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My mother with her friend Violet on her wooded land in the mountains of Tennessee

My Mother

I kid you not

I won the mother lottery of the century. We don't get to choose our parents. But, if we somehow did, I would be hard-pressed to imagine getting a mother more amazing than the one I got (and my friends agreed with me once they met her). Whoever I am today is a tribute to her.​

Introducing my mother 

 

My mother died at age 90 in 2012. Here is a letter I wrote to her in 2000, when she was 78 years old:

Sometimes, Mama, I imagine what I will say about you at your funeral. I can always feel the depth of my love for you and gratitude to you, for what you’ve done for me, and, especially, for who you were and are for me.

But you are the number one person who I want to hear what I would say about you. I have decided to write a eulogy now, not only so that I can share it with my other friends, but mainly so that I can share it with you.

For my mother, Dorothy, 78 years old now, living in the beautiful mountains of Tennessee:

I remember...

  • after walking a mile and a half home from grammar school, you would have pan-fried potatoes (with a bottle of catsup) waiting for me. We would sit and talk together as I ate my potatoes (my favorite dish then, next to hamburgers).

  • lying on the bed, with you in the middle, my sister on one side and me on the other. You would be propped up on our elbows and you would read to us for an hour at a time: Little Men, Little Women, Old Yellar, How the Leopard Got Its Spots, articles from the Reader’s Digest, etc.

  • having long, enjoyable conversations with you about the meaning of life, God, psychology, etc.

  • you calling me in from playing in the backyard to let me know that my favorite radio show was on, either “The Shadow Knows” or “Yukon King.”

  • building a fire with you and canning vegetables together in the backyard.

  • how you would express appreciation and admiration for my crazy projects like digging tunnels all through the backyard, blood typing all the neighbors, preparing and conducting the yearly “great leaf party,” planning and leading the egg-fight contest, building various tree houses, snow sleds, and go-carts, trying to enroll neighbors and students into my libertarian political philosophy.

  • always knowing and feeling that, whatever troubles I had in school or with my peers, you were always there for me.

  • how you would wake me up in the morning for school with a cheerful “Rise and shine!”

  • how I always felt that you treated me, my brother, and my sister fairly.

  • how I always knew and felt that you loved me, liked me, respected me, and honored me.

  • how I always felt listened to by you and how you made me feel special.

  • how you always made me feel smart and kind.

  • how you gave me the message that being selfish was okay (we’re all selfish).

  • how you managed to let me grow up without my having to worry about the “adult problems” you had with my father and with the finances.

  • you telling me that I had the power and the freedom to become anything I wanted to become.

  • you telling me that I should always think for myself.

  • you telling me that I should look both ways before crossing the street.

  • thinking that your life and the way you lead your life was greater and more magnificent than any of the lives of great people I had read about, and that I had the privilege of being the son of this great person.

Aphorisms

So many of the aphorisms or thoughts that you would repeat (with help from my sister Karen in remembering some of these and apologies for any paraphrasing):

  • “Act the way you want to be, and soon you’ll be the way you act.”

  • “People residing in glass houses should refrain from throwing hard obstacles.” (It took me a while to understand this one).

  • “It’s the purpose of teenagers to rebel.”

  • “Children should be seen and heard.”

  • “Benign neglect is a good attitude for raising children.”

  • “When parents say to their children, ‘Act your age,’ they don’t see that the children are acting their age.”

  • “We’re all here to leave the world a little bit better place than we found it.”

  • “The world doesn’t owe us a living.”

  • “Don’t be an iconoclast.” (I was argumentative as a child and young teenager).

  • “Politeness is the grease that helps us get along better.”

  • “You can be dead right or dead wrong. But both ways you’re dead,” (usually spoken with regard to driving a car).

  • “Remember, there’s over a million dollars in this car,” (emphasizing love for us and the need for safety when we went driving).

  • “I am captain of my fate, I am the master of my soul; and I thank what Gods may be for my unconquerable soul.”

  • “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as night follows day, thou then cannot be false to any man.”

  • “Let us then be up and doing with a heart for any fate; still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait.”

  • “Oh joy! Oh rapture! Unforeseen!”

  • “When the sun in the morning peeps over the hill and kisses the roses on my windowsill…” (singing).

  • “Whatever things are lovely, think on these things.”

  • “A person is about as happy as they make up their mind to be.”

  • “People make their own good luck.”

  • “Wherever you go, you can find friends.”

  • “Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.”

  • “By and large, people are decent.”

The gift of who you are, not what you gave me

But one gift, Mama, stands out above all the rest, a gift, not of what you gave me or did for me, but a gift of who you were and are for me. I always knew that you loved your life and were glad to be born into this world. Your greatest gift to me was your own happiness. Whenever I felt a little depressed or resigned, you were always there as a first-hand example that joy in life was always open to me.

Also, you never made me feel “responsible” for your happiness. I always knew and know that you love me, think about me, are glad to hear from me. But you were and are not waiting around for me to “fill your life.” Whenever I call you from Tokyo (where I was living when I wrote this), I have to call you two or three times before I can catch you home.

Extra notes about my mother

Her fundamental happiness and her joy in being alive always reminded me that happiness was possible, especially when I wasn’t feeling happy. Also, it was important that she never gave me the message, implicitly or explicitly, that her happiness depended or whether or not I was a “good boy.”

Although my mother was slow to anger and generally gave others the benefit of the doubt, once someone stimulated her righteousness to a certain level, she was slow to forgive and forget. She also saw others very much in terms of good guys and bad guys. I remember her mentioning, in a condemning tone, a man in the community whom she knew got syphilis (probably because she was a nurse) with an attitude of disdain.

One of her favorite sayings (she probably made it up herself) was, “I’m in a rut and I like my rut.” Although maybe she said this regularly after she left my father in 1984.

She really liked being a woman. She said, “The only reason I envy being a man is because he can stand up and pee,” although I suspect she probably used the word “toy,” since that was the made-up word for urinating (that I didn’t know at that time was made-up).

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