In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans praised mothers and motherhood during the festivals in honor of Rhea and Cybele, mother goddesses of their deities. The modern Mother’s Day was created 150 years ago, founded for mourning women to remember fallen soldiers, and to work for peace. It has subsequently gone through several evolutions to the tradition we know today. In 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother’s Day as a national holiday.
Putting aside the commercialism engendered by this holiday, I’ve chosen to salute my late mother in ways most of us may have forgotten. Cards, phone calls, and flowers are all well and good, but remembering your mother in ways that will make her smile is priceless; giving her cause to forgive you for not doing so more often.
Hilda, my mother, led a perfectly normal life until I appeared on May 1, 1939. Having reached nine plus pounds within Mom’s 4 foot, 9 inch, 110 pound, 37 year old frame, I made my appearance, screaming loudly in protest. The years that followed have not diminished by attitude at being here.
On rare occasions Mom would deftly remind me of the 36 hours of wrenching labor she endured so as to give me the opportunity to behave so badly. Then she would hug me so tight I could hardly breathe. I hate to admit it, but I received an awful lot of hugs like that. I miss those hugs, and would happily misbehave again - for just one more.
I often wondered why I got a birthday cake, and presents on my birthday, and she received nothing. After all, she did all the work to get me here. Mother’s day seemed little more than an afterthought, which I found troubling, even at a young age.
I am now covered in shame because of the many years that passed before I learned to admire and appreciate my mother’s selflessness. She taught me how to read when my teachers gave up. Her patience was unending in my struggle to comprehend the text in that reader. The olive green cover is still vivid in my mind’s eye as I sat next to her and struggled. The word ‘elephant’ stands out as one of the many words I had difficulty in comprehending. Thanks to her persistence, I am able to write this tribute today.
When my honesty is tempted, I remember the time she returned from shopping in Chicago’s Loop, and discovered a clerk had given her too much change. She went back the following day to right the situation. She said she slept too well to jeopardize it with ill-gotten gain.
As a teenager, she informed me that if I wished to make a success out of old age I had better start now. I didn’t have a clue as to what she meant, but I never forgot. As the years unfolded, her wisdom became evident, and she was right. When puberty struck, I told her I was going to go crazy, and take her along with me. She laughed at the idea. Years later she admitted I had been right. We laughed gratefully that it was over.
Appreciating the many contributions she made to my life did not occur to me until maturity began nudging my conscience. Her quiet selflessness in attending to the family taught me direction without being directed. She was able to mix physical and spiritual love into an elixir of light that shown as a beacon over everyone who came within range of her grace. She lived the Christian principles she believed in, through thick and thin, and without fail. I’m afraid I contributed a good deal to the thick part.
But it was the laughter that held us together. Her wicked sense of humor spared no one, including me. No, especially me. I inherited that particular sense from her, and I suspect she knew it. Needless to say it got us into more trouble than we bargained for. It’s the price you pay for being a smartass.
She was almost 100 years old when we sat together for the last time. I remarked that I could not remember her ever having been ill. She said mothers were not allowed to be sick, and she believed it. We happily talked of many things that day, and laughed until we cried. She looked at me before I departed and said, “Heaven won’t be as much fun without you.” I replied, “Not to worry, Mom, I’ll be along one of these days myself.” I kissed her hand, looked into those tired eyes smiling up at me and walked away. The ache, no words can describe. Her ashes were given to me in a plain metal container. Solid gold encrusted with priceless gems would have been more appropriate.
Among the many things which Hilda loved, thunderstorms, and Lake Michigan held a special place for her. To her, thunderstorms were angels bowling in heaven; and large bodies of water were divine spirits absorbing the love of God and feeding it to all living things.
Not long after she passed, one of those summer storms came rumbling through the plains of Illinois toward Lake Michigan. As the winds picked up, I took the urn of ashes to one of the breakwater piers along Chicago’s lake front. Coincidentally, it was June 12, the day Hilda was born in 1902. The negative ions of the storm brought on an exhilaration as I stood at the end of that pier, lightening flashing across the lake followed by the thunder generated by those angels bowling in the heavens. Hilda was an excellent bowler in her day. I imagined she was up there participating with the rest of the angels in this thunderous pastime. Finally, and with reluctance, I opened the urn and slowly spilled her ashes, watching as the trailing edge of the storm carried them away, along with my tears, to their final resting place.
Happy Mother’s Day, Hilda, and to mothers everywhere.