I usually get quite a few e-mails from readers around this time of year; dozens of messages, always with the same pointed, uh, point: “Make sure you write SOMETHING about your mom on Mother’s Day!!!” They’re all signed the same: “Love always, Mom.”
Totally kidding! My mother is at the very front of the line of People Who Would NEVER Call Attention To Themselves.
Which is why it’s always a bit of mischievous fun to embarrass her with a column around this time of year, which still has the afterglow of that Mother’s Day time of year, and is also right around her birthday time of year.
I turn for inspiration to my Mom’s “Grandparent Book,” a project she did for all her grandkids, which includes her personal answers to dozens of questions about her life and times.
I read the book again this week, harboring the same hope I have every time I pick it up: please, please, puh-leez let me channel just a little bit of her wisdom and patience before her three youngest grandsons send me RANTING MANIACALLY THROUGH THE STREETS! Who better than you, Mom, to provide a surefire prescription for a severe case of maniacal street-ranting, having “been there, done that” with your own five kids?
With her “Grandparent Book” in hand, and it being nearly her birthday and all, I hereby take this opportunity to plagiarize (I mean, pay homage to) Mom!
Let’s begin at the very beginning. The path that led to my mom’s co-authorship of this column began when she met my dad, an encounter she describes thusly in her “Grandparent Book”: “I met him on a blind date in March, 1946, when my dorm at DePauw University had a dance. The dancing area was so dark (one blue light bulb in the corner) that he asked me for another date in the daytime so we could see what each other looked like.”
Fortunately, she liked what she saw, or I suppose I wouldn’t be here.
My mom remembers this about her wedding day: “Rev. Carl Shafer, the assistant pastor, performed the ceremony, and it was his first wedding. He was young, and was so nervous that he could hardly hold his Bible, his hands were shaking so much.”
Of course, Mom was a little excited by that day too, even 50 years later, when she wrote in her “Grandparent Book” that she was also “very neervous.” (As a first-grade teacher for 26 years, and an impeccable speller, Mom will not be happy I mentioned this; I’ll probably be grounded for a few weeks.)
Mom had her five kids in slightly less than nine years, starting in a year I can’t mention because it would reveal my big sister’s age, and ending in a year I can’t mention because it would reveal my little sister’s age. And if I reveal them, they would both ground me for life.
Regardless, what happened from that first unmentionable year on became Mom’s answer to the “Grandparent Book” question “What was your most important learning experience?” Mom answers, “Raising a family,” adding, “We tried to raise children who would amount to something and not turn out to be mixed-up little dopes.” (I’m going to wait a few years before I let No. 3, 4 and 5 sons read that part of the “Grandparent Book,” perhaps at some far-off time when they stop thinking that I turned out to be the latter.)
Mom’s answer goes on. Here’s the rest, uninterrupted:
“We tried to be honest and decent parents. We wanted a healthy family, where we would like each other and have fun with each other. Even with disagreements and struggles and pain and frustrations, we could forgive and smile and love each other.
“We found much happiness, even though there were struggles and sacrifices and responsibilities along the way. There was joy and happiness in the course of our family life.”
To appreciate what kind of person my mom is, simply update these last few sentences to the present tense. She’s still doing things large and small to share joy and happiness. Still living by one of her favorite sayings: “Good examples have more value than good advice.”
Thanks, Mom, for your life of good examples. I love you.