I don’t think there has been a day in the last eight years that I haven’t thought of my mom. Being all grown up with wrinkles to call my own doesn’t make me miss my parents any less.
What constitutes a mom, those most remarkable of beings? What helps make our mothers protector and friend, comforter and judge, spiritual leader and homemaker? I have heard that if you want to solicit a response out of the most reticent and reserved people, ask them about their mothers, and they most certainly will have something to say. From Mary, the Holy Mother, to Mother Earth, from Mother Jones to Mother Bates, from “Mama’s Family” to “Old Mother Hubbard,” our culture has been influenced by the images and personalities of our mothers.
My mom was uniquely herself: She scrimped for and sacrificed for and worked for and prayed for her kids, and she loved us unconditionally. But the last thing I want to do is squeeze her into a box — into a tiny space — a “one size fits all,” where one definition of motherhood tries to describe her. She had many personalities: The same woman who could wield a pretty mean yardstick when need be, liked to hold her children’s hands, even when we were adults.
I recall a woman once told Mom that she didn’t think it was right to embarrass me by giving me a vigorous spanking in the toy aisle of Woolworth’s on Wabash Avenue; I was about seven or eight. My mother turned to the stranger and promptly told her that she should raise her children as she saw fit, but when it came to Romelle Lunsford’s kids, she had better watch where she was sticking her nose. After I stopped bawling, we both laughed about the look on the old busybody’s face.
We all have our own definitions of motherhood. Abraham Lincoln said of his mother, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” The writer Pearl Buck said of mothers in general, “Some are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same, and most mothers kiss and scold together.”
Famous recluse J. D. Salinger simply said, “All mothers are slightly insane,” something that I would most certainly agree with. One insane mother herself, Phyllis Diller said, “I want my children to have all the things I couldn’t afford. Then I want to move in with them.” She also said, “We spend the first twelve months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk, and the next twelve years telling them to sit down and shut up.”
When I think of my mom, I think of many things, but perhaps more than most, I remember her as someone who always made sure that I was clean, that I was fed, and that I was safe. Getting dirty was more than OK with her; she wanted me to spend as much time outdoors as possible. She told me once there wasn’t anything she couldn’t “scrub” out of my clothes. Her fried chicken and apple pie slices (with icing) were to die for; her macaroni and cheese was pretty special, too. And, there wasn’t a night that I came home late — even when I was in college — that she wasn’t “still up,” reading or watching a movie; she wanted to know that I was in the house before she went to bed.
I could tell a bushel basket full of stories about Mom, but one keeps coming back as I write this today. Like most parents, I suppose, my mother wanted me to be able to do things that she hadn’t had the chance to do, and one at the top of her list was to play a musical instrument. My sister played the flute, and I was expected to follow in her footsteps. So, midway through my sixth-grade year, I chose the violin, which I certainly thought looked easier than hauling around a tuba. We went to the music store, picked out the model of my choice, and I promptly spent part of every other school day in the school cafeteria, of all places, under the watchful eyes and never-ending patience of our music teacher, Evelyn Vaught.
To put it mildly, I wasn’t very good. I was better at applying rosin to the bow than playing a single note, and I was soon miserable, but not as miserable as Mom was. She threatened, cajoled, begged and bribed me to practice, but as the days rolled on, I became adamant that not only could I not play the violin, I would not. Mom began taking me to Mrs. Vaught’s house for private lessons, both of them believing that if I played in private that perhaps I’d relax and concentrate more. However, my crimes against music worsened, and Mom eventually waved the white flag, bought me a second-hand basketball at a garage sale, and took the violin back to the store.
I know I hurt Mom when I gave up the violin, but believe it or not, I actually loved music, even then. I just thought it sounded so much better coming from a stereo speaker than the strangled notes from that poor instrument as I punished it with my sweaty palms, tin ear and sledgehammer touch. Other than laughing a little, Mom never mentioned the violin to me again…
A few years ago, after I had written a column in which I had mentioned dear Mrs. Vaught and Mom and my brutal attempt to master the nuances of “Ole King Cole,” I told my sister that I was surprised that Mom ever had the money to spend on renting the violin and driving me to lessons in Terre Haute, and for the excessive amount of rosin that I used in preparation for my stellar performances.
“She didn’t have the money,” Sis told me. “She insisted that she’d clean Mrs. Vaught’s house in exchange for the lessons.” I have to admit, I got a little teary-eyed when I heard that.
Other than a few freshly cut irises, I can’t give my mom a Mother’s Day gift anymore. This story, a day late, will have to do, because I never learned to play anything but the record player. No, there’s not a day goes by that I don’t miss my mom.
Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at email@example.com, or c/o the Tribune-Star at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. You can learn more about his writing and speaking by going to his website at www.mikelunsford.com. His new book, “A Windy Hill Almanac,” will be released this fall.