Mom didn’t die.
Her body simply gave out.
The vessel God gives us to dance for the brief time we do on this earth isn’t what counts. It is what comes from the heart and soul.
Too often we get wrapped up in what that vessel looks like – the color of eyes, the tone of the body, and such. But it is simply an illusion just like death itself.
Mom is alive inside me with every beat of my heart. I used to tease her with the line that “I inherited my bunions and my eyesight from you.” Then, when she feigned anger I always quickly added, “… and your wonderful sense of humor and personality.”
I am who I am today in a large part because of Mom. She provided the building blocks. After that, it was up to me.
And it wasn’t just her three sons and daughter. Mom “adopted” cousins who often spent much of the summer or school year with us since their home situations were closer to Ozzy Osbourne than Ozzie & Harriet. She also did the same with many of my siblings’ friends who had it rough. In my case, I was what you might call a loner but as Mom would tell you it was more of a case of me not simply hearing a different drummer drumming, but hearing an entirely different band.
What makes this all the more amazing is Mom did it as a single parent. She made it clear after Dad died in August of 1965 that her first priority was raising and providing for her kids. During the next 41 years, Mom went on a date only once.
Mom often worked 14 to 16 hour days, seven days a week when she had her own business aptly named The Squirrel Cage. (It was what once was referred to as a frostie, kind of like Sno-White Drive-Ins you’ll find in places like Riverbank and Oakdale.)
There was little doubt where she got her work ethic. She was one of eight children that the man who had the title of my maternal grandfather left my grandmother Towle to raise on a working ranch in Nevada County at the height of the Depression.
Mom was far from being all work and no play. But her play more often than not revolved around her kids and their friends.
She was the lady with the pink satchel of hard candy at high school track meets. She was the one who was always feeding kids who didn’t have enough money at The Squirrel Cage and who often didn’t have food at home. She was the one that was always slipping $20 bill in envelopes to kids from less fortunate families to help them buy football cleats and such even when she was skirting on the financial edge.
Mom helped put one of my brothers and sister through college. She bailed out another brother who had a tendency to get into trouble with the law more than a few times.
Through it all she never complained, never cried.
Even that night when Lincoln Police knocked on our door after Mom had her head slammed against the hood of her car by muggers breaking her jaw and bloodying her head, she didn’t complain. She didn’t cry.
When officers arrived at the site of the attack, the first thing she asked was “are my kids all right?”
I’m sure I did more than my share of things to hurt Mom.
I didn’t tell her when I had the lead in the senior play because she was working 12 to 14 hour days at the time and wasn’t feeling well. She found out afterwards. She wasn’t happy but she accepted why I didn’t tell her.
When I didn’t go to my high school graduation and everyone she knew in town wanted to know why I wasn’t there especially since I had been selected as outstanding senior boy, she defended my decision which was based on the principal refusing to allow other students to pitch in to buy a cap and gown for a classmate who could not afford one. Most parents would have gone ballistic since the graduation cards had already been sent to relatives. But when I decided it no longer meant anything to me even after the principal relented, she stood by my decision.
She even tolerated my decision less than a year later to run for school board. It wasn’t fun for her, I’m sure, especially after I got elected.
Mom taught me what unconditional love really is. Even when Dad joined the chorus of people who tormented me as a kid growing up for being fat and four-eyed, Mom made me feel OK with myself.
When I introduced her to the love of my life – Cynthia – to whom I was going to be married in just six weeks, it was unconditional love for her as well.
Even after our divorce, Mom was the only one who got it. She accepted there were no ill feelings, that Cynthia and I were still good friends and that I would always love Cynthia. Mom accepted that without question noting that she’d always love Cynthia too but understood things happen.
And that is perhaps her greatest legacy – giving her kids and others around her the ability to love themselves.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.