As Mother’s Day fast approaches, my mind naturally wanders back to the beautiful mountains of West Virginia where my sweet mother still lives and where I was raised. My little mother is now 85 years old and lives in a lovely assisted living center. Her life is secure and full and happy, even as her memories fade away with each passing week. We have so much to be thankful for…….thankful that she is mostly healthy; thankful that she is content; thankful that she has loving family who care for her, as well as loving staff and friends; thankful that she still has a sweet spirit and a caring heart. Yet all of us children know that our mother is drastically different from what she used to be. It’s happened rather slowly, but when we step back and compare who she is with who she was, it’s hard not to be sad. Mom wouldn’t want us to be sad, though. She would want us to make some funny joke and to laugh and to listen to a story that she would tell…………..and to remember the good old days.
Mom and Dad married in 1949, and in August of 1950 their first child was born. Mary Beth was soon followed by John, Jan, Patty, and Kathryn. She had four children in five years! Kathryn was our little caboose, coming along three years after I was born…………a fitting name since Dad was a railroad man. Times were not easy back then, with Dad working very long hours and on weekends, and Mom keeping babies and home going strong. How did she make homemade formula, sterilize bottles and nipples, make formula, wash cloth diapers………….and handle all the myriad responsibilities of managing a home without all the modern conveniences that we have now? On the day she went into labor with me, she was mowing the yard (barefoot, no less) and fixing supper and watching babies and preparing for her parents to arrive to help with the new baby. No putting her feet up, reading a book, and waiting for the pizza to be delivered. Not my mom!
Mom is, without doubt, the most amazing woman I have ever known. As a child, I thought she was tireless and invincible and could absolutely do anything. But now I realize that she must have had times of exhaustion and doubt and failure. Maybe it’s good that I didn’t know that then, but I’m thankful that I recognize it now. I just remember her strong work ethic, her superior organizational skills, her wit and humor, and many other wonderful attributes.
Mom had a degree in Home Economics from Marshall University and was a natural with cooking, sewing, housekeeping, gardening, and so many of the other skills it took to run a home the way that she did. I know that all of us kids remember our kitchen table full of rolls, hamburger buns, hot dog buns, and pizza crusts…….all homemade……. waiting to be frozen. She would freeze individual bags of homemade pizza sauce so that along with the frozen crusts and other ingredients, we could have pizza at the drop of a hat. And of course, dozens of cookies stashed away in those saved coffee tins in the freezer………..tempting us to run down to the basement and grab one whenever we wanted, blowing our warm breath into that frozen cookie so that each bite would thaw enough to be eaten. All sorts of cookies………Chocolate Chip, Ranger, Applesauce, Oatmeal, Cinnamon, and of course – Spritz Cookies! Perfect!
She was always ready for people to come over because of how organized she was. Our friends were always welcomed, whether it was on a Sunday after church or after school or for sleeping over during weekends or in the summer. Mom never seemed to mind a house full of people. She mothered dozens of college students over the years, inviting them to join our family for dinners and games and great conversation and laughter. We have many special memories of Sunday dinners with visiting missionaries there or pastors and evangelists…………which meant that Mom got up early to prepare dinner. And her very clear, firm instructions to us kids were to NOT help ourselves to seconds and to NOT start laughing at the table. We usually did better at not getting seconds……..not laughing was altogether too hard on most days. It didn’t take much to set us off and then our misery would start as we tried to keep Mom from seeing our shaking shoulders and red faces. She had a look that could kill and there were many times that I remember wishing I was dead rather than face her after the company left!
Holidays were wonderful occasions because of all she did to ensure that they were special and fun. She cooked and cooked and cooked, it seemed. There was that full table again, loaded with goodies. I remember how she would let us take turns cranking the handle of the old food grinder as we would chop cranberries for her delicious Cranberry Salad at Thanksgiving. I can still hear the pop of those cranberries and our delighted laughter. There were big cookie sheet pans filled with hamburger on Christmas Eve, and then the wonder of square hamburgers on her homemade square buns. We had full stockings and gifts under the tree and a special unwrapped big gift from Santa that somehow appeared while we slept………….and that sometimes we would get up and try to sneak a peek at after Mom and Dad went to bed.
Mom loved snow so much! Whenever the first snow occurred, Mom would play Christmas music. It didn’t matter if it was in October…………if we woke up one morning to get ready for school and heard Christmas music, we knew without looking that it had snowed. She and Dad continued this tradition even after we all left home. They would call us and tell us to wait a minute, and then we’d hear the Christmas music over the phone and we knew it had snowed. Or we would call them at our first snow………..all of us hoping that we’d beat them at making that first snow phone call every year. The first year that she didn’t make a snow call after Dad died was when I knew that she was truly forgetting the past and the traditions of our life were slowly ending.
Mom didn’t seem fazed by all the tromping of kids in and out of the house at any time of the year. Whether we were dripping with melting snow, or tracking in mud, or were sweaty and dirty………she seemed to handle it all. And the pets! We had too many cats to count, and multiple dogs, and birds, and turtles, and even those little colored chicks at Easter. Somehow in the midst of it all, she managed to round us up to help with the gardening. I remember picking beans or corn or tomatoes, then helping prepare fruits and veggies for her to can and freeze. She also taught us how to clean house and how to change sheets……..the right way! Even now in her assisted living home, she knows the day that the staff will change her sheets, so she purposely changes her sheets the day before………..so that it’s done the right way! She taught us how to iron. When we saw the four baskets full of ironing for us four girls, each with one of our names on top, we knew we needed to be about the task of ironing those pillow cases or handkerchiefs or whatever else there was. And I guarantee that each of us girls remember every step of how she taught us to wash dishes – there was a right order to it and a wrong order, of course! Mom was particular that way about so many things………she taught us the correct way to set a table and to pass the food and be polite……..and she hoped it would stick. We still laugh at how a few years ago, at a family dinner with lots of us together, Mom saw that someone had put the rice in one place on their plate and their meat on another. She cleared her throat and loudly said, “Hey! The meat goes ON the rice!” We all snickered and rolled our eyes………behind her back, of course…………and even today here at home if I want something done just so-so, I’ll say, “The meat goes ON the rice!”
Mom was a beautiful seamstress. After we went to bed, she would still be downstairs making all of our clothes. I’ll never forget our pretty matching Easter dresses, or the time she made winter wool skirts and then looked in every store in several states for just the right matching sweaters and knee socks to go with those skirts. She sewed each of our bridal gowns as well as all the attendant’s gowns for our weddings, and several of her granddaughter’s gowns as well. After she retired, she decided to take up quilting and ended up making each of us kids a completely hand sewn quilt. She made quilts for others, too, some of whom didn’t have a mother of their own. She also knitted beautiful Christmas stockings that all of us have as do dozens and dozens of people all over the world…………and even our pets! Her knitting went with her everywhere, even to Dad’s chemo sessions, where she would knit as she sat with him. When the nurses would comment on her beautiful stockings, she’d make many of them a stocking, too! She never wasted a moment to be busy with her hands or to be blessing others.
After we were all in school, Mom got a job as a school secretary. Later she became the county School Food Service Director, and when she retired she was overseeing the school lunch programs in thirteen West Virginia counties. How on earth did she do it? While working she still managed to keep our family going and taken care of and provided for. There are countless other stories I could tell about this great woman, but more than what Mom did it’s who she was……and is……that’s most important.
She loved the Lord totally and she imparted the importance of that love to each of us children. She lived by Biblical principles and it impacted us greatly. Even on her very busy mornings, after Dad was at work and we kids were eating breakfast, she would read the Our Daily Bread devotional and some scripture to us, and start our day off with prayer. She always made sure that we were in church even when Dad was at work and couldn’t go with us. We knew we could go to her for advice about anything. And she was an encourager, not only to us but to so many others. How many times did she tell me, as I wondered if I would ever get married, “Patty, remember that God gives His best to those that leave the choice with Him.” She helped those who needed a hand in whatever way she could. In later years, as she and Dad visited sick and shut-ins, Mom would learn of something that each person liked. Then she would take that to them. She would make her Boiled Custard for this one, or cut some of her little miniature roses for that one. And when Dad was sick with cancer, she was there by his side every step of the way, taking care of him for eight years.
Mom was selfless. She forged ahead with what needed to be done without any complaining that I ever remember hearing. She cared for the hurting and the sad and those that were without what they needed and those who had messed up in life. I don’t remember my mom taking naps or demanding dinners out or wanting a vacation or watching TV or movies. She worked hard and she didn’t make a big deal about it. Her joy came from what she could do for us and for others.
Now as she spends her later years in assisted living, she is still going about there to help others. She tells us that she feels God has given her a mission there………so she seeks out the ones who are ignored or irritating or lonely, and she talks to them and pats their hands or puts an arm around their shoulders. Years ago she took care of both her mother-in-law and mother, and she still has a heart to take care of the ones that God has put around her now. Mom taught us how to live because she lived it………….and she is still living out her faith today in the place where she knows that God has put her.
Sometimes when I call her, I’m not sure she really knows who I am. Usually after I mention one of the kid’s names then she’ll seem to catch on. But I know who she is. “A godly woman, who can find?” I have found one……….my mother, Beth King……Mom. I love you, Mom. I know we all do.