It was a cool spring day in 1969, and I was a very young child. We had just moved to the house that would be the family homeplace for the next four decades, and my mom and I were having lunch — tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
My mom had left the kitchen right before I finished my soup, so I decided to help myself to some more, pouring it from the little pot on the stove into my bowl, then taking my seat at the table.
She returned a minute later.
“Did you get some more soup?”
I don’t know why I did this, but I looked at her and said no. She promptly pulled me from the chair and administered a quick little spanking, then sat me back down and explained she wasn’t upset because I had gotten more soup, but because I had lied about it.
I came away from that encounter with one overriding realization.
Mom knows everything.
Later on I figured out mom really didn’t know everything — I realized she knew because soup had dribbled down the side of the pot when I poured — but as time passed the real lesson from that day was driven home, that honesty is a trait to be sought after and clung too, above nearly everything else.
Over the decades I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom and knowledge my mom accumulated, and shared, with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. While I’ve often fallen short of the example she sat and the counsel she gave out, I’ve always tried to live up to the standards she, along with my dad, set by example over the years.
Just a few days ago — July 17, at 2:12 a.m. to be exact — we lost my mom to a long-time battle with pulmonary fibrosis. She was 82, and left us about two-and-a-half years after my dad passed away. Over the hours preceding her loss, most of her family had visited her bedside, to be with her as we knew the time was near, and in the end my sisters and I were with her as she passed from this world.
Even in the last stages of her battle with the fatal disease, my mom taught us so much.
While others often gripe about little aches and pains, frustrations and disappointments, my mom rarely uttered a word of complaint about life as her condition worsened. If she did, on rare occasions, give any hint of a grievance, it wasn’t feeling sorry for herself in any way, rather it was simply lamenting the fact she could no longer work, no longer cook, no longer do for herself and others.
For nearly her entire life a major part of who my mother was came in the work she did for others. She spent more than 20 years working in textile miles, but the final 19 years of her professional life was spent as a surgical nursing assistant, offering kind, caring help and a smile of reassurance to many who were scared or worried.
In her personal life she loved cooking and doing whatever she could for others, be they family or friends or even people she didn’t know well.
And she had so much wisdom. She was a Depression-era child and her formal education ended in sixth grade, though she later earned her GED. Despite that, my mom was one of the smartest people I know. She loved reading and took great joy in learning new things simply for the sake of learning.
My parents sat at the head of a large family — myself and my two sisters and our spouses (and in our family, when you marry into the brood you become like a kid or grandkid to my parents, so it was really like six kids), nine grandkids (five of whom are married), and four-great-grandchildren. We are all going to miss so much about my mom, and with that many people we all will have our own little individual memories.
The list of what I will miss is too long to repeat here, but near the top of the list would be the conversations I often had with my mom. I called and talked with her often, discussions ranging from the weather or what we had eaten for dinner to politics, religion, even the meaning of life and how we fit into that grand existence.
In many ways she was a simple woman, having spent her entire life raising a family, supporting her husband, doing for others without little regard for herself, yet she had a profound understanding of life, and a desire to cling to that life, to squeeze every last bit of joy and laughter and love she could from life, yet she also had an amazing way of accepting the inevitable, whether that be in little daily things or the fact that she was terminally ill.
Even near the end, she told us she wasn’t worried about what was next — she was secure in the belief of where she would spend eternity — but she said she hated to leave the rest of us here, because she loved being around her family and being available to help, to offer some sort of meaningful advice.
And that was my mom, always concerned about others, always wanting to be available to help, to do or say something that might help us through any troubles we might experience.
I will miss those conversations, knowing that I can always find that one person who, no matter what I ever said or did, would be accepting and supporting.
And no matter how long I and the rest of my family are here, we will always have that example to look toward, an example of how a life should be lived.
John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected]