf. Playful engagement was second nature to my mother and she played it out for all it was worth.
She once told me that no one would love me like my mother and I think she was almost right. The General does a really good job, but my mother knew me when I was much younger and loved me through the terrible twos. When you consider that Ronnie was developmentally at that same place at the same time, it really defies reality of how she managed to maintain her sanity and loving spirit. We were a handful!
Okay, I was a handful. Ronnie was “John Boy Walton” before the stereotype of “John Boy” was even on anyone’s radar screen. That has to account for something. My mother was a one-of-a-kind mom. Of course, I’m sure there are many that would attest that what was true of her, was true for your mom as well. If that’s the case, you are one of the lucky ones. I count myself in that same regard.
Mother always created an “environment of home” to family and friends. She was spirited, fun to be around, and always predictably dependable in providing encouragement and support. She was the mother in elementary school that was involved as a home-room support system. She was active in the PTA. She was the mother that ensured we signed Valentine Cards for every member of our class. She was the mother that always made a big deal out of birthdays. She was the mother that orchestrated on-going extra-curricular activities for her children. We never missed a “made for children” movie. During our growing up years, our home was the hub where kids from the neighborhood hung out. Most of our play was outside, but she often had warm homemade cookies waiting for that after-school snack. She was the mother that often ordered a bottle or two of chocolate milk from the milkman because she knew it would put a smile on our faces. She had the capacity to make everyone feel welcomed and to feel important.
She was the mother that thoughtfully put our coats and school clothing on lay-away and ensured they were paid for and at hand before they were needed at the beginning of the school year. With the precision of a drill sergeant, during our elementary school years, she ensured we change out of school clothes and into play clothes the minute we got home from school.
I have often said tongue-in-cheek that the first memory verse from the Bible that my mother taught me was “be neat”. Of course, that’s not really in Scripture, but if there had been Eleven Commandments instead of Ten, mom would have been an advocate for “be neat” to be added. Our home and her personal appearance were always impeccable.
I grew up in the “father knows best days” where the badge of successful parenting had something to do with one’s children making it to adulthood without getting into too much trouble. Mother was intent to ensure no failure on her part. She was the primary disciplinarian in the family. I should know. I got more spankings than both of my brothers combined. It wasn’t that I was doubly mischievous; it was just that I wanted to ensure that she understood my side of the story. Obviously I was a very slow learner.
When the spankings weren’t effective and disciplinary issues still loomed, Mother always used God as the “trump card” to manage behavior. “If you really loved God you would… ; the Bible says…, etc.” Of course, she was always right, but that was like taking out the big guns to swat a fly. I resolved in childhood that if I ever became a parent, I would never do that with my children. My children would tell you I’m not very good keeping resolutions.
One of the things I value deeply about my mother is the importance she placed on relationships. She loved deeply and she loved lastingly. Sometimes along the way she threw in a truckload of forgiveness to negotiate the uphill climb of continuing to love people, but she role-modeled living as God would have her live.
Like I said, “I’m one of the lucky ones”. Mother’s priorities were always her children and subsequently her grandchildren. She not only was the world’s best grandmother, but she had the ability to shower that “grandmotherly-kind of love” on children whenever they were in her presence. It didn’t’ matter who they were. She intuitively always managed to connect with them and was an advocate to support their well-being. She had no reservation in gently re-directing parents (perhaps at times, not so gently) if she thought improvement was needed in the opportunities and privileges children were permitted.
Today is my mother’s birthday and I celebrate it with memories that underscore the awareness that I was one of the lucky ones. What a difference the on-going connection I have with her makes in my life.
All My Best!
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