In William Manchester’s novel, So Long, See You Tomorrow, the main character makes the observation, “When my father was getting along in years, and the past began to figure more in his conversation, I asked him one day what my mother was like.  I knew what she was like as my mother but I thought it was time somebody told me what she was like as a person.”

It never occurred to me during my early years that my mother was a person, that she had a rich and interesting life before I was born.  She had a childhood, teenage years, and a young adulthood before my brothers and I figured into the situation.  She had an interesting life after we all left home as well.  The middle part of her life was taken up with being a pastor’s wife, something she had counted on, and being the mother of 5 boys, something she had not counted on.  If she were alive today, she’d be 85 and very likely living a rich and interesting life as a senior adult, the duties of motherhood in the distant past, countless stories of a motherhood she barely survived to fill her memory.

Mother’s Day conjures up all kinds of memories and feelings.  Of course, memories are never historically accurate.  They are our own mixture of facts and interpretations.  For most of us, memories of mother are tinted with bright colors and softened edges.  But not for everyone.  A friend of mine admitted some years ago that Mother’s Day was not a good day for her.  “My mother was mean.  I have very few good memories.”  To her credit, my friend broke the cycle of meanness and became a good mother to her children.

I only saw my mother as competent and capable and patient to a fault.  It’s hard for me to think of her as depressed, overwhelmed, sad, and lonely while she was desperately trying to keep up with the constant onslaught of cooking, cleaning, laundry, and referee duties for the 5 of us, not to mention all of the public duties and social pressures as the pastor’s wife.  I know she experienced all those dark feelings.

I wonder if she ever found any consistent time to be alone, to be quiet, to look carefully at her life.  I never asked her.  I suspect she had some such moments shortly after the bunch of us dashed out the door to school and Dad headed off to the church office.  I hope she pushed back the need to dive into her household duties long enough to have a cup of coffee and quiet moment.  But I don’t know.

She was busy shaping my life and the lives of my brothers, quietly, subtly, maybe not even intentionally.  She did it by making sure I had a breakfast in my stomach and a sack lunch in my hand before I left for school.  I always had clean clothes, which I took for granted and a hot dinner each evening, which I woofed down without much thought.  She showed up for our little league games, which I doubt she wanted to do, and I had her presence every evening making sure my homework was done and my teeth were brushed.  Through those thankless tasks, and thousands more, she infused our home with a sense of emotional security.

The consistency with which she did these simple but difficult tasks was priceless.  Consistency is far more important than flashy when it comes to rearing children.

For each of the past 7 years I have had the privilege of saying some things about my mother at a piano recital at Missouri Baptist University held in her memory.  I get to tell the students and their parents some things about her as a mother and as a person.  At the conclusion of the recital this year, one of the university administrators thanked me for my words.  Without thinking I replied, “It’s an honor.  I get to say some things about her that I never got to say to her.”

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Printed in the Abilene Reporter News, May 9, 2011