Bringing Out the Best in Us This Mother’s Day
May 6, 2008
Not everyone will celebrate Mother’s Day this year. It’s too painful for people like my parents, who both lost their mothers in the past five years. For them, the empty seat around the dinner table this Sunday will be especially tough to swallow. If only we could bring them back for a few precious moments …
The Great Depression had a profound effect on my grandmothers. One had money and saved most of it. Her husband worked the oil fields. Their RV was paid for in cash, but 20 years worth of empty egg cartons was telling: Granny never forgot the hard times.
“Don’t throw that away,” she said, stopping me from tossing out an egg carton one day. “You might need that later.” Then, she drifted off. I learned to interpret the silence: Better keep that, just in case, she thought, remembering when.
She battled Parkinson’s for a decade and passed away at the age of 87. She smiled until the end, grateful for every day.
My other grandma ” whom I called “Mamoo” (long story) ” was rougher around the edges. The 1930s tested her resolve: oranges for Christmas, scrubbing floors and toilets instead of finishing school, no money. But the hardship defined her somehow, molding her into an intriguing mix of feistiness and grit.
“I’ve worked like a dog my whole life,” she would say, boasting more than complaining. But she used the same words to warn anyone lacking what she called “common courtesy.” Offenders got an earful, reprimanded with a finger wag and a few parting shots: “Don’t do me that way” and “That really burns me up” were two of her favorites.
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“60 Minutes” only fueled the fire every Sunday night, milking the chip on her shoulder toward corporate America and the indifferent world. Little injustices ” like the “Semi-Truck Incident” ” frequently struck a nerve.
It was Monsoon Season in Tucson, Ariz. We idled at a red light, absorbing a downpour of surprising volume. On most summer days, her ’79 Plymouth’s air conditioner was no match for the desert heat. Lee Iacocca’s fault, she said. But that day, the rain diluted the 100-degree punishment, allowing us to roll down our windows.
“Thank the good Lord,” she said, lighting a Salem Menthol to mark the occasion.
As she puffed, an 18-wheeler timed the green light perfectly. It barreled through a pool of standing water doing 40 miles an hour ” mere inches from Mamoo’s window.
The resulting tidal wave splashed down on her newly permed hair and extinguished her cigarette.
“I’ll get you buddy!” she screamed out the window, fist clinched, mascara running. “Write down his license number,” she said turning to me, wiping her glasses. “Nobody does me that way.”
She floored it, but lacked the horsepower to carry out her road rage. She could only watch the semi through her windshield as it disappeared into traffic.
I wanted to laugh, but didn’t dare.
It was one of many lasting impressions.
“Be happy and appreciate what you have,” she said frequently, holding me tight. I hugged her back, waiting for the rest. “You are so precious,” she would whisper in my ear a few seconds later.
Over time, arthritis exhausted her strength. At the end she was spent, ready for a better life, ready to see her maker. She was 85.
The photo album doesn’t capture my grandmothers’ true legacy: Please and thank you, hard work, being a giver, not a taker, taking nothing for granted, loving people deeply.
My parents were their first students, my brother and I their last. They burned their philosophy into our thoughts ” bizarre at times, nowhere near perfect, but the real deal.
My kids are next. No doubt, they will study the Great Depression someday. I will tell them about their great grandmothers’ perseverance and decency, hoping that some of it sticks.
Sunday will be special, full of flowers, cards and fine dining. It will bring out the best in us, especially those who remember the childless and the hurting. Here’s wishing you and yours a happy Mother’s Day.
” Everyone has a story. What’s your? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.