Happy Birthday, Mom

It’s been about 20 years since you passed away and my life is still so changed every day by who you were and how you lived. My memory is sadly failing more and more when I try to remember you, but I keep trying. I think I’ll always have a little empty place in my soul that you used to fill with your joy and love of life. I love you and miss you.

Some of my earliest memories are of my mom cooking for us. I used to set my stubborn little feet and say, “I hate green stuff, I’m not eating it.” She would never give in, not ever. I would have to sit there until I either ate my food or convinced the dog to eat it when she wasn’t looking. One time I found out that you can lift up the plant out of the pot, if the soil is dry, and that it offers a wonderful spot to hide brocolli.

In general, I loved her cooking. She made the best meatloaf, fried chicken, tuna casserole, tamales, and barbeque that I ever had. She was a wonder with desserts, too. Some amazing cookies and pies came out of that kitchen. It was such a wonderful time. I’m sure I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have, but what kid can?

I tried to come help sometimes in the kitchen, but I understand now just how unhelpful a hyper 10 year old boy can be. She would chase me outside to go play. She got me working, that’s for sure. I think it was from her that I first understood what a ‘work ethic’ was. If I wanted some Star Wars toy or some such thing, I would always have to work for it. Mow the grass, paint the garage, trim the trees, or something hard working like that. Later on, I developed more valuable skills. I would fix the roof, plumbing leaks, electrical stuff, and eventually fix her car.

And she would reward me for the hard work with love, kindness, understanding, and even tools. My dad had a few tools around the house, just basic stuff, but it is my mom that bought me the tools I used to rebuild my first car engine. It was my mom that got me jobs from her friends. If someone needed brakes done or a water pump installed, she would recommend me. It always made me very proud. Some of the people, I’m sure, were just letting me do this stuff to make her happy, but my confidence swelled. I learned that I could do amazing things that nobody else dreamed of if  I took a chance and tried my best.

Later on, when I was about sixteen, she drove me to the machine shop where I was learning about the craft of engine building. I would take the engine parts in and talk to the guys about what repairs they needed – cracked head, groove in the crankshaft, ridge in the cylinder, whatever it was – and she would wait around this dirty, tool infested place for hours sometimes while I learned and got the stuff I needed. And she hated tools, really. I never saw her even use a hammer. But she saw my interest and drive and went with it. I ended up becoming one of the best ASE certified auto techs in the city. I had people coming to me with all of the problems that nobody else could figure out. Most of the shops on SPID knew me for a time and called me regularly. It was a strength built through her love and attention.

Other wonderful times I remember were when I was sick. Now being sick cannot be fun, but the care she put into making me comfortable when I was sick was amazing. She would tuck me in on the couch and bring me crackers and a cool towel for my head. She just made me feel like everything was going to be just fine. And she was right.

I remember she hated bugs. She just hated them. But she would let me collect them in jars in the kitchen to see what would happen. She loved seeing me stretch my brain and learn things. After my career as an engine rebuilder, which I had to cut short due to wear and tear on my knees and wrists, I went back to school to study science. I had never really stopped studying science, thanks to her. She had been buying me chemistry kits and letting me nearly burn down the garage (Mary did it! It wasn’t me!) with my experiments for years. I think it is in her honor that I am now a science teacher and I get to feel the joy she had for teaching and learning mixed with my interest in science.

I remember she had an uncanny way of knowing about people. She could look at somebody across the street and just know they were a jerk. With one look, she could look into their soul. I didn’t really notice much of this until later on, but when I was little, I remember her telling me things about my friends. She just knew about people so well. And I know now that all of the people that she liked ended up being good friends and the ones she didn’t like ended up being the leeches and bums.

One of my last memories was of her holding my first daughter. I remember the joy in her eyes. I remember hearing her do the baby talk to Kayleigh and feeling it was so familiar and comforting. It was one of the best times of my life. She was proud of me. I had a great job rebuilding engines. I had a wife that she loved and a new daughter that she cherished.

Not long after that day, she got sicker again. And not much longer after that, she was gone. My life turned upside down for a few years. I felt so angry and alone in those days, even when loved ones were around. It always seemed so unfair that someone as wonderful as her should die so young while the jerks of the world live on. But as time passed, I felt the pain subside and the memories she left me get stronger and stronger.

For years, I have tried to model my life and parenthood after her. I haven’t always done as good a job as her, but I try to be a parent in her honor. I took care of my little girl when she was sick and gave her everything I could. My young son has interests that, frankly, aren’t that interesting to me, but I take the time to get involved and make sure he has a chance to try things out. I let him know when I’m proud. I also make sure that the kids have to work for things and that they get lots of hugs and encouragement. I think all three of my kids have a great work ethic, they care for other people, they are honest and loyal, and they do things I am proud of. Living after my mom gave me what I have that I give to them.

I think I’ve mostly come to find peace now. I realize that I was lucky enough to have her while I did. The way she loved everyone, the way she truly cared for us all, really made a bigger difference in our lives than any amount of time. She wasn’t just part of a family, she built a family. She put in the effort. She made us strong and proud. And now, in a way, we have her with us again. My little brother just had a daughter and named her after our mom. It’s nice and I can’t wait to see that little joy growing up.

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3 Replies to “Happy Birthday, Mom”

  1. What a hearwarming story about your thoughtful mom. Funny how smooth mom’s can be. How they can steer you in the right direction without you being aware of it. How they let you make mistakes so you can learn by them. How patient and generous they are. Mothers are truly unsung heroes and those of us who have been lucky to have had one, know what it’s like to be without her.

    1. I think she gave me something to live up to as I’ve tried to be a single parent these last years. It’s funny how I used to feel so unlucky to have lost her but now I feel so exceptionally lucky to have had her.

  2. This brought tears to my eyes tonight. Thank you so much for writing this. There’s so much I don’t remember, having been so young when mom passed away. I do remember how great being sick was though… the washcloth on the forehead, the crackers and 7-UP, once she even made a little trail of towels for me from the couch all the way to the bathroom, because I had a stomach flu and I was SO worried about throwing up before getting to the bathroom. haha! It took all my worries away, and I remember waking up in the morning and she was right there.
    Thank you again, you’re so very right. We were so lucky to have had her for ANY amount of time – she was such a special soul. Love you brother!!!

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