Thursday, October 24, 2013
Reflections on My Mother's Hundredth Birthday
My mother would be 100 years old today. I had her for 91 of those years—although Alzheimer’s claimed the last ten—leaving her with only occasional whispers of herself, and leaving the rest of us very lonely.
I came late in my mother’s life; seven years after I was born, my father died and she was left to cope with raising my sassy, stubborn self on her own. By then my brother was married and my sister was bound for college. My mother and I, different as daylight and dark, embraced the few interests we shared (Bonanza, My Three Sons, Lawrence Welk, popcorn, and Arby’s roast beef sandwiches) and rolled our respective eyes over the rest. During my adolescent years, she deemed Sonny and Cher “tacky,” ripped my borrowed copy of The Godfather in half, and dismissed my plaintive claims that “everybody else is!” with “Well, you’re not!” In retrospect (retrospect being defined as me now being a mother myself), she was right, of course. Sonny and Cher were tacky; at 13, I was far too young to be reading something as sordid as The Godfather; and whoever “everybody else” was, their parents probably weren’t buying the story, either.
My mother was a pretty tough cookie as a mom, but a whole other side of her came out when she got around her seven sisters, and I’ve often wished I’d known my mother as a teenager. Though feminine as they came, she always considered herself a tomboy and found the idea that a man could be better than a woman both ridiculous and repugnant. She played ball with a passion, was a brilliant businesswoman, and could fix anything. I’m quite certain, if she’d been born a few years earlier, she’d have been a suffragette.
Despite her feminist streak, she adored her brother, my daddy, her son, and her grandsons, and even during her years as a successful entrepreneur, her favorite place was always at home—usually in the kitchen—though she sewed as well as she cooked and gave generously of both talents. Every holiday brought beautifully made garments and mouthwatering meals. Our Halloween costumes were legendary; her sour cream cake was famous in four states. Even now, it’s really not Easter without Mother’s towering coconut cake which, no matter how hard I try, I can’t duplicate. Even now, I mourn the absence of those homemade pajamas we unwrapped every Christmas Eve.
But the true legacy my mother left me—the thing I cling to when I miss her presence like a piece of my own flesh—is her fearlessness. A godly woman with a heart for children, who loved to laugh, had no tolerance whatsoever for “sorriness,” and who firmly believed that idleness was the devil’s workshop, my mother was afraid of nothing. The words “I can’t do that” simply were not in her vocabulary. Whether it was a real estate or business issue, a snake in the back yard, me on the verge of flunking Algebra II or, surely, the occasional realization that she was a woman on her own trying to do it all, she tackled it head on. She didn’t whine, she didn’t fret, she didn’t procrastinate; she just got the job done, whatever it was.
Let me be the first to say that, in that regard, I am most assuredly not my mother’s daughter. I’m afraid of a lot of things, and I have taken the art of procrastination to a whole new level. But even while I will never attain my mother’s level of fearlessness, I trained with the master and her bravado, if not her actual boldness, rubbed off on me. I do a pretty good job of faking my way through intimidating situations and I keep hoping that, one of these days, the Spirit of Lila will come roaring through.
Until then, I’m just grateful that God saw fit to give me a mother who loved me enough to teach me right from wrong, to treat myself and others with respect, to love the Lord and honor His commandments, and to give me the recipe for her sour cream cake. A girl can’t go too far wrong with an upbringing like that; thank you, Mama—and happy 100th birthday.