What Made Mom, Mom

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Several weeks ago I told you about the light-handed way that my Mom, a widow at the age of 39, raised four sons by herself during the tough years of the Great Depression. Writing about it made me curious. I wondered how in the world Mom ever became so skillful at raising children. I thought about it and thought about it, but got nowhere.

With Mom gone, along with Bill, Frank, Charlie and all 16 of my aunts and uncles, I was left without a clue.

It wasn’t time wasted, though. I spent some very happy hours thinking about Mom. They convinced me that she was even more wonderful than I had realized, and I’m going to have some fun telling you why.

Born in 1896, Mom was a woman of her era, a product of her childhood days. She acted and thought like the people of her era, and that may be the key to why she raised four sons with such a light hand. She took some advice that everyone took in her day, and — sadly — don’t take in ours: Don’t borrow trouble. 

In her day people heard very little news except what happened at home and around the neighborhood. By and large that was still true in the 1930s as I grew up. There could have been 50 axe murders a week in the 48 states, but we wouldn’t have known about it. Only if something of local interest came up did we hear about it on the news. For example, I am sure that the adults knew about it, but I and the rest of the kids on our block managed to very nicely miss the start of World War II in 1939. Hey, that was over in Europe! It wasn’t until two years later, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Hitler was dumb enough to declare war on us that I even heard his name.

I was just under 10 at the time.

Yes, Mom was a woman of her era — simple, honest, hard working, and totally disinterested in anything outside her immediate world. And it showed. You could walk into the house at any time of the day and the chances are Mom would be singing as she worked.

So what? 

She sang because she was happy, Johnny.

Why?

Because she didn’t go around with the weight of the world on her back.

Yes, singing. People used to do that, you know. Many times I went over to Bobby Hein’s house and found his whole family standing around their player piano singing. And as often as not when I was out in the back yard I would hear Mrs. Disarro next door singing.

And the Shirleys, the black family on Pike Street, which was part of our neighborhood there on Brook Street. Oh, my! Did they ever sing! And so did the neighborhood kids. We were always sitting outside singing something. And we sang in school too, all the time.

From the time I re-enlisted in the Air Force in 1956 until the day she passed away, Mom’s favorite program was Lawrence Welk. And when I brought Lolly home from India the two of them sat glued to the TV set watching Sing Along With Mitch while a bunch of guys stood in rows and sang songs.

Music. You know? Happy sounds coming out of people?

I’m for that.

Mom was also as honest as they come, as were all the people of her day that I ever met. I remember one time Mom came home with a pay envelope she had found lying on the sidewalk in front of the Court Drug Store at the top of State Street in New London. She brought it home because she didn’t know what else to do with it. She had asked around in the nearby stores, but no one knew who it belonged to. She and Pop Johnson, my stepfather — also as honest as the day is long — opened it, saw that it contained more than $140, almost three weeks’ pay for most people at the time, but no name or address. They finally managed to get it back to the person it belonged to, and Mom absolutely refused to take a nickel from him.

For Mom and the people of her day, life was simple. A house, a few sticks of furniture, some decent food, a narrow closet with a few dresses hanging in it, the kids fed, clothed, happy and healthy. The neighbors doing all right. A little music. An occasional movie. What else was there?

But today?

What’s going on at the United Nations? Who’s killing who in some foreign land with a screwy name? What nuclear reactor built with flypaper and spit is leaking where? Who won the 240 in some race I never heard of? It snowed where? China wants what rock in the Pacific? What politician in what state 1,700 miles away paid who to do what?

Should we really care, Johnny?

We should? Gee! Can someone please tell me why?

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