Posts Tagged ‘mother’

A Child is Born

December 11, 2014

A Child is Born

I wonder what Mary thought when she held Jesus in her arms for the first time. Was she afraid of what the world might bring to her boy? Was she ecstatic at the thought of what her boy might bring to the world? She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, laid him in a manger, and ultimately, she gave to the world the best gift she was ever given. Mothers do that.

2014 has been a year to embrace and think about the children in our lives. Last December Bruce suffered a massive heart attack and we came to realize that no matter how old a person is, he is still his mother’s baby, and Gladys almost lost her youngest. A mother never stops worrying.

Thirty-four years ago, my Mama watched her nineteen year old baby get married. Until that moment, it had been the two of us against the world. I left her, and didn’t understand her loss. I was supposed to grow up and go away, start my own life. That, I understood.

This year, my oldest baby left home and got married. I suddenly understood much more of my Mama’s experience. I sat in the attic, staring at Ben’s baby pictures, crying. He stood at the bottom of the steps, looking up at me. “Mama, why are you crying?”

“Because you are leaving your entire childhood behind,” I said, but what I meant was, “You are leaving us, leaving me.”

He hugged me tight, shaking his head and patting my back. Then, he moved to Maryland to be with his own true love, Emily, a beautiful girl who brings light, love, and joy to our Ben. We couldn’t have asked for a better partner for our boy.

When Ben left, I called my Mama. Of course, she understood my loss, and let me cry on her shoulder. “Children are meant to grow up and go away,” she said. “You do the best you can to raise them, then you let them go.”

Now, when my nineteen year old Ryan hugs me, I’ve taken to holding onto him a little tighter and a little longer than I used to. Time moves forward, and children grow up. They grow up fast, and then move on to have children of their own.

In early February 2015, our Emily will become a mother, and bring to the world her greatest gift, her son, Ben’s son, our grandson.

I arranged the nativity set last night as I do every year. With the animals, wise men, and shepherds gathered round, I placed Joseph, then Mary, and finally Jesus in the stable. I took a long time to look at Mary as she looked down at her sweet baby in the manger. I marveled at Mary’s love, a special love, a love that never ends, a mother’s love.

We’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and a Very Happy 2015.


January 12, 2012

I had spent the entire month of December finding volunteers to adopt each of my one hundred thirty nursing home residents. I like each to have a Christmas present to open from Santa. Churches, insurance groups, home companion services, the local University offices, and kind individuals took an elder’s name, bought a gift, wrapped it, and delivered it to the facility the week before Christmas.

That last week found us sorting, arranging and organizing the main event.  My gangly teenager, in the guise of Santa, visited and handed out presents. His red suit was stuffed with lumpy pillows and his beard kept slipping off his chin.  He mumbled under his breath so old ears couldn’t hear, “Jeez Mom, this stupid suit is hot, and the temperature in this place is turned up to a hundred.”

“Shhh,” I scolded, elbowing him in the ribs. “Santa is jolly, remember?”

“Why couldn’t Ben do it again?”

“I’ve done the Santa bit long enough,” Ben, my 6’6” elf said to his brother. “It’s your turn.”

My skinny Santa rolled his eyes, adjusted his pillows, and hiked up his pants. “Let’s go and get this over with,” he sighed.

My boys are good sports, and although Ryan was game,  his “Ho, ho, ho” needed a bit more bass and volume. For a first-timer he did alright. It’s a good thing the elders love him, and have watched him grow up. They are patient, kind, and found his presentation, “endearing.” The real Santa never received so many hugs and kisses.

By Christmas eve, we were all tired. I anticipated the weekend of Christmas for the days off from work, for a chance to finally put my feet up. My last week of vacation for the year started December 26th; and I was looking forward to some rest.

Then, my Mama sprung her gift, a week’s stay ocean-front on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a four and a half hour drive south of home to the barrier island, a trip, packing, meal planning, driving, family dynamics. She couldn’t contain her excitement as we opened the box to the announcement of her surprise. How do you look a seventy-seven year old smiling grandmother who has outdone herself in what she thinks is the perfect gift and say, “thanks, but what we really wanted was to stay at home.”  You don’t. I smiled, hugged her, and spent the next few hours planning the week away.

“She’s getting up there,” Bruce chastised me later when I harrumphed about my exhaustion and plans ruined by a trip to the beach.  “At her age, you never know,” he said shrugging. “Look at this as an opportunity to enjoy some quality time with your mother.”  After a pause, he said, “You know I can’t go. I have that contract with the doctor’s office to push snow if we get a storm.”

Yes there was a contract, but the extended forecast mentioned expectation of higher than average temps and sunny days. I suppose it’s good to have a handy excuse. He hugged me. “I’ll miss you,” he said.

Mama had rented the condo from December 25-January 1.  She wanted to make the most of our time and her six hundred dollars.  “All we have to do is throw some things into a bag and some food into the cooler and go,” she said smiling, her hands clasped together in her excitement. She wanted to leave that afternoon, on Christmas day.

At least no one travels on the twenty-fifth, I thought. Smart people are home, gathered around the tree, opening presents, or sitting down to a home-cooked meal, Norman Rockwell style. Most people.

Traffic was horrendous. I envisioned clear roads, uncongested tunnels, clean rest stops. Wrong. It seems everyone travels on Christmas day and there’s no place to stop for a bite to eat except the Lucky Mart, ten miles off the interstate. They had stale ham and cheese sandwiches, cold tofu burgers with processed cheese to heat in the microwave, chips and drinks.  5th Avenue candy bars served as our holiday dessert.

It was cold at the beach, and there’s not much to do in the winter time. The second floor condo Mama had rented was nice, with a wrap-around couch, large flat screen television, state of the art stereo system, and ample pots for cooking. The sliding glass doors opened off the living area to a balcony. We each had a bedroom to hole up in when needed and mine faced the ocean. If I cracked the window a few inches and burrowed under the covers at night, I could listen to the waves breaking on shore.

Mama brought her dominos, a double set of playing cards, and her recipe book. She fixed coffee for us each morning with just enough sugar and a French vanilla creamer that made me close my eyes and breathe in deeply over the cup, savoring the aroma before letting the sweet caffeine slide down my throat. She always knew how to make a good cup of coffee.

I slept in Monday morning and lounged in my pajamas all day, like I’d wanted to do the day before. I took out the book I’d gotten for Christmas, Suttree by Cormac McCarthy, and read, realizing I didn’t have laundry to wash, wrapping paper to clean up, or a tree to dismantle. I enjoyed a big bowl of Mama’s homemade potato soup with little round oyster crackers. I wrapped myself in a blanket, tucked my feet under me, and read the rest of the evening.

Tuesday was just as quiet with the exception of a rousing game of Spite and Malice, which my mother won. She’s the competitive one.

 We spent the whole of Wednesday ferreting out the thrift stores in the area, trying on vintage comfortable clothes and eclectic jewelry that we’d only pay a dollar a piece for. Mama picked up a green plaid duvet cover for my bed at home for two dollars and I found her a whole box of canning jars with lids for a dollar and a half. We tried on silly purple hats with veils and almost wet ourselves laughing over a pair of shiny red leather, six inch stiletto heels.

“I think I’ll buy these for Mary Elizabeth’s next gathering,” Mama said holding the shoes by their spikes.  I opened my eyes wide.  Mary-Elizabeth is one of Mama’s church friends. She holds fancy teas and respectable luncheons. Her gloves are white and she dons a lace apron when serving refreshments. Mama showing up in stilettos would cause Mary-Elizabeth to go pale, maybe faint, and attempt to hide my mother from her other, more staid friends. Mama would smile, twirl and dare Mary Elizabeth and her friends to walk a mile in her shoes.  

I held the strappy little numbers by their leather backs and dared Mama to try them on. She never backs down from a challenge. She sat on a wobbly wooden rocker in the thrift store and slipped off her soft loafers. I felt a bit like her prince charming, down on my knees, buckling the shoes onto her feet. I held the hand of my seventy-seven year old mother as she stood and teetered toward the full length mirror.  Her elastic waist jeans and flannel button-down shirt gave her that very aged “Ellie May gone inner-city girl” appearance. She struck a pose with hip stuck out, hand behind head, and the two of us doubled over laughing. I had to hold onto her to keep her from toppling head first into a rack of vintage beaded evening gowns.  

The week came to a close much too soon. I hadn’t laughed so hard, eaten so well, or rested as much in a long time.

On Friday afternoon, the day before we left for home, we were drawn to the window by the sight of a hundred or more gulls and pelicans circling and diving into the water after a school of fish so large and boisterous the ocean couldn’t contain them as they fought for room to swim. The fish seemed to jump up out of the water to meet the mouths of the birds.

In all of our years of coming to the Outer Banks, my mother and I had never seen so many sea birds congregate over the ocean, settle on its surface, or dive in such a frenzy. They looked to have been shot from the sky, beaks pointed down, spiraling into the water with a splash, only to come up again, bobbing on the surface. Then they rose again to the air and repeated the exercise.  

Both of us were speechless. We stood in awe of the hundreds of white winged dots rising, falling, dipping and splashing. Then a movement caught my eye and I pointed in its direction. A blue-black hump rose just above the surface of the ocean and shone bright as the sun glinted off it. I thought it was a dolphin at first, but hadn’t seen a fin.  Then the hump disappeared and was gone, but a few seconds later a large spray of water erupted from the ocean’s surface and several feet behind it, a fluke lifted. It was a whale.  I had heard others speak of the migration of the humpbacks in December, but I’d never seen one.

“Whales!” I said.

“Whales!” Mama echoed.

We stood watching them for the next hour. Every once in awhile, a back emerged, or a fin lifted and hovered parallel to the water, then slipped under again.  They swam and spouted and waved at us as we stood side by side, watching in wonder at my mother’s ultimate Christmas gift.


July 23, 2011

A child was hit and killed by a car a half mile from our house last Friday night. He was a rising Sophomore at the high school in our community. He was riding his skateboard from his subdivision, across the highway, to the grocery store.  A pizza delivery man hit him.

The newscaster announced the accident Saturday morning.  I woke Ryan to ask him if he knew the boy. They were the same age. Ryan came into the room rubbing his eyes. When he saw the picture of the dark haired young man wearing glasses, Ryan’s eyes opened wide. Then he said,  “He’s a freshman. We ride the same bus.”

I hugged my boy every opportunity I had over the weekend.  I hovered over him until he told me to stop. I regretted ever teasing him about walking to the store when he needed a ride. I cried for the loss of a child I didn’t know. Ryan was patient with me. His statement of “That’s enough, Mom,” came  late Sunday evening when he was trying to watch the sports highlights on television and I had my arms wrapped around him from behind as he sat in his video gaming chair.  

Monday morning I went to work. It was there that I was told that James, the teenager killed, was the son of one of our nursing assistants, Yuhong. Every day, this gentle woman goes about her work quietly, her eyes lowered. Her presence is felt, but not heard. She cares for the elders in her charge with a rare kindness not often seen, and she is the mother of James. He was her only child.

We took up a collection at work for Yuhong and her husband, gathered money, food, drink, a potted plant, and we all signed a card. We didn’t know what else to do. A friend and I stopped by Yuhong’s house Tuesday afternoon to pay our respects and deliver the items we collected. We didn’t know what to say. We just stood in her doorway with our arms wrapped around her and her husband, crying with them. They were gracious, inviting us in, allowing us to share in their grief.

I sat at Yuhong’s kitchen table, looking at the photo album of her son from the time he was born until now.  She sat, tears running, unable to speak. Her husband, a very strong man, sat telling us stories of James, how he loved playing the saxophone and wanted to join the jazz band this fall, how tennis was such a passion that he played every day in the summer,  how James had made them so proud by getting all A’s in his honors classes at school.  The brave man choked back tears as he said, “I still go to my son’s room in the morning to wake him for breakfast. This does not feel real.”

 This couple is from China. They have lived in America for ten years. Their extended family lives in China. They sat together, there at the table, alone.

 We turned pages in the photo album. I remembered my own boys at each stage of development, my joy, and such a strong feeling of love as I held them or stood beside them.  I realized today that I’ve never contemplated a time when there would be no more photographs taken of my children. I still can’t.

March 13, 2011

March 13, 2011

When I think about the date and what it means to me, I wonder how a boy grows up so fast and all at once makes decisions on his own. Unless it’s a big decision, he no longer calls home first. Ben turned twenty-two today. He’s been driving for six years and has been legal to drink for one year. He’s still alive, and I’m grateful.

The weather has turned warm here in the past couple of days and it feels like spring. I walked down below the house this morning, feeling the sun shine on my shoulders. I looked out at the backstop Bruce built when the boys were both in the thick of baseball. They spent hours hitting, throwing, practicing bunts and slides. They started with real baseballs, but their backyard field was smaller than a real one and I made them trade the hard balls for wiffle balls.

Ben was twelve and baseball was his life. One day, he stomped into the house and threw down his glove. “I’m not ever playing with him again. You can’t tell him anything. He doesn’t listen.”

Thirty seconds later, Ryan replayed the stomping and throwing of glove. He was six years old, but just as insistent as his brother. “I’m never playing with him again. He’s mean. He yelled at me ‘cause of where my feet were. I can put my feet wherever I want to.”

I shook my head, because this scene played out at least twice a week. In an hour, the two of them were right back out there, running, sliding, arguing rules and plays. I thought it would never end.

When Ben sees friends, coaches, and teachers from his high school days they ask him if he’s still playing ball. “I’m retired,” he says and laughs. He will graduate from college in May and plans to enroll in grad school this fall. He applied to Catalina Island Camps in California for summer work and out of a thousand applicants, he was one of sixty chosen as a Camp Counselor. He’s still considering the offer, has to talk it over with his boss at Triple C Camp here in town.

The sky was so blue this morning, baseball season blue, and memories of hits and pitches, celebrations and defeats played themselves out in my head. I happened to look down and a round object caught my eye. It was the remnants of a baseball. The cover was gone and the ball of wound strings underneath was the only thing left. I remembered Ben’s coach telling him one time he’d hit the ball so hard he’d knocked the cover off of it.

Coach Beale was right. The boy’s hit the cover off the ball.

Ingenuity and Elbow Grease

October 17, 2010

“I’m in trouble,” my mother said on the phone a couple weeks ago.

Immediately, my heart rate kicked up.  I didn’t remember ever hearing her say that.  She’s always been the strong one, the one who figures out the answers and is there to help me through my troubles.  She enjoys solving problems and taking care of those around her. She never needs help.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I’ve over-booked my festivals,” she said with such a serious tone that I tried to stifle my laugh.

“Why are you laughing?” she asked.  “That’s our beach money on the line.  If I lose this show, we might not be able to go to the Outer Banks.”

OK, this was serious.  I didn’t want to risk our beach trip. “What do you need me to do?” I asked.

“Do you or the boys have plans for October 16th?  Can one of you go to Palmyra and handle the St. Peter and Paul Church bazaar?”

“Don’t worry, one of us will take care of it,” I said.

I could feel her blood pressure go down over the phone.  She sighed deeply. “Thank you baby, I know how hard you work and you have so little time to yourself. I hate to impose on you.”

This statement stopped me. I wondered how many times she has needed me and not asked. She’s older now. I forget that.

The church allowed her to come set up her display on Friday afternoon, so all I had to do was show up at eight o’clock Saturday morning, sit behind the table, sell her preserved fare, bag the jars and collect a five dollar bill for each one, easy work.

Person after person came through the door, stopped by Mama’s table and asked where she was. “Oh please tell her I missed seeing her. She’s such a sweet lady.  She works so hard on all this stuff she sells.”

“I don’t see how she possibly makes a dime when you consider the cost of sugar and jars these days, not to mention her time.”

“What does she put in her Chow-Chow?”

“Oh my goodness, I haven’t seen End of the Garden Pickle since my Grandma made it.”

“Can you double bag. I want six jars.  I’ll probably send my husband back for more.  I have to go home and see exactly what I need for Thanksgiving.”

“How’s your step-father? I know your Mother’s been so worried about his health. She carries a big load on her shoulders.”

For six hours I not only sold items, but gained a new perspective on the impact my mother has on the lives of other people, people I don’t even know. 

“How did you do?” she asked me late last night on the phone.

“Pretty good I think,” I said.  “I sold one hundred and one jars.”

“You did do well for St. Peter and Paul’s,” she said.  “Let’s see, that’s five hundred and five dollars added to the nine hundred and sixty I made at Flippin Seaman’s Orchard for a grand total of, hold on let me get my calculator.  We did good baby, fourteen hundred and sixty-five dollars.”

“You did the work, Mama.  All I did was wrap, sell and smile like you taught me,” I said laughing.

“We’d have five hundred and five dollars less if you hadn’t come through for me though,” she said

“Outer Banks, here we come.” I said.

“Amazing what a few vegetables, strawberries, peaches, plums, sugar and elbow grease will get you,” she said.

“Ingenuity and elbow grease,” I said. “That should be your motto.”

“It’s helped us get to the beach every year,” she said.

It’s also taught me how to make my way in the world, I thought, as I told her I loved her and hung up the phone.

Some of Mama’s preserves


April 8, 2010

My mother called me two weeks ago. She was out of breath with excitement.  “I took a handful of old broken gold chains, rings, earrings without mates, that kind of stuff to the coin shop in Woodbook Center.  You just wouldn’t believe,” she said.

“What Mama?”  I asked, not quite understanding what she was talking about. She was always the one to wear jewelry.  She loved those gold chains when it was fashionable to wear six or seven with a different charm on each one, or those add a bead necklaces in the 70’s.  She had a ring on every other finger and I never saw her without earrings.  She liked to sparkle.

I have never been much for jewelry or fashion.  Mama wanted me to be. She had the girly-girl thing going on.  She enjoyed dressing up, wearing makeup, lipstick and perfume.  Her shoes matched her purse and if she thought she could get away with wearing gloves, she did that too. 

I prefer jeans to dresses, ball caps to hairstyles, purple and green striped knee socks to silk stockings.  My mother has spent her life shaking her head at me.  She tried to help, buying  me all kinds of baubles. I thanked her and  wore them enough to let her see, then put them away in boxes.  I had hopes that my daughter would take after her and enjoy them.  I had sons.

So she called me two weeks ago,  excited that she had visited the coin shop with her handfull of gold. 

 “Did they repair them for you?” I asked.

“Heavens no, TW,” she said.  “They weighed it and gave me over a thousand dollars for the piddling little amount I had.  Can you believe that? One thousand dollars!”

“You sold your jewelry?” I asked, not believing.

“Of course I did.  At that price, I’m looking for more to take.”

“Wow,” I said.

“I wanted to call so that you could go through your things and find all that gold you don’t wear.  You could get a fortune for what you keep in boxes.  I know the man at the coin shop, so I can get you a better deal.  Let me know when you have it all together,” she said.  We finished talking and I hung up the  phone.

I opened the hinged velvet containers, and laid all the pieces out on the bed in front of me.  I remembered birthdays and Christmases, High School Graduation and the birth of my first son, a trip to Reno and another to St. Augustine. My mother’s smile and excitement sparkled in each gold gift before me.  I’ve never worn them, any of them, but I could never sell them.

I boxed them back up and put them away, for my granddaughter I think.