Happy Mother's Day to my mom, Esther Smith. We used to celebrate by making her breakfast in bed...until she put a stop to it. Some things are more for the benefit of the crowd, less so for the person of honor. My mom was never a morning person. She liked to get up on her own time, on her own terms, and fix her own breakfast, preferably in her own space. (I understand, now, as I inherited all of that from her.)
So, having four boys, somewhere between ages three and thirteen, running into her bedroom before she wants to be awake, serving her something she doesn't want to eat turned out to be not so much a gift as we assumed. I think she put up with it about three years before she tactfully suggested to us that she wanted something different for a change. Whatever she said to us, it was probably something she said to my dad, probably not so tactfully, that finally changed the family tradition.
Anyway, my main Mother's Day gift to my mom these past years has usually taken the form of this Sunday letter. That...and a phone call...which will be a Zoom call this year. And this year I wanted to share one memory from each of the houses I grew up in.
My oldest memories were from the Naperville house, 232 West Benton, where we lived until I was almost five. I had the measles there and had to be sheltered-in-place. The measles themselves never bothered me, but the grounding did. And I remember my mother's compassion and comforting tone. I also remember that she let me watch some TV for the first time: Garfield Goose and Cubs games. And I remember that she was the one who called me in from the outside. I loved the backyard there and would be out as much as she would let me. But I also remember feeling the sense of comfort and belonging when she called me in for meals...or at dusk.
We moved to a country parsonage when I was five and we lived there until I was in the middle of fourth grade. I remember her driving me to kindergarten in Hinkley and taking me to swimming lessons in Sycamore. I remember one night how she put Jim and Steve and me in the bathtub, (we could all fit in those days) and explained that this was the last bath she would be able to give us for a while because she was getting too big to bend over. That night she went to the hospital to give birth to our brother Jay. As I heard her and my dad leave in the middle of the night, I started to cry. But my mom always had auxiliary mothers lined up when needed. And Ruth Westfall, a neighbor and church member came to my room and told me everything would be okay. And it was.
We then moved to Dalton City; 400 people back then. I attended 4th, 5th, and 6th grade there. It was a popular thing in those days for churches to hold revivals once a year. And my grandfather (also a preacher) loved to preach at revivals. I was staying with him and grandma when I was nine and attended a revival at his church. During the altar call, I came forward and gave my life to the Lord. Of course, my grandparents talked and talked about it, to everyone. A year later, my grandpa came to the Dalton City church and preached another revival there. And during the altar call, I got up and gave my life to the Lord all over again. My mom was aghast. She talked to me the next day and said that the only people who had to get saved over and over again were those who were wicked backsliders. She said that if I kept going to the altar, everyone would think I was someone evil and it would ruin my (and her) reputation. So I determined not to get saved anymore. Of course, I now know it is all up to God...and getting saved is a lifelong process. And both my mom and myself have grown theologically over the years. That's another thing about her...her love of learning and growing and changing.
While I was in Junior High we lived in Rock Grove, Illinois. These years were the ones I was most prone to embarrassment. After all, pre-teens have to keep up appearances. And in every school, we kids would divide ourselves into a hierarchy. At the top were kids who really made a good appearance. And at the bottom were the loser kids. And most of us were in the middle. If you were in the middle, the worst thing that could happen to you was to get too close to the loser kids. And one day, I came home from school, walked in the kitchen, and there sat the three G---- sisters. They were the lowest of the low: the ultimate loser family in the whole school district. And my mom was entertaining all three of the sisters in our kitchen, cleaning and cutting and shaping their hair. I didn't even know she knew about them. After all, they probably had so many cooties that no church could afford to let them in. But here they were in my kitchen. And my mom was breaking all the rules, caring for them and showing them the same kindness that she showed her own children. And I was so proud of her, even though I didn't even want to be. And the seeds were planted that day to be just like her...for the rest of my life...in every way I could.
We again lived in a country parsonage while I was in high school, this time between Sterling and Polo. I was a lovely house, shaded by maple trees and featuring a barn and a huge yard. And it had four dishwashers: me and my three brothers. Actually, my mom washed the dishes. We boys took turns drying. That was my time to talk with mom: my first experience of adult to adult conversations with her. Those conversations have been going on for decades now. And each one is treasured.
After a heart attack last year, and some months of depression and difficult recovery, she is doing much better these days. She doesn't juggle things as much as in the past, but then, why bother! These days, at age 85, she is letting go of things that don't really matter and relishing instead the things that do: the days she has with my dad, children and grandchildren checking in, visits and calls and cards with friends, enjoyment of flowers in her yard...
So, once again, I am honored and pleased to say, Happy Mother's Day. And I hope we have as many more of these Mother's Days as we can both handle...and many, many more adult-adult conversations.