My mom died this past week. First thought: now there’s no one between me and the abyss. Third or fourth thought: sure there is. Because I’m lucky enough to have a family.
Here’s the eulogy I gave at her graveside.
If my mother was sitting here, she would be saying “for heaven’s sake Charlotte, sit down.” Our 93-year-old mother had very concise thoughts on when to speak and when to be quiet. Tough old bird she was – she mowed her lawn on the day before she died and I’m willing to bet every bird feeder was full. So while I’m willing to let her go, her 93 years on this earth deserve our recognition.
Christine i-n-e or Christene e-n-e –was a living, breathing dichotomy. We were never sure how she was going to spell her name or which way was right – something that has been very apparent lately. I suspect she would have said “it’s none of your damn business.”
Smart as a whip she was, she grew up as a farm girl. With six sisters and one brother, she worked on the farm and was as strong and capable as any man. The physical strength she developed as a kid carried her body through a lifetime of hard work and giving birth to six children of her own; and while she had to have repairs and replacement parts, she was straight and strong until the day she died.
Her life wasn’t a fairy tale by any means. Hard work was her constant companion. What was in her heart few if any ever really knew because she guarded it like a sentinel. While keeping her own counsel, however, she made a home and a garden wherever she was.
She told us stories of her life when she left the farm and married our dad, who was dispatched to Germany soon after the wedding. She and her baby, our brother Larry, lived in an apartment and she baked bread for the neighbors and took in laundry to support them. I believe this was the happiest time of her life – I know she looked back on it as a time she was independent and free and she always spoke of it gently.
After World War II, there were three more little boys in quick succession. There is no doubt that it was those four little faces that sustained her through building a life. Howard, Ricky and Robert . . . and eleven years after that me and four years later John. She had children in the house most of her adult life.
In the late 1960s she sent two of her sons to Vietnam. Every morning while they were gone, she sat at a table away from the hubbub of the house and she wrote to them. She marked the days with her letters and she did what she knew how to do – she sent cookies to them on the other side of the world.
Mother was never comfortable with crowds and things like weddings and anniversaries and parties were never her cup of tea. She was happiest in her yard, among her flowers and berries and gardens and the birds.
Summertime was always a bounty in her home. The woman could take a handful of lard and bowl of flour and make a piecrust that truly did melt in your mouth. I never saw her use a recipe – or as she would have said – a receipt. Apple pie, cherry, berry, pumpkin pie . . . and something she called “poor man’s pie.” The leftover crust was always spread with butter, cinnamon and sugar and may have been the best thing I ever ate.
Not much of a television watcher, she did tune in to Ruth Lyons 50/50 club every day as she ironed and after that As The World Turns. Every day. The only other thing I ever saw her watch on television was college basketball and “her Buckeyes.” Woe be to the hapless kid who got between her and the game.
Mother loved cars. Pretty cars, fast cars . . . whenever anyone in the family had a new car, they drove it home to show her. She watched racing on television and had her favorite drivers. One year, I took her to Mid-Ohio to see the races. To my utter astonishment, she walked right up to Mario Andretti in the pit garage. He gave her a huge smile, put his arm around her and said “well hello Sweetheart and they walked in to look at his racer, leaving me standing there utterly bemused.
Later in her life there was more time for her. As the burden of raising us eased and grandchildren came, she was able to find time to enjoy life more. Always an avid crochet and knit expert, she made baby blankets and quilts and more with precise, beautiful stitches. Even when arthritis claimed her hands, she would wash dishes to warm them up and pick up her latest project. Always a reader, she loved the work of Zane Grey and read everything she could find. I know it made her heart happy that my nephew, Terry, is a cowboy. She went on bus trips with our Aunt Mary and also with her friend Joy. She joined her grandchildren on vacations. With them she saw the mountains and the ocean for the first time. I’m sure the only reason she ever stepped on an airplane was because Toni lived in California. You’ll do just about anything for your grandchildren.
There aren’t a lot of photographs of mom, but the best ones are with her grand- and great-grand children. In those photos you see her smiling. She loved her grandchildren more than even they know. And she loved babies. Never cared much for dogs and cats . . . but she did love babies.
She would not have tolerated being called a feminist. She was pretty hard on women – just ask her granddaughters. One of the dearest things that I ever saw, however, was when she – in her mid 80s – was having her shoulders replaced. More than they will ever know, she relied on Keri’s expertise as a physician to guide her to a surgeon and when she struggled in recovery, it was Beth, a speech therapist, who patiently taught her what she needed to know to recover.
While she kept vigil over her own heart, however, it is a testament to what she held there that despite her shortcomings and the myriad challenges she faced and hardships endured, she brought good people into the world. Hard-working, loving, dedicated and intelligent children who grew to bring in the next and the next generation and have sustained them and cared for them. She gave each of us a measure of strength and determination that binds us together as a family despite our own faults. She loved each and every one of us – differently to be sure. My mother rarely, if ever, could say “I love you” to anyone. Not with words. But she raised people who could and who do. So now it’s time for us to say good job, mom. Love you.