At the end of yesterday’s depressing blog post about the publishing industry (warning: it contains deep sadness and sarcasm), I said I would make my next post about rainbows and unicorns. Well, this post is about something even better: My mother.
Here we are in 1973 in east Tennessee.
You will be hearing a lot about my mother in the coming year. She and I are writing a novel together. Much of it will be based on her childhood years after her mother died. I can not wait to get started on this project with her. Actually, she is the creative drive behind it and I am just the one to make it happen technically. My mom has macular degeneration (which came on quickly in 2012 making her legally blind, though she still has some eyesight), and arthritis in her hands which makes typing difficult.
But today, because it is Mother’s Day, I am making a top ten list of things she has done to make me a better person.
1. Mom never judged us or our friends for the clothes we wore, the crazy hair styles, tattoos, piercings, or cleanliness. Mom treated all our friends the same whether they were rich or homeless. She would invite them in and ask if they’d like a glass of tea. Then she would begin telling them stories to put them at ease and make them comfortable to share their own. But she never pried.
2. Mom took us for walks along our dead end road. We carried plastic bags for picking up aluminum cans. We didn’t need the money from recycling. It was just something fun to do, like a roadside Easter Egg hunt. But if we were on certain roads we were not allowed to pick up cans because it was the Potter man’s territory. He needed the money from recycling, so we didn’t take his cans. As a matter of fact, if we were driving down a road where he frequently looked for cans and we had some in the car, Mom would tell us to “toss them out for the Potter man”. This backfired the year my little brother tossed a can out the school bus window believing he was doing something kind. He ended up being suspended from riding the bus for three weeks.
3. Mom was terrible with directions and she wasn’t that great at driving in general, at least not when we were really young. But she decided now and then to take us on vacation by herself. My two brothers and I would climb in the car and she would drive us toward Myrtle Beach with the assumption that one way or another she would find it. Every time we would reach Florence, SC she would point at a car and say, “I bet they’re going where we’re going. I’ll follow them.” And somehow we made it.
4. She used big words we seldom heard anyone else use. She would ask if we knew what the words meant. If we didn’t, she would have us look it up in the dictionary. Mom always wanted to be a writer and has kept journals since the mid-80s. She enjoyed telling us true stories, rumors from her childhood, and superstitions. When I outgrew being read the Berenstain Bears books, Mom and I would read Woman’s World magazine together, take the quizzes, and read each other’s horoscope. She wrote short essays for similar magazines and had a few printed in the sections designated for reader submissions. Words made stories and stories made us live forever.
5. Cake. My mother loves to make cake. When she was a little girl she would have her little brother steal their grandpa’s chicken eggs so she could bake a cake for them. She always had a cake made for Sunday dinner. Before her macular degeneration forced her to retire from her job as a rural mail carrier, she would make cakes for all the other carrier’s birthdays. To her, cake is what you give people to make them happy and there can never be too much happiness.
6. Mom did not just deliver mail to her customers. She listened to their stories, worried about their problems, looked in on them, set them up on dates, and fed their animals if they couldn’t. One elderly woman called her at 6:00 in the morning to ask if mom could please bring her some toilet paper as she came by on the mail route. You may wonder how the woman got my mom’s cell phone number. Well, mom gave it to out to certain customers who might need her. My mom stopped and bought toilet paper and took it to the woman. She is not afraid to be needed.
7. Thanksgiving is a time for family. Christmas often revolves around the children, but Thanksgiving revolves around the mothers and fathers, grandparents, and cousins. It can be a very difficult holiday for people who have no family. Mom never hesitated to invite people from her mail route or friends of ours who were alone to come share food with us. Not everyone took her up on it, but some did. When there is a stranger sitting at your Thanksgiving table, you see your family through their eyes. It was a gift to be able to do that.
8. Mom nicknames everyone, especially if she loves you and maybe if she doesn’t care much for you. It may be as simple as adding “Lou” to the end of your first name. Her children were “Number 1 son”, “Little Girl”, and “Woody”. Co-workers were Wild Child, Hollywood, Mary-Mary, and others I have forgotten. Sometimes she would use the person’s real first and middle names or create a new middle name. With pets, it went quite overboard. My miniature dachshund, Dorothy, had a plethora of names. Dorothy was Dorothy Diane, Pidy-Tah, Pidy, Pie, and Tah. She called dad, “Chum” and every now and then when I was very little she would say “Chump” under her breath and laugh. Her brothers were Ronald-A, Donald William, Douger, and Rinky-Dink. Whoever you were in all the rest of the world did not matter. Mom saw you as you were to her, and that needed a name all its own. (She may have picked this habit up from her Daddy.)
9. When I was between the ages of 9 and 13, mom would buy things for me and say Dad bought them. I believed Dad had actually bought me an Olivia Newton John record and my very first eyeshadow until many years later. When she told me that she, not Dad, had bought those things and had all but forgotten ever telling me they were from Dad, I was surprised and confused. But looking back on it I remembered how I felt at those times, as if the gifts were proof he really did care about me. She was not interested in being a favorite parent. She really wanted us to have a good relationship with Dad, too. Part of her efforts in bringing that about was to buy me gifts “from Dad”.
10. Mom is a peace keeper, sometimes a peace maker. She calls people Sir and Ma’am. She apologizes when people are upset, even if they are upset at her for things she did not do. We marvel at people who do these things. But as her child, especially as I became her grown child, it is hard to watch. I was not born with her temperament. Justice before peace was my motto. It was difficult to see her hurt by people and know all she wanted was to move on in peace when my entire being demanded I seek justice for her. As an adult I have been known to confront people who have hurt her. I do it in private and shame them mercilessly for hurting her. I leave them with, “All she wants is to be left in peace. If you tell her I talked to you it will just upset her more than you already have, so don’t mention that I came to you.” And because everyone knows my mom is, in fact, a selfless and kind person who does not deserve to be hurt, they would agree not to say anything.
I did not turn out to be a carbon copy of my mother. But everything she is has made me a better person than I could have ever been without her. Growing up knowing my mother had lost her mother to breast cancer when my mom was only 7 years old, I valued her in a way some kids may never think about. I know I am lucky and I never take her for granted.