Mother celebrated her 89th birthday a fortnight before Mother’s Day. Her little hands look a tad on the frail side now. Her eyes don’t see like they use to. Her legs are not as strong. Her ears don’t catch everything. Her hair is pure silver.
“My mind, son,” she can still grin, and does, about it “and the rest of me is not what it used to be!”
But, oh, let me tell you, there was a time…
Those hands were strong and supple. I’ve seen them roll out biscuit dough with practiced ease. I’ve seen ‘em turn that stubborn crank on an old wringer washer and force the buttons through. I’ve had them pull Leon, thankfully, off of me. I’ve felt the strength of them on my backside because I forgot to say “please” or “thank you.” I’ve witnessed the gentleness in them as they picked tiny shards of rocks out of a busted knee. I’ve seen one slip into an old Frank Bolling Spalding and the other grab a baseball when there was absolutely no one else to pitch with. I’ve seen them clap uncontrollably simple because me, Leon or David Mark was in the game. I had them gently rub my stomach ‘til the pain went away. And I can’t count the times I’ve seen them clasped in prayer over some need in the family (usually Leon), church (budget) or community (one of them Cunningham boys).
Let me tell you about those sparkling brown eyes! They could pick out the “just right” Christmas tree from 50 yards away. If you’d just done something “almost good” I’ve seen them glistening with pride. They could look at you and somehow know the way you were telling it might not be just exactly how it happened. They could get plumb down inside you at times. They were the first thing you noticed if you crossed the line. But my favorite part was, late in the evening, when everyone was about asleep, I’d crawl in bed beside her with my favorite Childcraft book. Through her eyes the world of Mother Goose, Peas Porridge Hot, Little Boy Blue, Humpty Dumpty and a myriad of wonderful stories jumped into my little head.
Folks, memories don’t come any better than those.
Let me tell you about the legs that shuffle along today. Me and Leon, David, Joe and Richard Gooch toped the little rise down past where George Sexton’s house would sit a few years later. This was the winter of 1954, maybe ’55. The last thing she said was, “Don’t you boys go near that frozen pond.” It was dangerous.
David was the lightest, so we sent him out to see if the ice would hold. It didn’t. He fell through and except for some quick thinking from Leon, we might have lost him. His pants were frozen to him and his lips were a solid blue by the time we covered the half mile back to the ridge.
It was a good 100 yards on a gentle slope from the house to the little rise we were helping David up. We were not even fully up the hill when I saw the back door fly open. I don’t know ‘til this day how she knew we had problems. Shoot, we came back home that way nearly every day. Mother leaped off the back porch and sprinted down to us. I’m telling you, Jesse Owens couldn’t have caught her. She swooped David up in her arms and sprinted back to the house. She soaked and rubbed David’s legs for hours. She poured hot chocolate down him. I never once saw her tend to the snow still clinging to her own bare feet.
No matter how lightly I’d cry out with an aliment in the middle of the night Mom would be over me in a split second. She had super ears! If I whispered to David at supper that I’d get even with him before bedtime, she’d hear every word and thwart my plans. When I was a little late coming in from a date and tried to ease quietly in the back door she’d meet me coming down the hall, “Son, how was your date? Would you like something to eat?” You’d better come home straight and right, she’d hear you and get up; I don’t care how late it was!
Mother had the prettiest hair in church. When Brother Hatcher chased after those scriptural rabbits, we’d scope out the various hairdos. Mom won every time! It was soft, thick and dark. Funny thing, I don’t remember her especially caring for it, it just always fell right. Sometimes, as she read the adventures of the Bobsey Twins to me, I’d twist it through my fingers. There is comfort there that lasts a lifetime.
Mom was smarter than anybody in town. If you squeezed her just right she’d almost write your report for you. She was a walking encyclopedia on presidents, wars, the Great Depression, Houdini, the Scopes Trial, Ecclesiastes, hummingbirds, kite building, Shakespeare and clay modeling. She knew how to punch the hole just right so the air could get in and the lightening bugs couldn’t get out.
It doesn’t take an Einstein, then or now, to know that Leon, David and I got the luck of the draw.
You look closely today and you’ll see an older, tired, weaker lady with a slight stoop in her shoulders and a hesitation in her step. I don’t even notice. I see the greatest mother placed on earth this side of Ruth and Naomi, Lois and Unice...