I have sometimes been known to say that I had the best mother who ever lived, but in all fairness I really should amend that to say that I can’t imagine how Mom could have done any better. Today I’d like to tell you why I feel that way.
Imagine yourself in her situation. It’s 1932. You’re married to a healthy young man named Bill who is the golf pro for one of the five golf courses in New York City. Your nice little house is mortgaged, it’s but slowly being paid off. You have four healthy sons: Bill Junior, Frank, Charlie, and baby Tommy. Things are going “OK” even though the nation is suffering through the Great Depression.
Suddenly, although the golf course had been weathering the Depression fairly well, Bill’s salary suddenly has to take a drastic cut. It is so drastic, in fact, that you and Bill lose the house, and the two nice new appliances in it, because they were part of the mortgage loan. You move to an apartment in a new neighborhood, and begin over again.
You and Bill manage to keep your heads above water for five years, but Bill is unexpectedly hit in the neck by a golf ball, which causes a stroke. He begins to recover, but is struck down by pneumonia and is suddenly gone, leaving you with no income and four kids to raise.
You take in sewing, but can’t earn anywhere near enough, so Bill Junior and Frank drop out of high school to find jobs. Bill lands a job with a place not too far from home, but is not quite making enough to maintain the family. Frank is too young to earn much, but his small earnings just fill the gap as he goes to school nights to earn his diploma.
You’ve lost your only two appliances, so you now have an icebox instead of a refrigerator, and the electric washer with its hand-cranked wringer is gone too. You wash clothes by hand in two large laundry tubs, using a scrubbing board to scrub the dirt out; you then rinse everything and squeeze it dry by hand. Summer or winter you climb the steps up to the top level of the backyard and hang the wet clothes on a clothesline, where in wintertime they often freeze solid.
The apartment originally had a coal-fired hot water furnace in the cellar to heat the radiators, but one night when there was no coal for it, the boiler froze and cracked. So for heat you have to rely on an old coal-fired cooking stove in the kitchen and a carry-around kerosene heater in the living room.
So what did Tommy, your youngest son, see as he grew from year to year, watching you wash, and cook, and sweep, and sew, and do the thousand other things a mother has to do? He watched his Mom go through her work, day in and day out, year in and year out, singing her way through the day, a smile on her face, and loving words on her lips.
You may be gone now, Mom, but you’re still alive here in my heart, and still singing your way through my day. In fact, I sometimes sing those same songs myself, so many years later. I will remember you, and your love, and the words and music of the songs of the early 1900s, until I take my last breath.
And someday soon, Mom, I’ll join you and we’ll sing them together.