Mother’s Day will have passed by the time I finish writing this, but I’ve spent all day trying to come up with the right words.
I write a lot about my dad’s side of the family. I know a lot about them, but my mother was an extremely private person who never said much about herself. The week before she died, she hinted that some of her people may have been moonshiners. I don’t know if it’s true, but it makes for a good story. My mom liked a good story.
She was one of nine children, the oldest girl, and spent most of her life taking care of other people. I know she was proud of her siblings. She talked quite a bit about her twin brothers. Being the oldest, she probably had to keep them in line, and from what she said, they were a handful. She said she remembered them riding their tricycles in the house in the middle of the night.
She and her brothers and sisters attended a small one-room school near Shady Grove. The twins tormented the poor teacher by throwing firecrackers in the potbelly stove. Just as the teacher prepared to stoke the fire, the firecrackers exploded and just about scared her to death. They boys escaped punishment by climbing out the window.
My mom was never that mischievous although I remember her telling me stories about the Bell Witch. My maiden name is Bell, and those stores were passed down through the other side of my family. My greatest fear was that Old Kate, another name for the Bell Witch, would visit me at night and yank the covers off my bed as she had done to poor Betsy Bell. Old Kate also had a habit of knocking on the walls. My bedroom was on the other side of my parents’, and sometimes after telling me a story about the Bell Witch, my mom would knock on the wall and then giggle. I usually ended up sleeping between them that night.
When she and my dad were dating, my dad’s younger brother went along with them and sat in the backseat. It was my mom’s idea to put him out of the car at the graveyard and make him walk home by himself.
At least I know where my mischief comes from.
My mother was overly cautious and fearful to the point of making me fearful of just about everything. But that was just her way. She knew all about spider bites and worm bites and bee stings and a myriad other things. All of my aunts and uncles on my dad’s side of the family used to call her up for advice about everything. She knew everything. She really did.
Her strongest advice to me ever was, “Actions speak louder than words.” She was right. People may say one thing, but you can always tell a lot about people’s character and true motivations by what they do. Now that I’m older that advice means so much more to me.
My mom was smart. She never went to college, but she could fix anything. She could make anything work. She understood how anything worked.
And she was super neat. After I was born, she never worked outside the home, but she never let up a bit working at keeping her house in top-notch order. She hung every item in the closet perfectly straight with the hangers a uniform distance from each other. Her refrigerator was spotless, and so were her floors.
When she packed my lunches for field trips, she wrapped my sandwiches in wax paper and then wrapped them again in aluminum foil, folded to perfection. The bag was so heavy with goodies—she didn’t want me to go hungry—that it almost overflowed.
Everything she did was to perfection—and beyond.
I guess that’s why I’m a perfectionist. But I’m working on loosening up. (I still like things organized and neat and clean. I get distressed when they’re not.)
Above all, I’ve always wanted to make my mom proud. I think I did. She kept a scrapbook of all my awards and accomplishments from grade school up, my perfect attendance certificates, newspaper clippings from the math contests I attended, my softball pictures and trophies, and all the things I’ve had published, especially my Chicken Soup for the Soul story. I think she liked that one the best. She always supported my writing.
I hope I made her proud.
Happy Mother’s Day.