I am still not sure how she put up with us. As a young boy, my brother got into constant mischief with animals. Once, Jim caught a huge bass in the lake near our house. He brought it home, dug a monster hole in the back yard and filled it with water. He put the fish in the hole and invited all the neighborhood kids over to see it. Jim charged them each a quarter for admission, which didn’t quite cover the cost of new landscaping.
Another time Jim decided he wanted to be a veterinarian. In order to get his first patient, he shot a squirrel with a BB gun and then rushed to its rescue, treating the poor thing with a half bottle of Karo Syrup. It didn’t turn out well. On yet another day Jim came in screaming with a big knot on his head. “A goat kicked me!” he yelled through his tears. Mom asked, “Why did the goat kick you?” Between sobs, Jim answered, “I hit it with a hammer.”
To this day, my brother is banned from the zoo.
Or, there was the morning one March when my sister got up for elementary school and promptly announced: “I’m supposed to bring three dozen cookies to class today for the St. Patrick’s Day party.” She had not mentioned this the night before. “Oh,” she added. “And they need to have green frosting.” So out came the emergency sugar and food coloring.
Then, I was born, and the troubles of my siblings soon paled in comparison. At age 2, I dumped an entire gallon of paint onto the laundry room floor. At 3 I decided that instead of walking, I should hop. Everywhere. All the time. I became obsessed at age 4 with the Count on “Sesame Street” and hopped all over the house, taking inventory in his annoying Transylvanian accent: “One, one window! Ah, Ah, Ah!” At 5 I nearly brought Gailey’s Shoe Store to its knees when I tried to jump over a stack of shoeboxes and landed right in the middle of them, scattering penny loafers to the wind.
That’s just the first half decade. At 9 I terrorized all my sister’s boyfriends, once going so far as to hurl a rubber chicken across the room and hitting a boy dead in the face. My mother, incidentally, confiscated the chicken and put it in the top of her closet for two years.
It was just one of many things she did to keep her sanity. And she has confessed that occasionally when we were young she had to leave the room and count to 10 in order not to kill us. My father was not completely innocent, either. He sometimes put a can of Coke in the freezer to get it ice cold, and then forgot about it until it exploded into a mess of frozen brown fizz. And one night he TP’d my room — while I was asleep in it. Mom thought it was funny. Then she made him put all the toilet paper in a paper bag and use it.
All mothers deserve a medal for what they do. Not just for the discipline they have to mete out or the high-jinks they have to endure, but for all the sacrificial ways they put their children first. My mother raised three children, kept a spotless house, taught Bible class, cooked every day, helped with homework projects, kept the books for my Dad’s company, straightened out our emergencies, and did it all with humor and grace.
It was Mom who taught us self-confidence and flexibility and how to roll with the punches as they came. She set the tone for the family when our house partially burned thirty years ago, as she smiled and put us to work cleaning whatever we could salvage. It was Mom who showed us how to be a good listener, how to laugh at ourselves, how to love God, and how to wash our hands over 40 times per day.
She’s still nurturing. Just a year or two ago, I was home making a sandwich in the kitchen. She looked over as I unwrapped the package of bread, and that maternal instinct just kicked in. “Remember,” she said, “two slices.” Even though as an adult I may have mastered the basics of sandwich assembly, no sandwich tastes quite as good as one your mother makes.
On Sunday, Mom will turn 80 years old. Through it all she’s been faithful, supportive, encouraging, and fun. She loved our father and us more every day. What else could three kids ask for? Happy birthday, Mom. We love you.