My family lost my mother this past week. She’d been fighting cancer for over a decade. I flew back to our hometown last week while mom was in hospice care and back to Seattle on Saturday. On Friday, I flew back for the memorial service on Sunday. During these flights I found myself thinking of all the memories and lasting impressions that I have of my mom. I thought that I might write this entry to share some of them.
My mom and I are only 19 years apart in age. One of the things about having young parents is that you get to see them in their younger adult years. I got to see my mom as a single parent. We didn’t have a lot, and my mom worked (which was not as common back then as it is today). Even then, mom made sure we got to play little league, and be cub scouts. I remember my mom hurting her back when I was around 7 years old. She had fallen off a ladder while trying to put something up in the attic. It hurt her for years, but she still took a job in a law firm file room, moving heavy files to support us.
My earliest memory of my mom is from around 1971 when we were living at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, NC. My mother and I were walking on the sidewalk by our apartment in bare feet, taking each step very deliberately while my mom sang the song “Bare-Footin'” in the deepest voice that she could. In my little two-year-old mind, I was hearing the deep voice and the word “bear” (rather than “bare”) and thinking that we were pretending to be bears. I remember giggling the whole time.
I remember camping, a lot. We went to Hershey Park, the Worlds Fair in Knoxville, The Catskills Game Farm, and all over the tri-state area, usually staying in a tent. I remember waking up one Easter morning, staring at a dark circle on top of the tent, which later turned out to be an Easter basket that my mom had hidden there. I remember us hiking on Bald Eagle Mountain and accidentally winding up on the Appalachian Trail. The hiking was progressing in difficulty, where we had to climb rocks to stay on the trail. Duane and I were having fun, but this signaled to mom that something was off. We finally figured it when we came to a road crossing that had a sign reading “Bald Eagle Mountain 5 miles” to which mom exclaimed, “I knew that trail was too hard to be the right trail.”
We used to stay in the cabins at Bass River State Forest. We had an inflatable rowboat that we used to use to get to the swimming area across the lake. My brother Duane and I were little, so mom did the rowing. It was usually the three of us and a small cooler that had our lunch in it packed into this little boat going across the lake. On one occasion, the sky turned grey prompting mom to get us headed back before the rain came down. We loaded up the boat and started back across the lake. About halfway across the lake, the rain started. Mom, who had been going at a pretty steady pace jokingly said, “oh, no!” and started alternating oars in the water. The boat might have moved faster, but the zigzagging that this rowing caused made the boat have to travel twice as far. By the time we got to the other side, the sky had opened up into a full South Jersey downpour. We were soaking wet, the boat was filled with water like an inflatable tub. We laughed about it for the rest of the weekend. Another time in the same cabin, I remember my mom chasing a bat around the cabin with a broom trying to get it to fly out so that we could go to bed.
On our trip to the World’s Fair in 1980, my mom put a watermelon in the stream behind our campsite, thinking that the water would keep it cool. We came back in the evening and cooked dinner over the campfire. After dinner, mom went to pull the watermelon out of the stream. When she tried to lift it, she almost fell over because the melon was much lighter than she expected. A beaver had chewed through the bottom and eaten all of the edible portions from the inside. This was another memorable laugh.
We used to go to Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ, where they had a drive-through safari. There were signs everywhere that said not to feed the animals. After all, they weren’t raised to be pets and could literally bite the hand that feeds them. There was a car in front of us that was feeding the baboons thought a slightly opened window. This was entertaining until one of the baboons realized that the vinyl rooftop could be pulled apart. So, in the baboon’s mind, here you have this object with delicious food on the inside, and peelable skin on the outside; in short, he’d just found the biggest piece of fruit he’d ever laid eyes on. Through some grunting and hooting, he soon had help from another 4 or 5 baboons. They proceeded to rip this guy’s roof apart. They never got inside, but they did do considerable damage to the car. I remember mom, repeating over and over, “This is why we don’t feed the animals.”
My mom had worked at a hospital when I was young. She’d once seen a wrestler who’d suffered a broken neck. When I wanted to wrestle in school, mom reluctantly agreed but told me that she wouldn’t be able to watch me. I wrestled for 2 seasons in junior high school and my sophomore year in high school. When I learned that I wouldn’t wrestle in my junior and senior years due to injuries, my mom came to my last wrestling tournament. We spent most of the day together in the stands apart from the couple of times that I was on the mat. I really appreciated that day because I knew how difficult it was for her to watch me wrestle.
When my daughter was 3 or 4, we went to visit the family in NJ. All week long my mom would tell Sunny that baby Brooke was coming out to the campground. Finally, we went to Christmas in July up at the pool. Sunny, knowing that Brooke would be there, was running around the pool deck, babbling “baby-Brooke, baby-Brooke, baby-Brooke….” My mom thought it was hilariously cute.
A lot of my memories are of funny things that we’d shared. However, there were also times when my mom was a great source of comfort, support, and advice.
I remember going to the movie theatre with John to see War Games, a movie about a computer hobbyist who accidentally hacks NORAD while trying to play an online game. When I got home, I had an instant interest in computers. My uncle told my mother that he had a TI-99/4A that he’d bought (thinking that computers might be big someday). If she didn’t mind, he’d bring it to my grandmother’s house so that I could play with it. My mother, who’d become a computer operator at the law firm where she’d worked in the file room, was supportive of the idea. While sitting on my grandmother’s floor that summer, I learned to program and became consumed by it. It became a passion. Mom could see the pivot that this day was in my life long before I did it. She supported me through it, even when it meant that I’d move away.
I remember feeling very conflicted in my senior year in college. My school had just dropped my major from its offered programs. I wasn’t taking this well. When I discussed it with my mom, she’d said, “You’ll figure it out. You always do.” And just like that, everything was different. The external situation hadn’t changed. But, something inside me did. I finished my major while working for the USDA. A short time later, I got a job in HP’s LaserJet R&D group and just kept going from there.
I remember visiting home from college one time. My mom was watching Ashley on the evening that I arrived. Mom was holding Ashley on one hip with the kitchen phone pressed on her shoulder while she stirred spaghetti sauce with her other hand. I remember thinking to myself that she’d done this before. It was the first time that I’d observed my mom as a mother (in this case, a grandmother) as a third party.
When I married my wife, I was worried about how my family would like her. I remember my mom coming to Boise for the first time after we were married. She and Kelley spent the day together and had a wonderful time. That night, as we were getting ready for bed, I looked at Kelley and joked, “You stole my mom.”
Back before cameras were digital and people had to pay for pictures to be developed, my mom used to have a belief that pictures that didn’t have people in them didn’t have as much value as photos that included people. It was a better memory captured on film if the people that you were with were in the picture. So, whenever we were taking a picture of a sunset, or a mountain range, or a grassy field, mom would either be in the photo or take a picture of us in front of whatever we wanted in the picture. In January 2019, I went to visit my parents in Florida. While I was there, I wanted to take a picture of a turtle statue. I had mom stand with the statue like we’d always done. That was the last picture I took of my mom.
I’ve known my mother for almost 50 years. These are just a few of the great memories that I have with her. As I got older and came out to visit, it didn’t matter what we did. I was just happy to have coffee with my mom and find out what was going on in her life. She still would plan to take me somewhere and make a routine visit a special memory. I am extremely grateful for those 50 years and lucky to have her as my mom.