Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lessons I learned from my mom.

Picture adapted from "Everything's Coming Up Sock Monkeys!" by Bonnie Kraus Connelly

Here are a few edited comments from the tribute I gave at my mom's memorial service yesterday. Mom was in failing health for some time and her passing, although a sorrow to us, is also a rejoicing as she has no more pain.

My mom taught me that life is better if you don’t take it too seriously. She would not want us sitting around mourning. She’d want us laughing.

When I was younger, my mother took me for a weekly violin lesson. Now many of you know that Mildred was always on time. I wasn’t. And she would be in her big green Buick, behind the wheel in the garage waiting for me. She’d wait until I was in the garage, right in front of the car when she’d lay on the horn.
She faithfully wrote her children letters while we were away at school. Before email, when people actually did this. They weren’t profound, but newsy, just making a connection with the twins and me. And at the bottom, she’d adjust the size of her handwriting to fill in the space. Am running out of room now so must close. Small if there wasn’t much room. Or big if she needed to fill up the page.

My mom taught me how to cuss. And not Baptist cussing like gosh, darn or even gee whiz. We weren’t allowed to say those words because they were too close to real cussing. Now, for mom it was, Deed! Or if things were worse, Deed and double! Oh my stars! Or if things were even worse, “oh my stars and garters!” (What does that even mean?) Growing up, I didn’t know who Pete was, but if Mom invoked his name, I knew I’d done something pretty stupid. Oh for Pete’s sake! Most good mothers have a comment specifically to make their children feel guilty for when their stupidity was particularly epic. Christian mothers design these comments to be carried on into the child’s adult life. Mildred’s was remarkably effective in this regard and I still hear her voice when I’m being stupid. “Oh for pity sake or just oh for pity!”

She taught me not to put on airs. She was never one who sought to impress others with social standing or clothing. This carried over into the time she served as a missionary both in Africa and in Albania. She refused to let anyone put her on a pedestal as a missionary. In fact, she never got very spiritual about her calling to go. I remember at a commissioning service before she and pop left for a year in Kenya when she was asked about why she would want to go and serve. Here was her chance to let everyone know of her answer to the great commission or her great calling. Instead, she simply said, I’ve always wanted to be a return missionary and I guess going is the only way to accomplish that.

Mom taught me that the day goes better if you have a secret stash of Three Musketeers candy bars. And in her last months when I knew she didn’t have long and didn’t have an appetite, when I’d help feed her, we pretty much just concentrated on the dessert.

Mildred taught me that the only kind of acceptable snake was a dead snake. I remember my mother watching over us as we swam in the Warwick River. Now, my mother couldn’t swim but she wasn’t there to rescue the kids if they were in trouble. No, she was there, shotgun by her side to kill the snakes. There were always extra kids there. I can’t really imagine what the other parents thought. The only adult watching the children in the river can’t swim. But don’t worry, Mildred’s got a gun.

My mother taught me that the Bible could be read and understood without a seminary education. She had a high school education. She had the audacity to believe that if the Bible said “Do not be anxious,” well then, it must be an affront to a loving God if she walked around in a careful state. She considered worry a sin, and therefore it was a foe that, like a snake, should be vanquished. Once she learned this principle in mid life and started to practice it, she acted like a woman who wasn’t about to be pushed around by a spiritual enemy. And she wasn’t above invoking the name of Jesus out loud to put the devil in his place. I can just imagine the devil’s reaction to hearing my mother was out of bed in the morning. “Crap, Mildred’s up. She’s got a gun.”
Oh for pity sake. I hear ya Mom…cussing in church…but they weren’t my words, I was quoting the devil’s vocabulary.

My mother taught me about contentment. Mom turned everything into a song. Growing up, if we were out of dessert except for applesauce, she made up a goofy song about it. Even in her waning months when she was frequented by pain, she often started grunting or gasping with a pain but quickly turned it into a song so that it would go something like this Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh to be like thee, oh to be like thee. The pain was forgotten, replaced by a melody. Later, when she’d forgotten most of her favorite hymns, she still remembered children’s songs, so she would cry, Oh dear. Oh dear. And soon her pain would find a melody. Oh dear what can the matter be?

In fact, even in her final weeks when she was confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk, on oxygen, non-healing leg wound because of poor blood flow, I said to her, “You never complain.” She looked at me from her wheelchair, oxygen tubing in her nose and she said, incredulous at my comment, “Well, I don’t have anything to complain about!”

My mother taught me about facing tragedy. Many of you know that Mom’s life wasn’t without its sorrow. After having four miscarriages, her doctors told her she was unable to have more children. But then she lost two sons to a river drowning before I was born. Later, she miraculously had twin girls and then me. But how did she respond? With fear and avoidance? No, she responded by facing a threat head on, equipping us, getting my sisters and I into swimming lessons from an early age. And then she moved us down to the river so we could grow up swimming.

She wrote down a few things she wanted spoken at her memorial service and I was reviewing them this week. She wrote this on the bottom of the page. “I’m expecting that I will see all of you again soon in your perfected eternal life. Please, don’t any of you disappoint me! See you soon!”

Well, I’m running out of room now, so must close.