My last recollection of Mother was when the three of us were visiting my sisters in Colorado. Dad and I had gone for a long walk and he told me that Mother was worried about cancer. She had some tests before they left for Colorado and was awaiting the results. There had been a lot of cancer in her family background and this worried her.
While I was concerned about my mother’s health, there had always been a bit of a gulf between us. It was always “Mother” and never “Mom”, although for my older sisters, it was always “Mom”. I was the “baby” of the family and I suppose I was spoiled, especially in the eyes of my sisters. I don’t recall ever feeling that I was given special treatment but I know I was teased about it, which was upsetting.
Mother was a pleasant-looking woman, slightly overweight, often “tired” in appearance, and serious – smiles were rare. I think she was a good “church lady” and pastor’s wife, and I recall many times when ladies would meet in our living room for quilting or Bible study. When I was a teenager she worked at a furniture store and really thrived on meeting and talking with customers. It was during that period when she seemed to be most happy and in the best of spirits.
Mother’s relationship with my sisters was involved and “relational”. I watched them interacting in the kitchen, in conversations, cooking, sewing, helping with the laundry. All this seemed, from my young standpoint, as happy and animated, leaving me on the outside looking in.
In retrospect, I am not sure that Mother knew what to do with a boy. Our relationship seemed different from my sisters, maybe a little distant, hesitant, and a little unsure. I was no angel, to be sure, but I don’t recall when Mother disciplined me, or encouraged me, for that matter. I do have vivid memories of her telling me “wait until your father comes home!”
I once said I had no real positive memories of my relationship with my mother, but that would not be fair nor accurate. There were good times, to be sure, but these rarely involved just mother and me. Good times were when we were all together as a family.
My happiest memory of Mother was my 7th birthday. We rarely had ice cream except on birthdays. On this day I had taken a nap. Sometime in the evening mother had awakened me and my first thought was that I had missed my “special day”! I panicked and started crying! Mother took me in her arms and assured me that my day was not over and that gifts and especially ice cream awaited me down stairs. I still recall how wonderful it was that she took me in her arms…I don’t remember that ever happening before.
Mother was raised in a fairly wealthy home where her father (my grandfather) was the owner of a large greenhouse and nursery business. He was a tough businessman and expected his children to work in the greenhouses, even during visits. While I enjoyed our visits to my grandfather, especially the games of croquet, and the interactions with my uncles, there was work to be done! My impression of my grandfather was a big, stern, demanding man, whose prayers at meal time seem to go on forever! As I look back, his German background was clearly on display.
This is how Mother was raised and it was hard for her to adjust to the change in social and economic status of being a pastor’s wife on a limited financial base. Dad was firmly committed to the church and that was his life. On the other hand, I don’t know what Mother’s hopes and dreams were. I do know that she had been quite an artist when she married Dad. I still cherish a picture she painted just before my oldest sister was born.
The day Mother died was complicated. I was on leave from the Army. I had hitched hiked from West Palm Beach, FL, to Colorado and had three days visiting with them and my sisters. The day they left to return home there had been serious rain storms in the North Platte area of western Nebraska.
Later that evening my sisters and I picked up a six-pack and were having a quiet evening of good food and beer and commenting that we could not have done that with Dad and Mother here! It was then that the call came from the Colorado State Police!
Dad and mother had been driving US 40 and because of flooding further east on that highway, they were diverted north to I 80 on a back county road. Just south of the town of Brush, CO, as they were about to cross a bridge over a small stream, their car was hit by a wall of water! The car overturned and Dad and Mother were able to scramble onto the overturned car and were sitting on either side of a wheel well, waiting to be rescued. Before help could come, another flood crest hit the car. Dad was washed into a field where he was able to hold on to a fence post until the force subsided. Mother was washed down stream in the main rush of the flood. Her body was recovered two days later.
I had one thought during this time, both at the hospital and later at the funeral home: Mother was finally happy! That thought brought its share of guilt. Still, to this day, it remains, in my mind, a true and lasting sense that she is at peace and happy.
For What It’s Worth