Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

By Mark Leitheiser

“Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!” Now wait a minute, you may say, Mother’s Day won’t be celebrated for nearly nine months, on May 8th. And if Mother’s Day is simply a date on the calendar, you are correct. However, if you focus on the meaning of Mother’s Day, celebrating and cherishing our mothers, sadly, there can be no more appropriate time for a Mother’s Day wish.

Mother’s Day’s origins can be traced back to Grafton, West Virginia where a lady named Ann Jarvis wanted to honor the sacrifices mothers made, following the death of her own mother in 1905. It is in this spirt that I celebrate Mother’s Day, for just a few weeks ago, I lost my mother too.

Her name is Phyllis and she was a beautiful soul. It was hard to believe, as we drove her to her final rest, through an unconcerned world, that she had lived a happy, full, and in her own way, extraordinary life.

She knew poverty. Growing up in a tarpaper shack in northern Minnesota will teach such lessons. When asked how poor she was, Mom would reply, “We had less than nothing!”

While that may be a bit of a stretch, a more telling example of her poverty may be the true story of Grandpa cussing a blue streak after falling down in a snow drift one stormy night . . . inside the house!

Mom attended a one-room schoolhouse tucked among the Jack Pine and Blue Spruce of the north. She trudged a couple of miles to and from school with her sparse lunch in a Crisco oil pail swinging at her side. She never claimed the trip was uphill both ways but she didn’t need to. A round trip down often unplowed roads in -25 degree temperatures was hill enough for anyone to climb. Yet, she didn’t complain. What was there to complain about?

I suppose it was those lean, early years that lead to a life of frugality. If there were six beans left in a bowl after supper then those six beans, combined with yesterday’s teaspoon of rice, would make a satisfactory lunch tomorrow. Waste was simply not in her vocabulary but sacrifice was.

The kids always came first in Mom’s world. It was nothing to brag about. It was no big deal. Sacrificing for the kids is simply what the good ones did, and she and Dad did it well. She never knew it, but one day while waiting for the dentist to bore holes in my teeth, I overheard Mom cancel her own appointment after inquiring about the bill. It didn’t occur to me until years later that she had sacrificed her own dental work so the I could have mine.

There were many other sacrifices, of course, and each was made based on a firm set of values. Mom was unapologetically old-fashioned. She valued her Christian faith and her family and friends above all other things. Money, status and material items just did not impress her. “People have too much money these days,” she would say. And she meant it. Mom wasn’t for sale and she had little time for those who were.

Over time, Mom’s value system had a curious effect on me as I realized that many of today’s billionaires, movie stars and professional athletes would not be welcome at her table. A cup of coffee and homemade bars to be shared with a neighbor were her gold standard when it came to values and relationships.

This is not to say she was without pride. Like each of us, Mom had pride, but she was most proud of her neighbors, friends and especially her family. When she knew friends or relatives were coming to visit, she would casually leave copies of my articles from the mighty Standard-Gazette & Messenger placed where they were sure to be noticed. She wouldn’t brag of course; she just wanted to remind folks that her son wrote articles for a newspaper . . . and theirs didn’t.

Of course, nearly all old-fashioned values include discipline for children and in this respect, Mom was no different than anyone else. We quickly learned her policy on bluffing: she didn’t. When she said you were, “going to get a lickin’” by God, you got a lickin’. When she said you were grounded for two weeks, you considered yourself lucky if it didn’t end up being three! It was exactly five miles from the high school to our farm and if you got detention? Enjoy the walk home. Supper’s on the table at 5:30.

Which brings up a final point: respect. If we brought home C’s from class there were no problems. But if we were disrespectful toward teachers or other students, look out. Justice would be swift when we got home. Yet discipline was never based on malice. She and Dad understood that discipline is a form of love and we got plenty of both. Looking back, through the window of time, I can only come to one, inescapable conclusion: I was one of the lucky ones. If you have been grinning and nodding your head, then you were lucky too.

“Into every life, a little rain must fall,” Mom would remind me when I was unable to understand hurt or loss in my life. This may explain why, as I write this, it’s pouring tears in my world. I don’t know if there are newspapers in heaven but if there are, I’m certain this fine publication will be there. I’m also pretty certain St. Peter, along with old friends and neighbors, will find copies of this article casually placed where they are sure to be noticed . . .

The rest of the world may wait until early May to honor their mothers but if the true purpose of Mother’s Day is to share our love and to give thanks for a life of sacrifice then I cannot wait that long. Instead, I’m betting Mom will find this paper, read this article and understand the true meaning of my wish, “Happy Mother’s Day Mom!”


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