When grace is joined with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age. —Victor Hugo, French novelist, poet and playwright
This is being written before Mother’s Day. However, due to the nature of print deadlines, when you read it, it will be after Mother’s Day. I hope you still have room in your brain for some Mother’s Day thoughts.
If you’re offended by “sentimental”, take a week off and join me again next week for some riveting discussion regarding the fiduciary duties of trustees or some equally fascinating topic.
My mother passed away in October of 2012. Nine years before that, in the spring of 2003, I wrote the following column:
First off, you should know that my mom is adorable. She works hard to fight those wrinkles, but those that are left are joined by grace, and she meets Victor Hugo’s definition above. She never includes herself among the “poor old people” we must help any way we can.
Last June she received some special awards. At their annual meeting inChattanooga, the National Women’s Auxiliary of the American Baptist Association honored my mom for 45 years of service. She received a beautiful plaque and a large memory scrapbook. Although the plaque cites “outstanding dedication and service, wisdom and vision,” it doesn’t tell the whole story. In 1958, my mother (married to a Baptist minister) was in large part responsible for the founding of the women’s auxiliary of this organization. She got theWest Texaschurch my father pastored to send a resolution to theABA’s annual meeting advocating the organization of a women’s auxiliary. It passed, and the ladies held their first meeting in 1959.
After serving a term as president, my mom was elected publicity director, a service she performed with energy and enthusiasm until last summer, her eightieth year. As a part of her award, the 500 women attending the meeting unanimously voted to name her “Publicity Director Emeritus,” a lifetime position entitling her to all “the rights and privileges of an officer of the National Women’s Auxiliary” and giving her the right to address the ladies at any time during their annual meetings. (Oh, my goodness!)
The Memory Book she received is filled with notes, pictures, letters and poems from women all over the world. It’s wonderful for an hour or two on a rainy day with a tissue in hand. I think not many of us get to look through a scrapbook and read notes people have written saying how wonderful we are and how we’ve influenced their lives. Most of that is done at the funeral when, unfortunately, the object of the remarks misses it.
When Robert Harling wrote Steel Magnolias in honor of his late sister, he didn’t know it, but he was writing about my mom. I’m sure there are people everywhere who feel that way. It’s a type of woman, I guess, more particularly a southern woman. My mom grew up in westernOklahoma, raised by an itinerate missionary who worked the oil fields during the week, then traveled all over the state on weekends as a circuit preacher. Her mother ran what today we’d call a day care center, and all of them tried to keep body and soul together during the Depression.
The “magnolia” part perfectly summarizes my mom’s strong emphasis on (1) politeness (it’s rude to hang up the phone on somebody even if it’s a telemarketer), on (2) hospitality (more than one person showed up, unannounced, at her door with a suitcase and the words “They said if I came up to Washington, D.C., I could stay at Pastor Dean’s house!), and on (3) her appearance. My mom and dad were married on Thanksgiving Day in 1941. During the ‘40s and ’50s, many rural preachers’ wives often looked what can only be described as “dowdy.” Mother, who to this day never leaves the house without looking perfect, was horrified at the idea that some young lady might not want to be a minister’s wife because of the way many of them dressed and looked! My mom took personal responsibility for righting that wrong.
The “steel” part perfectly summarizes a formidable strength. When my dad died in 1979, I’m confident Mom grieved mightily in private. However, in public, she was the model of how someone with strong faith and enduring peacefulness would act. My mother worked full-time long before most women did—and pastor’s wives in particular did not work full time outside the home. In fact, my mother worked full-time, downtown, as an administrative assistant to aCaliforniacongressman and only retired, reluctantly, when he did. Both of them were 76 years old.
When I was a child, my mom told me: “Can’t [pronounced caint] died in the cornfield inArkansas.” I was indoctrinated with the idea that I could do whatever I set my mind to do. (My mom may still think that if I decided to be a brain surgeon today, all I would have to do is start picking the right med school!) It is, I know, that internal mantra that made me think I could actually start law school when I was fifty years old, and made me think I could write a column that seniors might enjoy, and made me believe that my dreams could come true. Most have. I hope your mom is as wonderful.
Thank you, mom. I will never stop missing you