This Mother’s Day, as I reflect on my mother and her legacy, I am astounded at how much I still miss her to this day, and frankly, how much I teared up while writing this tribute.
This will be the second Mother’s Day I will have to spend without her. It is still hard - I had her with me for 67 years and she was a big part of my life. She was always there for me - guiding me daily as a youngster. As I grew into manhood and physically with her less often, her life lessons and wisdom resonated with me more and more, even to this day.
Mother had an interesting but challenging life and this background influenced her to be the wonderful mom she was. Born on August 12, 1921 in eastern North Carolina, she was the youngest of four children. Her first challenge came early, as at the age of three, her father passed away.
Her next challenge came while in the first grade. At the end of school one day, Mother was told by the principal that she and her siblings were going to be living separately with foster parents. I can not imagine what she was feeling when that happened to her at such a tender age. But, good fortune prevailed and she was raised by very loving people who had two boys near her own age that became like brothers to her. Mother grew up on their farm during the Great Depression and worked hard to help the family make ends meet.
After graduating from high school, mother went to work in a shoe store in nearby Goldsboro. At the age of 20, a handsome man - some 24 years her senior - asked her for a date. After a year’s courtship, he “fast-talked” her into marrying him and they wed in 1942.
They started their marriage in the midst of World War II, when certain goods and gasoline were rationed, trying to make-it in a time of national hardship. It was very handy that Mother was raised to have a strong work ethic. They opened a small restaurant and filling station in Kenly, NC and in 1944. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Florida because of Dad’s health issues.
In her late 20’s, my parents bought 40 acres with a log cabin just north of Waldo, FL and they built a small restaurant and filling station. Because our family’s living quarters were attached to the restaurant, Mother was always there when we left in the morning for school and always there when we got off the school bus. It also meant she made sure that we were diligent about our chores and homework. We got a tremendous amount of Mother’s time, and although I didn’t fully appreciate it at that time, I am now so grateful for all the love and energy she gave me.
Between March 1944 and March 1948, my Mother gave birth to four babies: my sister, Sylvia, my brother, Jim , my brother John and me…..FOUR kids in FOUR years!
Despite having four children so closely together, she was always there doing ‘mom’ things for all of us. There were years in Waldo elementary school that we all volunteered Mother to be our homeroom mother. ALL during the same year! Mother always came thru with flying colors which made us very proud; we knew that we had such a devoted mom.
In addition to raising us and running a restaurant, she also volunteered for causes she was passionate about. Mother was a member of the Eastern Star and helped to raise funds to build the Waldo Masonic Lodge building. Once built, the Eastern Star met there and she participated in rummage sales, bake sales, fish frys, and other fundraising events. She served as an officer for many years and even served a term as President. Additionally, she taught Sunday School as well as served as Scout Mother.
Over the years, mother was a huge part of my success. For example, when I was in my 20’s, I purchased the contents of a clothing store in Hawkinsville, GA. Part of the deal was that I had to have everything out of the store within two weeks! I called Mother moments after making the purchase and she said, “I’ll be there tomorrow just as soon as I can drive up.” That was vintage Mother…. always at the beck and call of her children. The next morning, she went in to see her boss at Maas Brothers and told him she needed a couple of weeks off. And then drove up and ran the close-out sale. Because of her, the close-out sale was a financial success.
In 1975, I decided to develop a flea market on the property of my childhood home. And who better to run it than my Mother!
Shortly thereafter, Mother became the comptroller in my businesses. And, what a blessing! She not only did her job as comptroller, she did whatever needed doing - often things I was not even thinking about. Among other things, she ran food concessions at my auctions, stayed up late at night addressing mailers, managing the on site office…..whatever and whenever!!! THAT was Mother!! Mother has always been an integral part of my life; and I am grateful that I was blessed to have her as my mom. She was insightful, intelligent, a wise teacher, and I learned a tremendous amount from her counsel.
Mother loved the mountains of North Carolina. I often drove Mother to the mountains where she would spend the summers in a cabin in Etowah. If I got sleepy on the drive, she would take over. One time, when I awoke, she was driving about 90mph! I exclaimed, “Where’s the fire, Mother!?” She said, “I’m just trying to get to the mountains as quick as I can!”
In 2003, my mother was diagnosed with lymphoma and the doctors gave her only a few years to live. She did the typical chemo treatments, but after a grueling few months, she decided to stop them. Because they made her so sick, she decided that it was better to feel okay the last few years of her life -instead of sick with chemo. After she stopped chemo, she lived for a decade and until the end, she felt fairly well! She felt so well, in fact, that she was able travel to her beloved North Carolina for the summers.
During one of these trips four years ago, I purchased and installed a full size carousel at my market in Asheville. After learning what I was about to do, mother said she’d like to be the first rider. And I made sure she was! Once installed, I was delighted beyond measure that my then 91 year old mother jumped aboard, sat in one of the sleighs and invited me to join her on the maiden round. She loved it and I just wish she was still here on planet earth so I could take her for another round on the carousel.
Even at the end, she was teaching me great lessons. As she lay in her hospital bed, the doctor came in and asked, “Miss Sylvia, How do you feel?” Her answer: “With my fingers!” She was laughing at the end….all the way to heaven.
I miss you dearly Mema! YOU were THE BEST and always will be!! I LOVE YOU and ALWAYS WILL!