For nearly the whole of my life, when I realized it and when I didn’t, I was witness to a great love story.
In that story, my mother was fixed solidly at center stage. Her partner of nearly seven decades played an important role, and in the final years of her life he played THE most important role. Her sons and their wives, and their children and their grandchildren, also played key parts. But make no mistake, mom was the star of this story, THE central character in a narrative that spanned time and generations, and exemplified sacrifice and suffering, laughter and joy and the blessings that come from loving and being loved.
And love she did. She loved gently and quietly. She loved honestly and sometimes urgently. She loved us when we deserved it, and, certainly in my case, even when we thought we didn’t. Here’s the simplest of truths: for those of us gathered here today, she was our sun, and we, for all these years, were the lucky few, privileged to be able to warm ourselves in her light.
Each of us has his or her own stories to tell about our time in that light, and I’ve obviously been thinking about that quite a bit these past few weeks. Here’s my take: my mother was my champion and my guide, my caretaker and defender, THE person primarily responsible for the arc and trajectory of my life.
On her watch I learned to read and spell and escape, without judgment, into a complex of imaginary worlds, each of which enriched my childhood and expanded my possibilities. She followed me to grade school, keeping close watch over me in her work as a teacher’s aid. My brothers will say that as the youngest, the baby in the family, this proves that I was spoiled, and there is no doubt they are right.
When in second grade I came home embarrassed because I was the only one in class who couldn’t tell time, my mom sat me down and taught me how to do so overnight. In fourth grade, when I joined the school chorus and then wanted to quit when no other boys joined, my mom forced me to stick with it, telling me that in this family we finish what we start.
Some who didn’t know her well might think her meek, but I actually feel sorry for the assistant high school principal who in my freshman year wanted to keep me in bonehead math instead of Algebra I. He changed his tune once my mom marched into his office and demanded a change be made. That single act, perhaps more than any other, launched me into college and then into the careers that I grew to love, and that to this day define me in the most fundamental ways. Think my mother meek? I pity anyone who ever tried taking her purse from her – she held onto that thing like an NFL running back hugging a football on a touchdown drive in the Superbowl.
She would have loved that the Rams won the Superbowl. She would have loved that people wore red in her honor today. She would have loved that her family came together on this day, and that it was because of her they did so, though if we had truly been listening to her most of us would have been late to this service as we were constantly warned NOT to drive over 55 mph.
That’s my mom, and she belongs to me, and to all us of here, in deep, resonating memory. And with that being true, I can’t even imagine what those memories are like for my dad, who met his teenage sweetheart on a February day at the fair, and who married her two Februarys later, and who made a life with her, and children with her, and in the end tied her shoes and combed her hair and cooked for her and cared for her every need, and made sure – in fact, made it his life’s work – that she lived out every one of her days, up to her last, in the home that she loved.
I told you it was a great love story, and this one ends, as all love stories must, with tears and reluctant goodbyes. Without Josephine, Vincent, and the rest of us, are simply trying to figure out what to do next, and what’s hardest about that is that the things that make us so sad these days are all the things my mom loved so much, simple things that are important to hold onto, the things that even in these heart-wrenching times will help keep us afloat.
Wind chimes and prickly cactus and wild birds. Lighted gardens and golden sunsets and Little League World Series baseball. The rustic tales of Little House on the Prairie and the challenges of Word Search Puzzles and the crazy rollercoaster love stories that fuel Telenovelas. The aroma of candles and the staccato rhythm of Rancheras and the silliness and laughter that pour out of those she loved.
These words are in memory of my mother, who from this day forward will live through us all. These words are in honor of my mother who has always held us together, and who always will.