Phragments with Phyllis: My mother’s legacy in life
This Sunday is Mother’s Day. I have been very lucky to have my mother in this world with me for all this time.
She turned 87 on April 21, and, unfortunately, it appears that she may be in the late December of her life.
As I look back, I must contemplate the legacy she leaves.
My mother was born into a relatively dysfunctional family – her father having committed suicide the month before his last child – my mother – was born. My mother and her closest (in age) sister went to a foster home on a farm in Princeton, N.C.
Foster care in those days was not supervised quite the way it is now, and my mother and her sister were expected to pull their weight on a working farm from the moment they arrived. When my mother was barely 4, she was beaten for falling asleep in the fields when she was supposed to be picking cotton. My mother’s answer was to be invisible. She tried not to make waves and tried to fade into the woodwork. So when she announced she was going to marry my father when she was 20, her foster parents watched her go, screaming at her that she would be sorry and she would be back.
My father had been something of a wild buck, but what they didn’t know was that for more than a year he had been turning over his paycheck to my mother to save, so they could get a fresh start away from both their families.
Their life together began as tenant farmers, but they made it work. From there they moved to Virginia when I was about 3, and my father began his life as an electrician in civil service. When I was in the second grade, my mother went to work in retail and stayed there until I was an adult. Maybe because my parents both grew up during the Depression, they worked very hard to have more and to make sure I had more – more resources, more opportunity, more family support.
I spent my childhood in a household where God was the center. We opened and closed the doors to our church. My father was a deacon and a Sunday school teacher, my mother was a Sunday school teacher.
When I graduated from high school a year early and headed to college, my mother cried and, as they got into the car to leave me there my freshman year, she commented, “All I can think of is if you had stayed with your class, I’d have another year with you at home.”
For a time, I looked on my mother as weak. My father and I were more alike – stubborn, opinionated and, when not careful, self-absorbed. Just as she had been in her youth, my mother’s approach to life was quiet, non-confrontational and, I thought, too quick to give in. But she was exactly what my father needed, and maybe exactly what I needed while growing up.
She was the support for all we did. She believed in me, trusted my judgment and did what she could to silently – but surely – guide me in the right direction.
I watched her support our family financially, emotionally and more.
She was, in time, the perfect grandmother as well – always seeing the good in her grandchildren, always giving her approval for the people my children were becoming, and loving all three of them unconditionally.
As my father became more and more infirm, my mother saw her place as doing everything she could to keep him happy and comfortable. Unfortunately, in the last years of my father’s life that meant she performed physical duties that she probably shouldn’t have. During that time, my mother aged probably two years for every one as she tried to nurse him, keep him fed and comfortable, while battling her own health issues – constant vertigo, mini-strokes, failing hearing.
Since my father’s death in 2008, she has lived in South Carolina – first with us, enjoying Cade as he grew from infant to toddler, then after a fall, a pacemaker and a stroke, she came to stay at NHC in North Augusta. There she fared very well for a couple of years, but for the last 6 months I have watched a steady – and for me, scary – decline.
My mother has lived a life of godliness, compassion and love for her family and her friends. I can only hope that I may someday be the person she intended for me to be. She is a living legacy to St. Francis of Assisi’s charge to Christians: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”
Happy Mother’s Day.