Today, May 22, 2020, marks my mother’s 90th birthday. I would like to seize this opportunity to honor and recognize Margaret Muriel Evans O’Kelley as one of the greatest blessings God has given me. Consider it an extension of Mother’s Day, if you like. Turning 90 years old, a decade short of a century prompts reflection in me of her life and how it has been lived. Secretly, one of the things that make me sad when attending funerals is how family and friends gush over the loss of their loved one with kind and gracious remarks causing me to wonder if they ever bothered to tell them while they were alive. Many years ago I heard a preacher emphasize that very point. It played my heartstrings so loud that I ended up writing a letter to the Minister of Music and Youth at my hometown church thanking him for his strong positive influence during my adolescence. I spared no words and hid behind no embarrassment to let him know how I felt.
Back to mother. She thinks she endorsed the classic “middle child syndrome” in her child-rearing years by overlooking me to grant privileges and responsibilities to my older sister of four years and to dole out indulgences to my younger sister of one year. I never felt that way at all. Hmmm . . . Let’s back the bus up a second – maybe I did wear more hand-me-down’s than my sisters but hey, Mother couldn’t help that my cousin and I were close to the same size. Could she? Nevertheless, I didn’t have the heart to let her believe I suffered from any amount of neglect so I nipped that in the bud years ago. Funny, now I find myself being the only child that sprouted grand-dogs rather than grandchildren! Wonder if there’s a syndrome for that. Moving on . . .
Mother’s 90 years have been filled with love, heartache, joy, pain, war, death, travel, teaching, bridge-playing, pets, caretaking, camping, cooking, and family celebrations. Lots of family celebrations. As the years have trolled by, she has become our family matriarch with each gathering centered around her. Great grandkids and grands know her as Grandy and love talking and visiting with her.
One thing I appreciate about my mother is that she has willingly accepted her transition from parent to grandparent and now back to “child” as she allows us, her three daughters, to tell her what to do, how to do it, and when to do it – only as needed. Life is easier that way and she understands we make decisions with her best interest in mind. In her defense, she still lives independently and alone in her own home so who knows for sure what happens when no one is around!
Mother would qualify as having been an abusive parent today because she had absolutely no qualms about taking out her little red belt to either threaten us with a 1-2-3 countdown or to actually use it. She didn’t use it often but we knew it was there. Sometimes we would have to go get the belt for her. That was rough, but guess what? It worked! We all turned out pretty good eggs with intact psyches.
Mother or Mama, as we called her growing up, let us kids make our own decisions. Perhaps she guided in ways unbeknownst to us but we made our own friends, chose our own hobbies, played our own sports, built our own neighborhood forts, did our own homework, set our own schedules (as long as we were home for suppertime), dated who we wanted, and decided when to become Christians. A few things were non-negotiable – church, tithing, school, chores, integrity, college, and marriage after college (unspoken but understood). Mother and Daddy provided each of us with a car to drive (albeit nothing to brag about), decent clothes to wear though never trendy, and exciting summer vacations usually in a camper. We picked our own colleges fully funded by Mother and Daddy, pursued our own educational dreams, and advanced in our chosen career paths. The three of us ventured in different directions but none of us ever felt coerced. We lived simple, happy lives through humble means. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I loved my childhood. I loved and respected my parents even through my teenage years.
My mother has lived alone now for 18 years ever since my Daddy died from a heart attack in his sleep. It took about two years for her to finally remove his clothes he had hung on the coat rack before going to bed that unexpected night. I didn’t say a word when I noticed they were gone. How wonderful they were allowed to celebrate their 50th anniversary at my sister’s new house just months before Daddy died. So many friends from years past came to wish them congratulations. Even better, the entire family had gathered in that same house to celebrate my sister’s birthday just two days before his untimely death. We didn’t know our goodnight hugs would be goodbye hugs. But that is often the case, isn’t it?
Mother’s grief was tempered with God’s amazing grace. She knew God had orchestrated Daddy’s perfect passing to be in His perfect time. We all did. Mother lived in the same house for another three years until she built a spacious garden home on the other side of town – a place she feels is her own now but a place that “Daddy would have loved.” With some hesitation, she enjoys the fruits of Daddy’s labors through all of his investments and financial savings. However, I still have a hard time convincing her it’s okay to buy full price name brand grocery items at the grocery store rather than going to the Dollar Tree. Frugal mentality from the Depression-era plus rearing a family of five on meager earnings will never disappear, I’m afraid.
There’s no telling how many thousands of lessons and presentations my mother has given: business/typing lessons to students, mission reports at church, study clubs, book clubs, Sunday School lessons, devotionals, and more. Just recently I learned she was a substitute show host for a radio station way back when! Wow! She is still a great speaker and was recently interviewed by a local TV station concerning her travels around the world. I helped her assemble representative items from some countries. We counted over 30 countries she visited. One of those countries was India when I enticed her to go with me on a mission trip twice in her late 70’s and early 80’s. As you may have read in a previous blog, her most recent trip was to Norway earlier this year to see the Northern Lights. That completed her bucket list.
If you have not already surmised by now, my mother is an incredible woman. She doesn’t look her age and her health, up until the last few years, has been remarkable. She still teaches her beloved Sunday School class (one of the largest in the church) and plays bridge at least twice a week. She’s a jigsaw puzzle fiend and an avid reader knocking out a 600-page book in a few days. God has undoubtedly blessed her, and I am grateful He chose to bless me through her.
Thank you for your indulgence. I hope this blog has spurred memories of your own mother that make you smile. Please scroll down and share with me a sweet “Mama memory” of your own.