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May 11, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – A Tribute to Mom!

Weekly feature ...by Michael Coburn

It was either at the Louisa Department store or maybe next door at Ferguson’s Department store that this eight-year old boy had run in hopes of finding the perfect, but affordable gift. That Saturday morning was the day before everyone would be celebrating Mother’s Day. Upon this discovery, obtained by a chance overhearing of a comment from one of the household’s adults, I had rushed to my bedroom and pulled out ‘the box’ that I kept hidden away for such an occasion. After fumbling through its valuable assets that included baseball cards, rocks, bottle caps, and rubber bands, I finally found the only money I had in this world. A moment later I ran out of the house leaving the screen door to bang as it closed behind me.

I explained to the lady at the store that I didn’t have much money but wanted to buy my mom a Mother’s Day gift. She smiled and led me over to a counter. She slipped around to face me across the glass surface and then, still smiling, she reached behind her to a shelf and pulled out a small, white, flat box that was maybe about a half-inch high and twelve inches square. She sat it on the counter in front of me and carefully lifted its lid. Inside there was some thin tissue-paper hiding the real contents of the box. Folding the paper back she exposed a very fancy white handkerchief with rolled edges and embroidered flower designs. It was beautiful and was better than any I had ever seen before. A small tag attached to one corner showed the price of $1.89.

I felt a wave of embarrassment that I was so short of money. I swallowed and told the lady that this was fancier than mom could really use. I asked her if she had others, not wanting to tell her outright that I simply couldn’t afford the price. I only had the one dollar I had hidden away in ‘the box’ ‘for a rainy day.’ The lady, politely put the tissue paper back in place, replaced the cover and returned it to the shelf. She took down another box and placed that in front of me. Again, she opened the box with care and I spotted a plain handkerchief that had nice hand-rolled edges. This one was slightly off-white in color and altogether suitable for the occasion, but it, too, had a price that was just out of reach. The tag said $1.12.

handkerchiefshandkerchiefs I again suggested something a little less fancy. I told the lady that my mom wasn’t known for putting on airs, wearing long white gloves, hats with veils, or flaunting expensive handkerchiefs. I had no idea where that came from, but I was urgently trying to reach an affordable goal. The sales lady finally picked up what I hadn’t said and turned to pick up yet another box. The handkerchief within this box had edges that were turned under and machine sewn. The fabric was a bit rougher than the earlier ones, but was still nice looking. The price was $.49. The pressure subsided because I knew I could get this one and still have change to buy her a Hallmark card over at Ed Land’s Sundry, next door. The lady surprised me when she placed the gift in some nice wrapping and attached a blank card. Later, once home in my room I would write the phrase, “Happy Mother’s Day” and would sign it. I put it away in ‘the box’ so I could retrieve it and present it to her the next morning.

All night I tossed and turned in my bed, anxious for that time the next morning when I could surprise mom with her gift. Sometime during that long night, despite my excitement, I finally fell to sleep. When mom woke me in the morning, she went downstairs to fix breakfast. I was left to I dress for church. Before descending the stairs, I found ‘the box’ and removed the gift that I had purchased the day before. Mom was sitting at the kitchen table when I laid the gift next to her. She was busy talking to granny, so she didn’t even notice the package. I anxiously pushed it toward her, but it was still to no avail. Finally, I shoved it toward her until it touched her hand. She turned and saw the gift. Still without picking it up, she looked directly at me. Her eyes sent an unspoken question that seemed to say, ‘What’s this?’ I was so proud when I said, “I got you a Mother’s Day gift.” Better than the hug was the look of pleasure that mom reflected as she tore open the package. She was my first and special love that I could never forget.

Throughout the years as I grew up in Louisa, my mom was very important in my life. Though small in stature, I thought her the prettiest mom around. I didn’t notice a slight birth defect until one of my classmates asked if my mom was the little lady that walked to Fort Gay every day. She had gone on to describe her has handicapped. As it happened, her left hand was withered because during her development in the womb, the umbilical cord was wrapped too tightly around that hand preventing its full development. She used her right hand for everything, except the left added support much as a fork does when cutting meat. She may have been little, but she was a giant in my eyes.

Mom and I spent untold hours in the kitchen frying chicken, making various dishes and desserts, and treats. While doing that she introduced me to classical music, to poetry, to fairy tales, to the Gospels, and finally even to sports on the radio. I learned to be careful and recognize safety as paramount. She told me to listen instead of talking, and expanded on the feelings of others. She spoke of gallantry, and being brave, always protecting the weaker. She explained to never be a racist, and to look for ways to make others feel accepted.

Criticism from mom was remembered and hurt us deeply, but she was careful to temper words with care that the lesson was learned but the spirit intact. When I needed correction, she didn’t hesitate, but even with that I knew I was loved. Many of us ‘walked the line’ because we feared the idea of disappointing mom. Instead of becoming a ‘momma’s boy,’ they taught us to become men and women, and to take our place in making the world a better place.    

 When considering of the complexities of life there is nothing more constant and predictable than the love between a mother and child. Innate motherly instincts show up in many, if not most of God’s creatures, but none is so strong as that of our own species. In fact, society is repulsed whenever a mother turns her back upon her children. More than a shirking of a set of perceived duties it seems a crime against nature. We believe that there’s nothing greater than a mother’s love for her young. Even as children we naturally believe and put our trust in that. Motherly love is the very basis of our security that gives us the ability to grow, mature, and become mentally balanced and then to become good parents ourselves.

There are many things that can disrupt this natural relationship, including drugs, alcohol, and abuse, but we are glad when there is no interference with that ‘natural’ relationship built on motherly love. Even as we matured and started our own families we remembered our ‘momma.’ The nurturing and care was more than a mere duty for her. Mom would kiss the hurt, hold us closely and reassure us that ‘mom was here.’ All would be okay.

At the risk of being accused of stereotyping the role of mother, let me make a comment that mother’s come in their own respective styles, each with an approach to motherhood as different as her differing DNA and upbringing provides. Some surely had, or have strengths in some areas, while others balance the role of motherhood in entirely different ways. It is not my intent to put value judgments on any, but rather to heap well-earned praises where due, and for understanding individual differences. There’s no doubt that some had strong characters and stood out, while others were more reserved. Regardless, I believe their respective goals were to do whatever they thought best for us. Typically, our moms were a ‘safe-harbor’ to which we ran frequently during our early years. Later, they were a bulwark of strength and encouragement allowing us to venture out of the nest and into the troublesome world.

 For most of us, it was our moms that changed our diapers, heated our bottles, helped us dress, trained us to use the bathroom, wiped our rears and noses, and provided all-important discipline when it was needed. Our mothers cleaned up our messes, washed our clothes, and taught us our lessons. They read us books, talked about character, the morals of stories, and showed us the things to avoid. They taught us to share and respect others, and taught us good manners. They were everything to us.

I have heard story after story where a dying son or daughter called out with their last words with a plea for ‘mom.’ Whether a car accident, an act of war, an illness, or some lifestyle gone terribly wrong, the comforting hope was that mom’s love was unconditional and that she would understand. We never wanted to disappoint. In these things she reflected a characteristic of God. She was full of grace and patience as she dreamed of a better life for her children.     

There are also those who were adopted. Sometimes, a relative or another would take on the ‘mother’s role when the natural parents died, or when they could no longer support their children. These surrogates often fulfilled, or exceeded the need. They gave guidance and love the natural mother could not provide. Even so, later, there was sometimes an urge for the adopted child to seek out their ‘real’ mother. Success in finding them had mixed results, some good, some reopening old wounds and stirring memories of bad times.

In the healthiest of families, the matriarch is held in the highest esteem. Celebrations, remembrances, Mother’s Day cards, and flowers, dinner out, or candy, marks an annual celebration giving thanks to God for the gift of mothers. Whatever would we have done without them? At church the preachers turn to Proverbs 31, to hold up the biblical example of a hard-working and faithful mother. This helps us see some of the work and sacrifice that is made daily by these wonderful women.

Of course, we cannot know the measure of the worry that mom has when she sees her child out in a world filled with risk. We do not know how many times she pricked her finger while sewing another patch on some well-worn jeans. We miss the burns from grease splatter or a hot oven door she brushes when preparing yet another meal. How can we know the prayers of our mothers when she tucks us in, or knows we are making poor decisions? What did she give up that we may have a new pair of shoes?

Mom saw that we had a good Christmas even if her stocking was nearly empty. She thrilled when we took our first step, said our first words, finally learned to ride a bike, went off to first grade, to church camp, or on our first date. It was mom that encouraged us by hanging our ‘artwork’ for display, and who kept our ‘Mother’s Day Cards’ in an album. It was she that was proud when we sang in church or at school, or learned to read, or tie our shoes. How many times have we seen a camera pan past a bench-full of professional football players to see one or more look at the camera and mouth, “Hi, mom?” She was the one in our lives that really, really mattered.     

The common expression we hear when we are talking about our nation, is we are as American as ‘mom and apple pie.’ Whether our mom was a pioneering mother traveling in a covered wagon, where she had to fight off wild animals, or treat the family and others for relentless water-born illnesses, or face an Indian attack, she was the real American hero. She fought off the depression, the dustbowl, and had to walk behind the plow herself to feed her family. During the last century she sent her husband or sons to war, sometimes hanging a star in her window signifying a death. She marched for women’s right to vote and learned to work in a man’s world. She took jobs in industry at low pay. She worked in the sweatshops of the big cities, and taught in the school-houses on the plains. She stood at the mouth of the collapsed mine praying that her man, or boys, would make it out.

 It's not just these things we remember, but rather her smile that radiated love as she looked at us. We saw tears in her eyes, but those were tears of joy given us to always remember. We remember the embrace, the pat on the rear or when she brushed our hair out of our faces. We remember her at our bedside kneeling and praying for us. We know there were ‘bad times,’ but we remember the good. For in our hearts she will always…always be good.

Every day, whether she is still with us or not, is a day that mom made possible. We will continue to remember her loving arms and words of comfort. I remember that she loved her new handkerchief and the card I had written. It wasn’t the value of the handkerchief, because I think she would have loved a bandanna if that was what I had given. It was enough that I had remembered and expressed my love for her. She understood and she made sure I understood her love would always be there for me.

Mom gave of herself freely, not from duty, but out of love. She gave advice even that I didn’t always want to hear, and she forgave me when I rejected her advice and went my own way. I’m sure I disappointed her sometimes, and may have brought her pain. Prodigals do that, and we all are prodigals in one way or another. For that, I’m sorry. Thank you, mom, for your love. You are still in my heart. Happy Mother’s Day.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.    

 

Comments  

0 #1 Bernard Nelson 2018-05-19 13:29
Great article Mike. I also remember the first Mothers Day gift I got for my mom. WOW time goes by so fast. Like you, money was at a premium and trying to find a gift to fit the money was very hard. But with the help of some understanding clerks we managed. Great memories in this one as always, keep them coming and as always, "Thanks for the memories".
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