This week’s article is an update to one published five years ago. It follows my thinking today very closely and addresses this week’s focus. Our moms are the most important person in our youth, and always are a big part of our lives even after their departure from this earth. They were our very first love. No, it wasn’t the cute classmate in the first grade, or even that pretty teacher we thought was so wonderful. After all, mothers gave us birth, they nursed us, cleaned us, and taught us to walk, talk and to fit into society. They showed us off to everyone, dragged us to doctors, prayed for us and continued to brag about us. They cooked for us, disciplined us, gave us advice, and took us places with them. They were our world for a big part of our lives. Pausing to say ‘thanks,’ even in absentia, is most appropriate. Whether you can do dinner out, send flowers, chocolates, a homemade card, or just a phone call, you can trust that those are the events that mother’s cherish. A mother without one of those is a sad lady, indeed. At the end of the day they remember who called, visited, sent a card, or didn’t. That hurt is easy to avoid, so take care of business!
This is a picture of my mom taken just before I was born. I’m reminded of a line in the classic movie “Little Lord Fauntleroy” that goes something like, “Every boy should think his mother is the prettiest.” Indeed, it never fails with boys, or girls for that matter, to think the world of their mothers. I certainly did. Circumstances made it a little different for me, but you need to know the whole story to understand. Kids, especially teens, have a propensity to feel insecure and compare themselves to others and feel they come up short. It is easy for a teen to feel unworthy. For example, let a teenager feel that they are heavy, or too thin, taller or shorter, blond or brunette, or perhaps have an illness. Let one of them have a scar, a zit, or feel less than attractive and not acceptable. This leads to insecurities and even rebellion, or is the excuse for many, sadly enough, who take their own lives. Moms are often the only cork for that bottle of misery. They unselfishly take our hand and guide us through those jungles of despair we, put around ourselves.
During her formative years and throughout her life, my mom wasn’t any different, but she had some real obstacles to overcome. She had some causes to despair, but she overcame, I was proud of her when I matured enough to understand.
While some of my earliest memories of her were from my years as an infant or toddler, my focus in those days was self-directed. Then, the world was only about me. I wanted this or that, or felt this way or that. She was my resource, but she didn’t matter beyond that. Of course I thought she was beautiful, so it was in grade school when a classmate first mentioned her appearance in a negative manner. I realized that she was a little different. You see, my mother was born with a deformity. The umbilical cord had been wrapped too tightly and had cut the circulation to her shoulder and left hand so that she had a club hand. All of her fingers on that hand were clinched and could not be straightened out. Additionally, her left shoulder was a little higher, as if she was holding a telephone receiver up to her ear. Someone who had not seen her before likely would have considered her a ‘cripple.’ I really had not known otherwise, so I thought of her as normal. She had a beautiful face, was smart, and had a great sense of humor. She was also very attentive to me and made me think I was the most handsome prince in the kingdom. While I certainly knew better, it still helped me battle those teenage insecurities.
I could always tell that it was mom that prepared a sandwich because of the telltale imprints of her bad fingers on the bread. I also remember, when I was still being bottle fed, that she would take the bottle out of a circular wire basket that had been heating on the stove. She screwed on the nipple and tested the warmth of the milk by putting a drop on her wrist above the bad hand. If it was too hot for her, she’d cool my bottle off; otherwise, dinner was on its way.
Like many kids, I was ‘taken’ to school the first day at grade school. While we kids were directed into class rooms our moms stood talking to one another in the halls. From that time our circle of friends grew quickly.
I remember when mom took me to Huntington to buy my club scout uniform. I think that Johnnie Bill’s mom was the den mother, but mine was always involved supplying cookies, or whatever else was needed. The blue and yellow uniform was so very like the Calvary uniforms I’d seen in the movies at the Garden Theater. I never wanted to take it off. The yellow scarf was just perfect and reminded me of the movie “Yellow ribbon,” with John Wayne.
This picture is from our scout troop before we had uniforms. I can pick out several of my friends like Jim Young, James Caudill, Harry Richard Cyrus, Johnny Bill Boggs, Billy Elkins, and me next to the tall one in the back. Maybe that was Bernard Nelson, but I’m not sure. I expect that the little guy in the front is Nicky Boggs.
When I was younger it was mom that carried me out of the movie screaming that Bambi’s mom had been shot by a mean hunter. That was a grown-up message in a kid’s movie of the day, but it was mom that helped me see at a different level. I was hurt but learned that life wasn’t always the way we’d like it to be.
I remember the times that mom dragged me along to see her friends like Alice Queen, some of the Ewes family, the Andy York family, and a number of others. I learned about the war, the latest music and dance crazes, and overheard a little gossip, here or there. Better yet, I got to enjoy the refreshments! These were cupcakes, cookies and the like; all homemade and delicious.
I remember once that I was sitting on the porch swing, supposedly working on arithmetic, when she caught me looking at a comic book instead. Boy, was I in trouble. She came out and gave me a lecture about if I didn’t learn these lessons I’d end up being a ditch-digger instead of working in some better line of work. I was a little too young to understand that something was undesirable with ditch digging. After all, that’s what kids do in all the sandboxes of the world every day. She stayed with me and made me learn those dad-burned multiplication tables. Thinking back, it would have helped me if we had done a few more sessions. I still suffer from trying to remember
While I was still in grade school mom walked everyday across the Louisa/Ft. Gay Bridge to catch a ride to Huntington where she worked at a building supply store somewhere in the West end. I actually visited there once, but otherwise, it was a mystery why she’d go to all that trouble every day. The store just wasn’t that big and there was little that I cared about on the shelves. There was roofing shingles, siding, and insulation. Boring! Lots of people would see her walking on her daily trips and would mention to me that they had seen her. One of them called her that ‘little old cripple lady.’ That one was a little cruel and got to me, but I never told anyone. She was a great mom.
In fact, to me, she was still the prettiest mother one could wish for. I have a picture of her in a car next to my great grandmother depicting her as a toddler. She grew up and became a good mother that could cook well enough that several folks told me she was the best cook in Lawrence County. I believed that for years and never questioned how that could be determined. Undoubtedly, she was a good cook and over the years she taught me how to cook several dishes. More importantly, she taught me how to think about how recipes differ and why. I learned as a child how to bread chicken and lay it into the grease without getting burned. I learned to make waffles, bread, spoon-bread, pork chops, gravy, mashed potatoes, pudding, cookies, baked hens, and turkey. My favorite thing was to listen to our favorite radio programs and roll up my little sleeves and take another lesson from the great chef. I’m surprised she didn’t speak French and wear a white hat.
When I was in the fifth or sixth grade I was living with my great-grandmother, mother, and great aunt and her two children (cousins) when mom began to commute further away for work. It was explained to me that this necessitated her staying nights and coming home only on the weekends. I knew others that commuted to Dayton or Columbus, so it made sense. Letters would arrive from Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, and finally Detroit. Sometimes a little money would be sent for me, beyond the amount sent to my aunt to pay for my food and daily requirements. But the weekend visits became monthly visits and then quarterly. I suppose I was around twelve when I wrote to her that I suspected she may have married and was afraid to tell me, but it was okay if she had.
She wrote back that I had caught her up on that and that she had married a nice man. She invited me up to Detroit for the summer to meet him and see the big city. I went and tried to put him at ease. I knew he’d be nervous about whether I would like him. We went to a Tiger’s ballgame and I had my first pizza. That made me feel welcome. We went out to Bell Isle and later went fishing. What a life.
The next summer I was to come up and stay and stay I did. I went to the eight grade in Detroit but soon enough discovered that they were behind in their lessons by a couple of years or even more. I also experienced the ‘inner-city’ issues of running gangs and other negative aspects so I refused to go to school up there another year. I asked to be sent back to good old Louisa. I spent the rest of my public school years at LHS.
The year I graduated and went to the Air Force, mom had a baby girl, my half-sister, Lori. Because I was older and in Virginia instead of Michigan, I had almost no opportunity to know her as she grew up. Mom was killed in a car wreck when snow had just begun to fall one December morning, just before Christmas. She wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and was thrown from an otherwise undamaged car. As it happened, I had visited her only two weeks prior to her death. Now, back in Detroit, I would see her face for the last time. In many ways she had endured a hard life, but had done everything she could to advance and do a great job as a mother, a wife, and a friend to those that knew her. She was only 53 years old, an age I can barely look back on and remember.
All of this may just sound biographical and focused on one lady who was one of many working themselves through life, and that really is my point. Nearly every mother I know works diligently to be a good mother or the best at what they do. We owe our mothers recognition and should carry a debt of thanks, not just for Shirley Lucille (Wray) Powell, but for the hard work it takes from the ladies around us to be a mother. All of them carry some kind of burden and all have had their disappointments and heartaches, but like the hero’s they are, they overcome. In some cases, in spite of us.
It’s not just their attending to us when we’re sick, or kissing the ‘boo-boo,’ or the wise advice, or warnings, or zipping up our jackets, and washing our clothes, or figuring out when we need new shoes, or preparing breakfast and dinner, or dragging us to church and Sunday school, and registering us for grade school, or being a ‘pack mother,’ or applauding us when we perform, whether we were good or not. We were the center of their universe and often the reason for them to fight on. Our mothers, and our children’s mothers, and even our grandchildren’s mother’s, are the reason for this special time to remember. Remembering is what this column is all about, so join with me to celebrate Mother’s Day and remember that ‘mom’ is the singular l part of our lives worth celebrating and the most important memory we have.
Not buying it? Well, watch a NFL game sometimes and see what the big, mean linemen say when they realize they are on camera. “Hi, mom!” Write me a note, please. I so enjoy hearing from my friends. firstname.lastname@example.org