Saturday, August 11, 2012

the Other Cornerstone

The strident notes of the telephone pierced the darkness, dragging me out of a sound sleep. "Mom's gone," a voice I could barely discern as being my sister's uttered through muffled sobs.
The unthinkable had occurred. My mother, the glue that bonded four generations of offspring, had gone the way of all men and women of the past. In less than three months, she would have celebrated her hundredth birthday. I had come to believe she was going to outlive her children. In the end, she preceded all of us in death.
I dressed quickly and prepared to trek to the nursing home to visit Mom for the last time. As my feet crunched in the snow, skating across patches that were too slippery to walk, I pondered how my mother had been the steadying force in my life, along with Jesus Christ, for my entire ride on planet Earth. I couldn't count the number of times I discussed the obituaries with her. We both watched the passing of the townsfolk with great interest. She knew many of the people behind the names. I had watched an entire generation vanish from the planet. But yet my mother persisted in not only clinging to life but in embracing it. Passion for her children and their families waxed strong despite the fact she was beginning to have trouble remembering all the names.
Memories came back to me like the flurries of snow which had blanketed the South Dakota prairie in white. My foray into the athletic world of Little League baseball came to mind. It was my mom, not my dad, who had thrown the baseball around the yard with me. Her early morning drives on frigid Sunday mornings to help me deliver my newspapers had no doubt kept me from abandoning my paper route. On more than one occasion as I dressed for a teaching position interview, my mother washed my car. When I purchased a local dry cleaning business, it was Mom who helped me to enjoy success as an entrepreneur. When the divorce epidemic stuck my own family, Mom offered a shelter from the storm. She had patched up my skinned knees as a child and my broken heart as an adult.
Her physical strength was legendary among us. At the age of ninety-nine, she would still work eight hours in her yard. She treated weeds like public enemy number one. Despite my protests, she continued to carry up wet laundry from the basement, navigating narrow steps that had nearly sent me plunging to the linoleum below on more than one occasion. And in her beloved back yard, she hung the clothes on a sagging wire with wooden pins whose weathered surfaces provided evidence that they had been helping Mom dry clothes for many decades.
Mom's prowess in the kitchen and with a sewing machine was also the stuff of legends. Her recipes were imprecise, but the final products satiated the hunger of many a family member or visitor even after she reached the age that most of her peers were in nursing homes or occupying cemetery plots. She did not have a lot of education. I arrived at the conclusion that my understanding of life, especially history and other academic endeavors, surpassed hers by the time I reached high school. However, it was amazing to see how she got smarter as I got older. Her book smarts might have been lacking, but the IQ of her heart was never in question. When I returned to my hometown, several people commented to me about their respect for my mother, mostly due to acts of kindness that she had bestowed upon them or their family members. She truly had a servant's heart.
As I began the process of sorting through the things in Mom's house, I discovered a music box that I had given her for Mother's day. The verse on it summed up my feelings. "Mother - you're an angel who holds me up when I find it hard to fly." I had figured at the age of sixteen that she had taught me all that she could. How wrong can a guy be? As I sat at my computer to write this, I arrived at the conclusion that she's still teaching me over forty years later. At our family gathering for the funeral, I made a comment about a certain situation. Afterward one of my nieces mentioned that it was such a Grandma Parker like oratory. I couldn't have received a higher compliment.
Today is Mother's Day. It would have been a very special day for my mother. She would have been one hundred-years-old today. Her whole extended family was prepared to celebrate. Instead all we had were memories of a special yet ordinary lady who had survived World War I, the roaring twenties, the great depression, World War II, a nasty divorce which left her raising three girls on her own, and thirty-two years of life after my father passed on. The May flowers are in bloom, bringing spring's promise of eternity even without my mom there to tend them. Life does go on without her, but it will never be the same.
My mother's death wasn't mentioned on the national news. She was unknown to the world at large, but her family recognizes she was a heroine. In an age where the glitz and glamour of life in the fast lane beckons to and dominates the world of young ladies, we need more role models like my mother. The fabric of our society was woven by mothers who summoned up the strength and courage to sacrifice the temporal pleasures of the world to provide a foundation for the family structure. I pray that God raises up more Titus 2 women like my mother, who will undergird a crumbling society with an aversion for responsibility, which is driven by sexuality, greed, and a search for endless entertainment. Jesus Christ needs to be our cornerstone, but the building of our culture requires another cornerstone. We need our mothers who will fulfill their tour of duty and prepare the next generations to do the same to perpetuate a healthy society.