One of the earliest memories I have of my mother was when I was about three or four years old. We lived in an old four-room house in West Pratt, which was a coal mining community just outside of the town of Dora. From a distance the old house looked as if it was bricked, but upon closer inspection it had asphalt siding that was simulated brick. We had running water in the kitchen, but the bathroom was an outhouse on a hill several hundred feet from the house. Mama washed clothes on the back porch in an old Maytag wringer washing machine.
We had a garden nearby and free range chickens long before they came into vogue. I remember I had been playing outside all that day and I must have looked like a coal miner after a hard day in the hole. It was probably in the spring because I remember I was shirtless and barefoot but I had on a pair of shorts. Mama had just finished the last rinse of a load of work clothes when she called me to the edge of the porch. Like a flash she snatched me up and tossed me into the washing machine full of cold water. I squealed like a pig at first and then when I adjusted to the cold water I fell into a fit of laughter. She laughed too as she poured more cold water over my head to wash off an afternoon of sweat and grime. She did things like that a lot when we were kids. Things that took you by surprise - things that made you laugh.
She did not start having health problems until she was in her seventies and the autumn before she fell ill the first time, I can remember her playing football with grand kids and other young folks from the neighborhood. Even with all her trials, she still has a wicked sense of humor that she lays on unsuspecting visitors. I know my sense of humor comes from her.
Another gift she gave to all her kids was a strong work ethic. Even in her late sixties she used to cut grass for people. Not because she needed the money but because she loved to work. We all did chores from the time we could walk - like hauling in scuttles of coal and emptying the slop jar (if you don't know, look it up), but when we got a little older we all got jobs.
Mother always insisted that we do a good job at whatever we did. "If you're going to start a job son, do it right, she counseled, "it's much easier to do it right the first time that having to go back and lick your calf over." I don't really know where "lick your calf over" came from, but I know that it means re-work. She could have written a wildly successful business book based on this idea and sold millions of copies to corporate America. Companies today waste billions of dollars annually on re-work.
She taught me so many things that have been valuable to me in my life and when I try to find the words to say thank you, they often sound hollow and trite.
This Sunday is Mother's Day and we will visit her. If it's like our usual visits, we'll sit on the couch and make small talk while the Braves play on a nearby television. We'll buy her some flowers, give her a gift and Jilda will paint her a special watercolor Mother's Day card.
Hopefully I can find the words to say how much I appreciate all her sacrifices and the gifts she has given me throughout my life.