Columnists > Judgment Calls

Mom's place

Giving thanks to God for a Proverbs 31 farmer's wife

Issue: "Summer Travel 2001," May 12, 2001

Did I wake you?" The voice on the phone asked. With that considerate question leading up to her predawn plea for help, Mother faced eternity with the serenity of an 81-year-old saint. It was a heart attack. As I frantically drove her to the hospital she looked over at me and said calmly, "Don't worry about me. I've had a wonderful life." The next day our family gathered around her bed in ICU. We recited all the underlined scripture passages in her well-worn Bible and sang hymns she knew by heart but could only mouth. Following those best hours of my life with Mom, she joined the church eternal. On Mother's Day I will forever give thanks to God for the woman who is responsible for everything I have, am, or hope to be. She led me to the Lord, taught me how to pray, sing, be a friend, a witness, and in the end how to die in the peace that passes all understanding. Mom was a Proverbs 31 farmer's wife. With a song in her heart and nearly always on her lips, she maintained a drafty old farmhouse absent indoor plumbing and cooked 21 meals a week for six hungry people. She tended a large garden and flock of chickens, push-mowed an acre of lawn, and interrupted her teaching career to raise four children with abundant love. In the evenings, as Dad rested from his labors, Mom hummed her vast repertoire of hymns as she ironed clothes till bedtime. Then she sat at the foot of the stairs darning socks as we trooped up to bed and said in unison the prayers she taught us, loud enough for her to hear. She spent her last winters on the Gulf Coast in a condo near my family, arriving on Nov. 1, cheerful as a mockingbird at dawn. The sun shone brighter for the rest of the season. One night a week we feasted at Mom's Place-"the best café in Tampa Bay," our kids will always say. We drove her back and forth to Illinois, an accommodation to her desire for the independence of her own car. Sure, it was a bother, but it didn't begin to equate to the bother I was to her for the first 18 years of my life. It began when I demanded to be born in the middle of the night and the hospital was 20 miles of mostly gravel roads from home. I'm sure it was a terrible bother as she sang to me when I cried in the night from an allergy that drove us all crazy. The doctors finally figured out it was the chicken feathers in my pillow. Getting a haircut on the back porch from Mom with her mechanical, semi-sharp clippers was a painful bother for both of us. There I provided the dissonant vocals. God blessed Mom with many other gifts. She could bring an ax to bear on a chicken's neck with finesse, drive a team of horses, and milk the cows when Dad worked late in the fields. Those same hands played the piano in accompaniment to her beautiful soprano voice. She could wield an elm switch across my behind like a Puritan schoolmarm or cheer louder than any teenager in the bleachers when I scored a touchdown. And she got more Christmas cards than anyone I know-the fruit of selfless friendship. Countless testimonials at her wake confirmed the gratitude of two generations of farm folks for a great first-grade education and an appreciation for music. Sunday was her favorite day because singing God's praise was her passion. She directed the church choir all her working life, leaving monotone Dad down in the hard oak pews riding herd on four small, squirming sinners. No one in Henderson County was properly married or buried unless blessed by Mother's singing. From her first solo gig at the age of 4 until the very end, Alberta's ageless vocal cords were in demand. By Grace alone I'm adjusting to life without her hugs, yet my selfish soul aches on Mother's Day. I have a recording of her music that in time will be a wonderful tribute on this special day, but I'm not yet sufficiently sanctified to handle music from heaven on my home stereo. In the Lord's house on Sunday morning, when Mom's old favorites are sung, I'm still a grateful mess two-and-a-half years after she joined the heavenly choir. I can hear her angelic soprano voice, as always half a decibel above the entire congregation.

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