Life long love. Til death do us part. I’ll love you forever. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.
When you’re young and in love these are relatively easy phrases to utter. There isn’t much downside. You’re young….and in love. Everything works.
I say this being 52 years old and having said these things myself….recently. Captain of the universe and all that.
However, I need to tell you that I didn’t…I don’t….know what those things meant even after having been married for 25 years.
On December 6th I was in Mom’s hospital room for a conference with her doctors. The cardiologist laid out his case
there was no happy ending.
My parents….my siblings….and Mom’s siblings were in the room. The air was thick with responsibility, fear and…..finality.
The doctor, who was as genuine and humane as a man could be finally put the question to us: do you want this to end here or at home…..a question that many have faced.
There’s a hush in the room. Everyone looks at everyone else….
Thankfully my Aunt Gretchen asks a question that had not occurred to any of the children: “Curtis, Jean…do you want all of us to wait in the hallway?”
It was then that this defining moment in all our lives happened.
Despite her age, medications and failing body — mom looked at Dad. Not the Nancy Reagan stare of adoration – no – she was looking at her life long partner. Whatever was wrong with both of them – and 8 decades will provide plenty of challenges – there was a moment of clarity….a moment where they both slightly smiled at each other and Mom gently said, “no, I think we’ve made our decision. I’m going home.”
That moment of clarity…..and love will be something that I will always aspire to.
Fun fact – I’m a son of the south so I’ve never known how old my mother was. She was always clear that is was impolite to ask a lady her age and so I literally never knew. I still don’t. It just wasn’t something that was discussed.
She was a child of depression-era parents so there was never a thing that was wasted or a dollar unaccounted for. She made our clothes in grade school – I had a “mad libs” shirt and tough skins that had patch after patch after patch ironed onto them. They could literally stand up by themselves. She was very careful with money and there just weren’t expensive things bought.
Never a scrap of food went to waste. It always went back into the fridge in anticipation of “RCO” – that’s right, “refrigerator close out” – casserole. The 1970’s answer for leftovers! Which sounds horrific but was normally delicious.
Mom could cook.
She was a mom of the 70’s but no hippie. She had 3 young children to raise and, well, she was German so….
“we will have order here”.
To that end Mom was never afraid to instill a bit (or more) of discipline at the end of a penny loafer and, by the way, that might be her own child or yours. During summer break, the children were put out in the morning along with the dogs. “come back when the street lights come on”.
Mom could also be what the kids these days call “savage”. Between the three children there was always a recollection that we had all been tested for our IQ at some point. One day I went to her and said “mom, I took my SAT’s and I did pretty well – I remember that I had an IQ test back in the day. How did I do?”
She looked at me for a minute and said in a very earnest voice “son, you’re just smart enough to get by”. I was humbled as only your mother can humble you.
Mom was a fixture in the Garden club, the Women’s club and the Museum. Heck, despite having a lot of family in the area about half the people at the visitation yesterday were from one of those clubs. It was truly humbling to see how much respect all of those people had for mom. Most of them I hadn’t either met or seen in years.
At the end of the day what I took from her is an unfailing sense of loyalty, pragmatism and duty to serve. Mom served on many City boards and commissions and believed in what she was doing…..some large part of my desire to serve on the Council was driven by Mom’s belief that the City would be better if people of principal served.
In fact, when I was on the Council if I was ever having a tough time with a decision, all I had to do was ask Mom. In fact, I usually got her opinion whether I asked for it or not. It always started the same way: “Now Andrew, that City Council….and as often as not that preamble was followed by “does anyone know what’s going on up there?”
In all seriousness – through thick and thin over the decades Mom was my families anchor. 3 businesses – 1 of which she managed on a day to day basis, kids, grandkids, college, dads travelling for work, running a bed and breakfast and all of her city stuff – she always held things together at home. She was also up for almost anything: camping trips, a month on a remote island in Maine and endless trips to Nags Head with the Harrover mafia. She was never really flustered regardless of what she was dealing with. I know that she worked very hard to keep all the plates spinning. She was a tough cookie who was unflinchingly dedicated to her family.
Thanks mom. You were the best. I’ll always love you. We’ve got it from here.