Mother's Fortitude Under Fire Not Forgotten

In face of death, plucky sense of purpose prevailed


by Gary Roberts
special to the roundup
Most of us, sooner or later, encounter difficult and troublesome predicaments that can stretch us to our breaking point. It is during these dark days of tribulation and trial that our true characters are revealed.

The memory of my mother's composure in the face of overwhelming circumstances will linger with me always. She lost her valiant battle with terminal lung disease in 1993, but she has conferred to me a priceless legacy of personal grit and unrelenting love.

Not that her lot in life was an easy one, or that her children were perfect, or that her marriage was always smooth sailing, because often they were not.

Through all of life's hills and valleys, though, her plucky sense of purpose prevailed.

Born in the tiny hamlet of Yoncalla, Ore. in 1915, Mary W. Hopper belonged to a straightforward era of Americans who were remarkably sturdy and rugged. Newscaster Tom Brokaw has referred to that generation as America's greatest.

Lifetime commitment

My mother learned early in life the necessity of perseverance and the importance of commitment.

These traits, I'm convinced, were partially forged and shaped in the intense crucible of the Great Depression and were partially a matter of genetic inheritance.

Born to parents Harold and Annie Hopper, she was the oldest of seven children. Hopper women saw their men leave to fight in, among others, the American Revolution, The War of 1812 under Jackson, in cavalry regiments in the Indian wars, on both sides of the Civil War and in World War II at Pearl Harbor when Japanese bombs fell.

In 1938, my mother first met my father, Frank Rayner Roberts in a dance hall called "The Lonesome Club." In July of 1940 they were married in a log cabin in Vancouver, Wash. and, with just $5 between them, embarked on a new life together filled with hopes and dreams.

Their lives encountered more than their share of heartaches and tragedy, but their marriage endured more than half a century: No guarantees; no burgeoning bank accounts; no premarital contract; just love and a commitment to each other.

In a day when relationships seem to fracture at the slightest hint of personal sacrifice or life turbulence, and marriages dissolve more quickly than peace treaties in the Middle East, my mother's choice to stick it out with her marriage and family though their darkest hours seems even more remarkable to me. It is interesting to contemplate whether our attempt in the current era to build all of this "security" and ease into life has changed the essential American character.

Lessons learned

When I was a boy growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I can hardly recall a weekend when our family wasn't together in the outdoors. I remember those family camping trips with fondness and now recognize the significant role they played in shaping and molding my life interests, values and character. I am convinced my mother knew the great outdoors was a far better teacher than any Saturday matinee, local mall or corner drugstore.

Not easily impressed with ostentatious pomp and magniloquent fluff, she was one of the two most unpretentious people I have ever known. My father was the other. She was always more concerned about the welfare of her family than she ever was with filling her neighbor's eye with envy or keeping up with the Joneses.

And as a quick-tempered young man, my mom was always the clear voice of decency in advocating that I resolve personal issues with others with dignity and fairness without sinking to a base level.

One memory, however, swells my heart with particular gratitude. Paramedics found me thrown 225 feet from the point-of-impact in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. I'll never forget my mom's loving concern as I emerged from a coma in intensive care, was released from the hospital and convalesced in my parents' home. I would strain to stay up as late as possible each night because I was afraid that I might die in my sleep.

Even though my mother was in her 60s at the time, she patiently sat up with me every night for a month until my fear subsided. She never belittled me for that episode and never mentioned it to me after it was over.

In a day when babies are found deserted in dumpsters and many adults opt to pursue selfish interests, my mother's countless acts of caring and kindness flood my remembrance of her with appreciation and I am humbled.

Grace under pressure

During the remaining eight years or so of her life, she courageously battled the insidious and devastating effects of terminal lung disease.

Even as her disease progressed and her lung capacity deteriorated, her tenacious spirit never dimmed.

Toward the end, she was confined to a bed for several years, relying on machines to help her breathe, and was rushed in and out of intensive care units more than I care to recall. Her discomfort and pain levels were prolonged and very severe, yet I only heard her complain once about her suffering. Her unflinching example of quiet fortitude and dignity under duress spoke volumes from her bed.

My mother, Mary Winnifred Roberts, never had her name up in lights or splashed across the covers of magazines, but in my book, she is tops.

Many heartfelt thanks; my hat is off to you. Happy Mother's Day.

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