Working on this tonight, to be shared at my Mom’s funeral this weekend
Some of my earliest memories of Mom are her washing dishes at the sink at our house in Delaware. She would wash dishes and sing. I heard my mother sing songs that I didn’t hear anywhere else. If a radio was on in our house, my father had it tuned to Orioles baseball. The music came from Mom. Years later I heard someone named Loretta Lynn and some dead guy named Hank Williams, singing Mom’s songs. They had more talent, I suppose, but they had no more heart, soul or passion than my Mom. I learned to love music from my Mom’s singing at the kitchen sink.
I learned to love books and reading from my Mom. She read to me. And she taught me how important books are. She said that if she had not married and had babies so young, if she had made different choices, she would have wanted to be a librarian. She would have wanted to be surrounded by stacks and stacks of books, instead of stacks of dishes and laundry.
I learned to laugh at myself from my Mom. As a psychotherapist now, I have to say, the value of that ability cannot be overstated. The difference between survival and defeat is often the ability to laugh at oneself.
You couldn’t be around my mother for very long without two things happening. She would feed you something, whether you wanted it or not, and she would mention the Lord. If you were having some sort of trouble, she would advise you to pray.
My mother was not as well-educated as she would like to have been, but she said a lot of very wise things that her children will always remember. She taught us, “You treat the janitor and the governor just the same, with respect.” Tony reminded me that she said, “Don’t ever take from a person anything that you can’t give back.” She was talking about someone’s reputation. She told us we were no better than anyone else, and we were no worse. She told us not to bring out candy unless we had enough to go around. She taught us the things that all good mothers teach their children: you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar; if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything. She taught me that mothers will cheerfully sacrifice in order for their children to have the best. In the 60s, when schools were integrating, she taught me to get along with people who looked different from me; we used the term “colored people” then; I remember her telling me, about a little black girl that I mentioned to her, “Don’t treat her the same as everyone else; you treat her better; maybe you can help make up for the ones who are mean to her today.” As a human being, she taught me tolerance. As her daughter, she taught me to love pretty clothes and too many shoes. She taught me not to buy shoes without buying a bag to match; you’ll regret it. And no matter how bad life looks, or how bad you feel, get your bath and fix your face and smile. I teased her that her motto was “It doesn’t matter how you feel as long as you look good.” And she surely did look good. When I was a little girl, I thought my mother was as pretty as any movie star. My father thought so, too. On my wedding day he told me, with no unkindness intended, that I was pretty, but not as pretty as Nell.
I learned how to love from my mother, and I hope to some day be as good at it as she was. Not likely, though. I believe she’s been awarded her gold medals by now. If my mother loved you, like she loved her husband, children, grandchildren, and others, then you were loved beyond all reason and good sense. I can’t help but think that’s very much how Jesus loved; like Mom.
My mother was the Queen of the Second Chance. No matter what her husband, children, nieces, nephews, in-laws, out-laws did, she never wrote them off. You always got another chance. No matter what kind of fuss you had with her, you could come back the next day and get something to eat, a place to sleep. Her door and her heart stayed open all the time. We could learn a lot from her example of forgiveness.
My mother wasn’t perfect, of course. She and I got on each other’s nerves the way only mothers and daughters can. I will also say that she loved her daughters-in-law the way she loved me, which includes getting on their last nerve sometimes. That’s OK. One thing that I think has always spoken well of Mom is that even her sons’ former wives love her and continued to ask about and keep in touch with her.
Sometimes Mom didn’t know when to quit. That’s a trait most of us have inherited from her – talking, working – you name it, we’ve probably done a little or a lot too much of something. I heard about a time Mom traveled North with two of her nieces, whom she loved very much, and she talked so much they stopped and bought her a book so she’d be quiet for a while. She didn’t get the hint. She stopped chatting and started reading out loud to them!
And Mom never quite caught on to the concept of political correctness. For example, if she saw someone whose nationality or ethnic background she wondered about, she would not think twice about asking them about it. She would say, sweet as could be, “Now, honey, just what ARE you?” I would cringe, but the person would give her their answer, also sweet as could be. I guess people could tell that as politically incorrect as she was, her spirit was never malicious.
Thank you for being here to honor my mother. I hope she is pleased with the things we’ve all had to say about her as we’ve remembered her here today. If we remember to talk to Jesus regularly, and be sweet to each other, and aren’t afraid to laugh, then we will keep her memory alive. And ladies, if we always have a bag to match our shoes.