We Called Her Mom

I’m not entirely certain why reminiscences of my grandmother have come up this week. They preceded finding a copy of my eulogy written for her in May 1988. She was 97 when she died. We called her “Mom.” She lived in a tiny southern town — Ashland, Alabama — where my sister and I had visited many times. Here’s the eulogy:

My most vivid childhood memories of Mom are, naturally enough, linked to warm summer days in Ashland when my sister and I would most often come to visit. Those were lazy summer mornings for me. I often spent them doing nothing in Mom’s front yard. In her front yard was the first time I investigated the mysteries of green moss. Out in front was also a set of mysterious concrete steps down to the curb leading to the street. I often puzzled over the existence of those steps leading nowhere. But I used to sit on them for hours and watch the Ashland of thirty [now more than sixty] years ago go by. Somebody on horseback or in a mule-drawn wagon might come along – quite a spectacle for a little girl raised in the city. Sometimes people would come to visit Mom, and they would drive their cars – or more usually their trucks – right up onto the front yard. Sometimes it seemed they would drive right up onto the front porch!

You could crawl under Mom’s front porch and under her house, too, if you dared. One day somebody drove up in one of those pick-up trucks, crawled under the porch and killed a snake under there! Much of the exotic trivia of my youth comes from Ashland.

Because of Mom’s love and concern for this church [the Baptist Church across the street from her house], it isn’t surprising that many of my Ashland memories are of this church. Sometimes on those long summer days I would go across the street to the old church building and play the piano. I was about ten or eleven then and not a very good piano player, but the church was cool on hot summer days, and I would play “I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” and sing along.

And on Sunday, we’d go to church in white elastic mesh gloves and black patent-leather shoes and crinolines that we had brought along…special. I had a little straw hat with daisies around the brim. And I would sing the hymns and, before air conditioning, I would examine carefully the peaceful scenes on the fans.

Late on those summer afternoons we would come home to Mom’s from a day at the swimming pool or an afternoon at the five-cent movie, and Mom would be there busy: feeding the chickens or bustling around the kitchen making fried chicken, biscuit, lemon meringue pie. Oh! Mom’s lemon meringue pie! She kept on making it until she was in her 80’s because she knew we loved it so. And then we’d have the chicken and the biscuit and sip pink lemonade through silver straws that my father had brought from Mexico.

I remember the warm – no, hot – summer nights. Mom’s magic porch held a magic bench swing. We would sit out there on that swing and do nothing. Tell ghost stories maybe. Play jacks by the light of the door. When my sister got older, boys would come by.

Mom was like those warm summer nights: tranquil, accepting, at peace. Mom had a rare capacity for acceptance. She never railed against the fates, even when she lost a brother to typhus, a son to war (see blog post, November 11, 2020), and then a husband to cancer. She accepted what life in God’s wisdom had offered her. I know that she didn’t always approve of what we did or how we ran our lives. But she never criticized. She accepted us and loved us for what we gave and what we were. She never rejected us for what we didn’t give or what we weren’t.

I sort of lost touch with Mom as I busied through college and graduate school. After my grandfather died, she was always part of my life, always part of my Christmas, always part of my school vacations, but I was too busy to notice. And then I finally grew up and married and was fortunate enough to marry a man who realized, and helped me realize again, the treasure that our family had living with us, sitting quietly in her room reading. It was Mom in her 80’s who knew when Hank Aaron was trying to beat Babe Ruth’s home-run record. Mom who read Oliver Twist before we went to see the movie. Mom who read things that would dismay or rattle a less accepting human being. Mom who read all of the richness of life, took it in, and accepted it for its window to the world.

Going through her papers this week we came across a quotation she had cut out of the newspaper. I see why she saved it; It’s the way she lived her life:

I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see. The longer I live the more my mind dwells upon the beauty and the wonder of the world.

Mom gave to my life a living model of peace in a hectic world. She believed in and lived in the peace of God that passeth all understanding. Her legacy to me was her quiet goodness and the fundamental decency of her life. My sister and I have both commented that it was like Mom to leave this world in the brilliance of spring and in the peace of her sleep.

I thank her belatedly for being a calm and loving presence in my life and wish her now all the peace and tranquility of those warm summer nights.