Remembering Mother: Mother Said
Faded old photo taken in Lisbon 1975.
“Root, hog, or die,” Mother said.
This was the mantra of a woman who got her master’s degree by going to graduate school summers and weekends while she raised five kids and taught school, and did household chores without electricity or indoor plumbing. I remember that every time I think I’ve reached the end of my rope.
In hard times, we wore hand-me-downs and homemade clothes. Mother said, “If your hair looks nice and your shoes are polished, that’s all that matters.”
My bad hair day has lasted a lifetime. My shoes look old the second time I wear them. Maybe it’s because my big toes turn up, or maybe it’s because of Mother’s bunions. I inherited her feet along with her sense of humor.
Mother said, “If you’re wearing a smile, nobody notices your clothes.” I’ve relied on that assurance for most of my life, smiling like an ad for toothpaste, but now—it’s criminal what aging does to teeth. When I began losing mine, Mother said, “You have 50-year teeth, just like your father.”
At the bottom of the Great Depression we lived in a small rural community that traveling salesmen always managed to find. Mother swapped whatever she could for whatever she wanted. She swapped eggs and chickens and jewelry that she never wore.
The summer I was 12, Mother and I were on the front porch shelling peas when a car came up our red dirt road and parked in our front yard. A man wearing a straw hat and seersucker suit got out. He was selling subscriptions.
Mother swapped a sapphire ring for The Ladies Home Journal and a ruby ring for The Kansas City Star.
“My children are my jewels,” Mother said, and gave him a smile as bright as the morning sun.
Years later, when I visited her in the hospital after she broke her hip, Mother said, “I suppose you all turned out as well as could be expected. At least none of you was ever in jail.”
Her opinions, warnings and admonishments have stood me in good stead. At the time I would have said they went in one ear and out the other. I would have been wrong. They come back to me in some way almost every day.
My brothers and sisters and I have aged well, all things considered. Our jewel-like luster has dimmed but we’re still at large.
Mother, I think, would be pleased.