American poet and author Maya Angelou once quoted her mother as saying one “must always be intolerant of ignorance, but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.”
As Mother’s Day approaches, it occurs to me there are many mothers who fit into this category -- women who may not follow the classical definition of the term “educated” but who have imparted more knowledge and wisdom to others than could ever be measured – even if that “wisdom” wasn’t immediately appreciated.
I think about some of the things I learned from my own mother – although they often involved some kicking and screaming.
Looking back at her childhood -- at an age where many young girls are playing dress-up and taking ballet lessons, my mother was dressing rabbits, and I don’t mean in doll clothes.
Most pre-teen girls (including myself) would arguably be more than a wee bit squeamish about butchering their “pets,” but it was just business as usual for young Betty Lou.
“Dad would then take them into the bar on Friday night and sell the dressed rabbits for $2.50 apiece,” said Mom matter-of-factly when I asked her about it.
While the thought of this is still hard for me to grasp, what sticks in my mind is how years later, my mother tapped this experience to teach my brother and me one of life’s grimmest truths.
I was about nine years old and playing outside when I noticed the neighbors’ dog, Husky, busy at something at the periphery of the yard. As I eased closer to see what he was up to, I came upon the grisly visage of a nest of baby bunnies, which the dog had essentially skinned alive.
They were squeaking and peeping and after almost tossing my breakfast, I ran screaming to the house to alert my mom.
She quickly instructed my brother and me to stay inside and headed toward the nest with scoop shovel in hand.
I look back on it now as sort of a slow-motion scene out of a novel, as I remember the exact moment when I realized what she was about to do.
“Mom! No!” I yelled after her.
“You stay in the house with your brother,” she said firmly, as she raced off to commit the necessary deed. Absolutely devastated, I wept like never before.
When Mom returned, she sat me down and gave me this life-is-hard spiel about how sometimes it is more humane to put something out of its misery than to let it suffer. I hate to admit it now, but I think the talk on that fated day has served me well, as I have been faced with a number of gut-wrenching family pet scenarios, where sometimes euthanizing the animal was the best option.
The term “no-nonsense woman” really doesn’t even begin to describe how practical my mother is.
I’ll never forget the day of my senior prom. Mom and I were horseback riding, and when I hopped off my horse to open a gate, my foot (covered only in a soft tennis shoe) was stepped on by our biggest, fattest horse. We were far from home, and the second it happened, I felt the foot start to throb. We raced home, as fast as our steeds could carry us.
Back at the house, I hopped in the shower and quickly did my hair. By the time that was done, my mom had a tub filled with cold water and ice ready for me.
“Stick your foot in here and leave it here as long as you can stand it,” she said.
After what seemed like forever, I removed my frozen foot from the tub, pulled on my panty hose and jammed my foot into my pink pump (which matched my pink taffeta dress).
Forget the fact that foot has bothered me on-and-off for almost 30 years since, I made it to the prom – and in high style. At the time, that was what mattered most to a 16-year-old girl, and Mom knew it.
Mothers are an unequivocal force to be reckoned with, and as I look around me, I feel for the half-dozen women I know who are in the thick of a struggle about how to respectfully help their mothers move on to the next phase of their lives with dignity. Having been through that with my dad, I know it isn’t easy, and often a thankless and difficult undertaking.
As for my mother, at 67, she still has the energy of an NFL cheerleader. That may change some day, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.
Another wonder in my life is my mother-in-law, who at 94-years young, still lives at home on the farm, making meals and desserts for two of her sons each day at noon. She still frequently hosts holidays for her more than 100 descendants, and does it with a smile.
Yesterday, I posted a note on Facebook, asking childhood friends to recall fun things about the mothers who collectively raised us.
Many of them recounted great stories of this mom or that … some who taught them to cook, or how to apply eye makeup a certain way.
My favorite comment about my mom came from a good friend, whose mother was a strong influence in my life as well: “Your mom taught me to wear heels when you shop for dresses. That all things are possible. Mainly because she doesn’t let rules get in her way, but still she is a great example of someone who can figure anything out.”
Happy Mothers Day, Mom, and all the others who have been there for all of us throughout the years.