Ten years ago, I wrote a Mother’s Day column. When I wrote it, my brother and sister were alive to enjoy what I had to say. Today, I’ve pulled the column out of my archives but now I’m the only remaining member of my immediate family and I have no one to share it with. So I’m going to share it with you.
The engine roared as the pre-war Indian motorcycle flowed smoothly up the hills and through the curves of Southern Indiana’s scenic Highway Fifty. The man hunkered down over the handlebars smiled at the throaty, powerful response of the machine. It had barely been running when the owner brought it to him to repair. The wind was invigorating as it struck his face and flattened his hair back against his head. He had on a pair of goggles but they weren’t in the best of shape. The glass was fogged and they didn’t provide much protection. He considered taking them off but didn’t want to take a chance on some object hitting him in his good eye. He had only one eye left, the other having been being destroyed by an errant welding rod some ten years earlier. The sleeves on his flannel shirt billowed out and flapped at his forearms in the wind. It didn’t hurt but it stung enough to make him decide that five miles of testing the machine was enough. The roadside picnic area at the bottom of the next hill was a good place to turn around and head back to the automotive repair shop.
Rounding the curve at the top of the hill, something happened. No one ever knew what caused him to lose control but the cycle skidded down the highway on it’s side throwing the rider off and over the side of the embankment. The man flew headlong into a maple tree about halfway down the steep hillside. He died of a broken neck on the way to the hospital, some fifteen miles from the accident scene.
Back home, his thirty four year old wife, eight months pregnant, had taken advantage of the warm day and had given the boys a bath in the backyard. The boys were six and four years old and along with the couple’s thirteen year old daughter, were the light of the couple’s life.
She heard a car door close and walked around the house to see who was there. The couple that played cards with them every Saturday night stood in the front yard. Both of them were crying but managed to tell her about the accident. In what seemed like only a few minutes, the priest arrived and the house filled up with friends and neighbors.
Three days, of which she remembered little, passed. There was a funeral and five days after that, a stillborn baby boy was delivered by the new widow. Now she had to bury another giant piece of her heart. The sorrow was almost more than she could bear. First, her husband and now the baby boy.
Almost overwhelming the grief that consumed her was a feeling of hopelessness. She felt like climbing into her bed and staying there but for the sake of her family, she had to go on. She had three children depending on her and there was no money nor did she have any idea how to get any. What was she to do? She had never worked outside the home. She had only an eighth grade education and had never traveled more than fifty miles from home. She had a brother and four sisters who could be depended on for moral support but they, like a lot of the people in the area, were doing good to provide for themselves. In this year of nineteen forty-six, social welfare barely existed but it would never have entered her mind anyway.
There was nothing for her but to do the best that she knew how. She sold the family car because the sale provided a little money and because she didn’t know how to drive it anyway. She took in laundry from people in the town. She rented her bedroom to a couple who were in town on a temporary job and she moved into the boys bedroom. She and her daughter planted the garden and prepared to do even more home canning than they had in happier years. The family managed to get through the summer but it left little or no time for the woman to grieve.
In December of that year, she sold the house and moved eight miles west to her hometown to be nearer to both her and her husband’s families. There was enough money from the sale to make a down payment on a house that provided a roof over their heads and little else. No running water or central heat but it was home and it was close to her sisters. The two older kids were enrolled in the Catholic school. The woman fought a newly developed fear of something happening to her family. She worried incessantly. A fear of thunderstorms, along with other natural disasters, kept her awake nights. But she persevered.
She found work that winter cooking in a local restaurant only a mile or so from home. For the next eight years, she walked to and from work at six o’clock every morning six days out of the week. Rain or shine, hot or cold, she made that walk. On Sundays, her day off, she walked her family to church. A year after the accident, a monthly check for fourteen dollars and ninety two cents arrived from Social Security to help provide for the children.
Eventually, she landed a job at the telephone company. It was a little farther to walk and she worked a lot of split shifts but the money was better and life got a little easier then. Indoor plumbing and then central heat were introduced into the family’s life.
Her life went on. She never remarried, never gave it a second thought. She paced the floor with worry when her children were out. She never learned to drive and was to scared to try. She never learned to conquer her fear of storms and spent many a night waking her family and leading them in a prayer that some approaching storm wouldn’t blow them all away.
But she persevered and accomplished the task that fate had handed her. This timid, worry wart of a woman got her family raised and even managed to provide a place to live for her mother-in-law’s later years. .
She had a year of retirement before she died in her sleep at age sixty-four, more than likely of that broken heart that had never completely mended. Was she a hero? To her way of thinking, she wasn’t. A lot of people had endured as bad or worse and it never occurred to her that she had accomplished something out of the ordinary. But she did.
It is for people like her that we celebrate this day set aside to honor our Mothers.
Even though I’m sorry beyond words that she never heard it from me when she was alive, today I’m proud to say that she was my mother.