With Mother’s Day approaching, my thoughts go to my mother. Helen Roberts Brown was born in Wilson County in 1930. She’s been gone from us since January 1998.
If each of my four siblings compared notes to what we loved and remembered about our mother, we would have five completely different perspectives. It’s like that movie “Vantage Point,” where the same event is seen through another person’s view, giving it a complexity that you would not have seen through a single lens.
That Was Our Mother: Complex
Each of my mother’s children perceives her through the lens of their birth order, years of life, school and church activities, marriage partners, and even vacations. As the youngest of our tribe of five, I’ve chosen to look at Mother through a few select pictures and remember her legacy of love, sacrifice, and service.
The Year She Became My Mother
In December 1963—just a few weeks prior to my birth in January—Mom was visibly pregnant. But she did not let the weight of pregnancy stop her from singing a solo at church.
It was a time when the country was in crisis and grief after the recent assassination of President Kennedy. But it was important to be a part of the joy of the season and not just the trials.
She made it through the performance and welcomed her fifth child into the world on a cold winter day. I was the one who “got away with everything,” according to my brothers and sister…because I was the last.
I’d just respond with, “They saved the best for last.” Enough said.
The Original Multi-tasker
Mom was amazing in the way she could hold the phone to her ear and do just about anything else at the same time. She was on the phone a lot, checking on friends or her sisters, or getting ready for a meeting at church. She would tell me, “Carol, can you call so-and-so up, so I can talk to them?” I was her phone secretary. She also always had a cup of coffee going somewhere in the house… which she inevitably lost. Another of my important jobs growing up was finding her latest cup of coffee she’d misplaced.
The Ultimate Hostess
The picture I’ve included is just a simple family gathering, but it gives a taste of the effort Mom put into hospitality, because she could really put on a party. She hosted library staff, church library staff, and friends in our big house on Main Street. Card tables covered in red and green cloths and set with her finest china filled the wide hallway. She would let me and my brother, Joe, sample the food and sip coffee out of china cups for fun. Though neither of us ever developed a taste for her beloved coffee, we did love the Vienna sausages she served over the double boiler.
Retired for Me
Knowing that my mother retired just to come visit me when I was working in West Africa is an especially precious memory I cherish. She even shed her “holy grail” girdle and pantyhose for the few weeks they stayed with me in Ivory Coast! What a sacrifice for her youngest daughter, and it meant the world to me to have my parents travel to an unknown land just to visit and see the world through my eyes.
Mother of the Bride
I am sure each of my siblings has a special moment with Mother at their wedding. Mine is a bit more difficult because I didn’t marry in my hometown, but in Texas, and had a very short engagement of seven weeks. When I told Mother that I was going to rent a wedding dress, she said, “No, you’re not! You’re going to buy one!” I obeyed and bought the first dress I tried on. I’m glad I listened. Mother and my husband Raouf had two things in common—coffee and antiques.
Retired Again for Me
The Library called on Mother again to serve after her return from Africa, and she became the Branch Librarian of Smyrna Public Library for several years. Even so, she happily retired again to come visit us in Syria and Egypt, as I was expecting my first child. She and Dad wanted to have the chance to bring some things for me and the baby. Besides, the pyramids were on Dad’s bucket list. Mom did some things during that trip that were “not” on her list, like riding a camel, but she had a great time, and I will always be grateful that she was able to taste and see a small part of the world I loved.
The Letter Writer
When my husband died in 2015, I worked through my grief by writing a book on his life. The only way I was able to do it was because of my mother. She had saved all my letters from our years overseas. Reading through them brought back so many memories, not just of our life in missions, but my relationship with my mother. She was a faithful letter writer (who turned into an email writer), and I loved getting her newsy letters. They didn’t just remind me of home, but of how much she loved me in order to take the time from her busy schedule to write.
Ultimately, that’s what I miss, as I know my brothers do as well. Steve, when he lived in Kalamazoo, Chicago, and San Francisco; David, when he lived in Georgia and Virginia, and Joe, when he was in the Navy. We all miss her newsy letters full of the happenings in Murfreesboro. We miss her efforts to keep us connected, no matter how far away we roamed. We miss that handwritten note that said, “Love you, Mom” and the woman who wrote it.
What legacy will you leave your children? The seemingly little things and acts of love will be what your children most remember and cherish.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Originally posted at lifeinexile.net