Tuesday, May 13, 2014
My mother had a small head. I know that because I’m wearing her floppy sun hat. I’m wearing her floppy sun hat because she left it to me when she died on April 25.
How strange it is to write, “My mother is dead.”
By the way, she preferred “Mother” to “Mom.” “Sara” was acceptable also, but none of us can remember saying “Mama.” I called her that in a few columns, and she was not amused. Just one of her quirks, and she had many.
She was a cradle Episcopalian who won dance contests and loved a cocktail, so naturally she married a foot-washing Baptist who, as far as I know, never saw a dance floor. It wasn’t quite a fairy-tale union, but they were married to the day he died.
My mother was gentle and abrupt, kind and sharp-tongued. We loved each other fiercely, but she drove me crazy and vice-versa. She was strong-willed, and I am stubborn. If one of us got miffed we’d stop speaking, sometimes for weeks. Then I would call, or she would call, and whatever had sparked our argument was never discussed. Life went on.
She was very feminine, with beautiful manners. She taught me how to set a formal dinner table, kill a fish with a Coke bottle and catch crabs with chicken necks and string. She was a passionate gardener (hence the sun hat) and the funniest person I’ve ever met.
Here’s the best thing about her: She pushed me to be the best I could be. Average was not accepted.
There was no question of my parents funding college for four kids. But education was everything to her, and she counseled each of us in turn: “You’re going to study hard and get scholarships and grants. If you fail to do this, I will beat you savagely with a baseball bat,” or words to that effect. She deciphered complex financial aid packages and filled out paperwork until her eyes crossed. And somehow, all four of us graduated from college without debt. That’s what I mean about her strong will.
Another example: Many years ago, a neighbor’s shed caught on fire. Mother was setting the table for dinner when she saw the flames spread towards our property, threatening our vegetable plot and my pony’s stable.
As Dad hurried to hook up a garden hose, Mother barreled out the back door, wrenched a pine sapling from the earth and began to beat the flames. Let’s look at that again: She PULLED UP A TREE and charged the fire.
Moments later the volunteer fire department arrived to snuff the blaze. The squad captain walked up to Dad and said, “Sir, we’ve got it now. Could you ask your wife to put down the tree?”
That’s still a favorite story at family reunions: “Could you ask your wife to put down the tree?”
Sara lived for 85 years. I was blessed to be there at the end, one day after she was admitted to Hospice. Morphine blotted out her pain. She lay unconscious as I stroked her hair and described the blooming dogwoods that shaded the courtyard outside.
My sister Moonbeam called from Oregon and sang “In the Garden” over the phone. My brother Bubba, her firstborn, sat stunned and silent.
My other brother, T-Bob, was 10 hours and two states away. With the phone nestled to her ear he sang—or tried to sing — “Jesus loves me, this I know…” His strangled voice broke my heart.
That night only Widdle was there as I held my mother’s hand. At 9:41 p.m. she went to meet her God, and none of us will ever be the same.
I love you, Mother. Set a place for me.
Julie R. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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