My mother’s younger years were tough ones.
She lost a parent while an infant and was raised by relatives who, while solid, decent folks, weren’t overly endowed with warmth and joy. She moved incessantly throughout her childhood and adolescence. Rootlessness, along with endless packing and unpacking, took a toll on her psyche.
When she and my father married and bought a home not long before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, she told Daddy: “I never want to move again.”
For a more than 50 years, her wish was reality. The home they bought for $2,500 – $250 down and reducing the mortgage whenever possible, in payments of $5 or $10 – was mom’s until the end of her earthly days.
I have always envied her outlook on life.
She found joy in the simplest things, remained eternally upbeat, showed kindness in some way every day, looked upon work as a blessing rather than a burden, and retained a bit of the childhood innocence she never had opportunity to enjoy in her youth.
None of her children, and later her grandchildren, derived any more delight from Christmas season and special occasions than Mom. When she opened a present, got a surprise, blew out the candles on a birthday cake, or enjoyed something as simple as an ice cream cone, there was invariably a priceless brightness in her eyes and beaming smile on her face.
Of all my warm and wonderful recollections of mom the fondest ones focus on her role in my development as a sportsman. To my knowledge momma never hunted. Although she loved to fish, she would have been the first to acknowledge she was an inept angler.
On the other hand she loved the end results of a successful day afield after small game or a productive fishing trip, and thoughts of the culinary wonders she could work on rabbits, squirrels, quail, or trout still set my salivary glands into involuntary overdrive.
She was a marvelous cook and a living, loving example of the old mountain adage of “Make do with what you’ve got.” Mom scoffed at the concept of catch-and-release fishing. “You catch them,” she would say, “and I’ll release them – straight to hot grease.”
Momma’s tolerance level for a sportsman husband and two similarly inclined sons was such that it might well have been the envy of the Biblical Job. She took early risings; muddy boots; tattered and torn clothing; squirrels, rabbits, quail, and trout cleaned in her kitchen sink; incessant talk of the outdoors; the occasional responsibility for feeding our hunting dogs; and much more in stride.
She was an endless source of support and active encouragement of my boyhood hunting and fishing adventures.
When Lady Luck saw fit to cast a beam of good fortune on my solitary efforts afield or astream, mom would brag about my filled creel, or a weighty game bag, in a fashion which filled a youngster with inexpressible pride. When relatives or friends stopped for a visit, she would often say, “You should have seen that fine mess of trout Jim caught yesterday.” To an adolescent such praise brought pleasure beyond measure.
On countless occasions momma drove me to a nearby trout stream or squirrel woods while daddy ate his lunch alone – he had a 30-minute break from work for the midday meal, and since we only had one car the range of her chauffeur service was limited to distances which involved drives of no more than 10-12 minutes.
Although it never occurred to me as a youngster, an example of mom’s love spoke volumes about trust, tolerance, and just how different that world of the 1950s was from that we live in today. From the time I was 11 or 12 years of age, mom and dad allowed me to hunt and fish on my own or in company with friends.
Some of those outings involved several nights camping in the remote backcountry of the Smokies, and most of the fishing meant wading in roaring, potentially dangerous high country streams. There had to have been some anxiety, especially when I got home a bit later than usual, but there was also recognition of the need for youthful freedom and understanding that adolescents, while needing guidance, also had to find their own way.
Long after I was grown and gone from home mom continued to be interested in my sporting activities. There was never a visit and seldom a phone call when she didn’t ask about where I’d been hunting or fishing, and how my luck had been. Those weren’t idle inquiries. She genuinely cared, and right up to her death I could do her no finer favor, bring her no greater pleasure, than to show up with a limit of wild trout cleaned and ready for the frying pan.
Doubtless many of you had mothers who blessed you in similar fashion. If so, on this one day of the year specifically devoted to the marvels and mystique of motherhood, you can join me in looking back with loving longing to the magic mom brought to my life.