In the last segment of my blog, I wrote a character sketch of my father, but also made mention of the value of mothers. This story certainly doesn’t give a full view of my mother’s personality. She lived three days after her 91st birthday, when she learned that she’d have to spend a couple of weeks at a different nursing home from the one to which she had become accustomed. She rolled her wheelchair into her own private bathroom and never came out. She was that determined not to move to this more distant facility and just quit fighting.
She was loyal to my father even if she didn’t understand the necessity of timely oil changes on the automobile and the relatively low cost of tools, which allowed my father to do work that would have cost much more if we’d had to have someone else do the work.
She constantly worried about things. She used to say, “You won’t miss me till I’m gone,” if things didn’t go the way she wanted. Her obsession with the fact that we had little money to spare gave life to a frugality that sometimes made no sense. My father used to joke that she’d buy a year’s supply of potatoes if they were on sale, even if they rotted in the basement.
She always wanted to look good. Once, near the end of her many years, she was in an Intensive Care Unit. I rushed to St Louis to be with her. She was groggy from pain medications, which may have accounted for some illogical comments. When she woke up and realized I was at her bedside she said, “Richard, do you think I’ve gained weight?” I informed her that the Miss Illinois pageant was over and she didn’t make the cut. She always struggled with her weight, but she was never obese, but just kind of pear shaped. It’s sort of a family legacy among some of the females in her family. Some families inherit trust funds and life sustaining properties. My inheritance is dry skin and curly hair that is less than manageable. But jokes aside, I was pretty lucky in the parental department. This story will tell you a bit about how I handled my mother’s pessimism.
During the summers, while attending college, I would go back home to stay with my parents and work to make money for the next year. One day while at home, I heard my mother crying. Mom has always been soft hearted, so it certainly wasn’t the first time I’d heard her cry. The sobbing noises seemed to come from the basement. Sure enough, when I looked downstairs, Mother was there on the bottom step crying her eyes out. I ran down quickly to console her. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
Through her sobs she explained that while doing the laundry, her washer had broken. I explained that there was no need to be upset, but just to call a repairman. She moaned that there wasn’t enough money to replace the washer or pay a repairman. I reasoned with her, pointing out that the washer was twenty-two years old and likely to quit working at some juncture. In twenty-two years, the washer had never required a repairman.
After a while, she calmed down and I went back upstairs. Later I went downstairs again to check on her. She greeted me with, “Oh, Rich, the washer wasn’t broken. My load was just unbalanced.”
“You’ve got that right,” I replied. We had a good laugh over that. She expressed happiness that all our money hadn’t gone “down the drain.” My parents both helped me learn to laugh at myself, which is a valuable lesson to learn.