I lost my mom at an early age.
What I've found in her absence are the many gifts she left behind for me.
She nurtured my love for reading pretty early on. One of my greatest feelings growing up was when I would hear that my mom had told someone how she discovered I knew how to read at the age of four. She would read the comics in the morning paper to me religiously; every day without fail. But there was one day when she was busy with something else, and I was impatient and wanted her to read the "funnies" to me -- now. She got tired of telling me she'd do it in a little while and instead said, "Why don't you read them to me instead?"
And so I did.
She also fed my love for sports -- baseball, in her case. This was the "El Birdos" era of the Cardinals, announced to us on KMOX by Harry Caray and Jack Buck. She loved Harry, and it was a sad day in our house (You do know the phrase, "When Momma's happy, everybody's happy"?) when the Cardinals fired him. Yes, Mom was a baseball fan; her son learned to like Bob Gibson, Tim McCarver, Mike Shannon, Lou Brock, et. al., by listening to the radio at her feet on summer afternoons. I still have a memory of Mom going to a Cardinals game and being upset I couldn't go -- but she did bring home a scorecard from that game. I still have it. I've been able to determine that she went to Gibby's first home start after breaking his leg in 1967. She told me how exciting it was to see him pitch that night, and if I close my eyes I can feel the electricity in the park that night.
I can remember walking home with Mom from Thrifty Drug in Upper Alton, hurriedly opening the new packs of baseball cards she bought for me. That collection mushroomed by thousands over the years, much to my father's consternation, but he didn't pitch them, though he threatened to on more than a few occasions.
Mom also gave me a love of music. She had a collection of record albums she would put on the phonograph and I would perk up when a Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass record came on. Another fire was lit. I pantomimed being in his band, playing the trumpet right along with the record, and she would clap for me when a song was over. I got a letter from her during one of her hospital stays, and she wrote that she had arranged for me to go see Herb & The Brass at the Muny Opera (Okay, she probably nudged my dad to take care of it but as a kid, I took that "arranged" very literally -- SHE did it.), and I think I stunned the people sitting around us -- or nerd-ed them out? -- by identifying every song they played and the album it was on. I couldn't wait until I could play the trumpet in fifth grade, and the love for horns, and many other musical genres came about because of my mother. She had passed a few years before, and maybe Dr. Freud would diagnose that as a way for me to be close to the person I couldn't anymore.
I leafed through some pictures today, and so much of her came rushing back to me -- how much she loved being involved with Alton Little Theater, our adventures walking to catch the bus (she never learned to drive) and going downtown to get her hair done (and maybe, if I was particularly good, my aunt would meet us and drive us to Honke Pharmacy for a hamburger and a Coke), playing Whiffle Ball in our backyard, going to Haskell Park so I could play on the old fire engine, her giving me brown sugar whenever I would get the hiccups, the "blueberry" birthday cake she whipped up at my request (Blueberry? Whoever heard of a seven-year-old wanting a blueberry cake?), buzzing around her in the kitchen while she would make dinner, and most importantly, the feeling she gave me of being loved and significant -- as the best mothers all do for their kids.
I miss that feeling, and I sure took it for granted until it was gone.
Maybe it was the times, but back then a young boy wasn't allowed to go into a hospital room, even to see a parent -- the patient had to come out to a visiting area. And so it was that my mom left this world, and she and her only child never got to say goodbye.
It took a long time for me to realize just how much that affected me.
My dad did a great job as a single parent, a job that went from solid to great in my eyes as I got older and "wiser", but there is an unmistakable void that the parent that's gone leaves behind. My dad wasn't ever a sports fan, he was much more quiet and reserved than my mom, and heck -- he was doing what he felt he had to do to keep us afloat. I had loving aunts and uncles and a grandmother who pitched in and looked after me, and I am forever grateful for what they brought to my life, but I often sit in solitude and think about how different my life would have been if Mom had survived.
And then I pick up and go on.
She would have turned eighty this year; not unthinkable that she would have lived that long had it not been for cancer. But she does live on; she made sure she left me with all those memories and smiles and the warmth of her hugs. And though I don't remember the words, I remember how she used to recite a poem someone wrote about Harry Caray in his days with the Cardinals; her voice would always rise to the finish, and then she would cap it off with a rousing "Ho-lee Cow!" It's that crescendo of joy in her voice that I picture today, her joy for life, and how loved she made me feel. It was no coincidence that her name was Joy.
I know it's trite to make sure you tell your mother you love them on Mother's Day; but that hits especially close to home for me on this day. I'm a sensitive-enough chap that I believe in telling those you really care about that you love them -- and as often as possible. You just never know. And I reach out to any parent and child who may be at odds or out of touch; please don't wait for the other one to act -- Fix it! What greater reason overpowers love enough to rightly keep a parent and child apart? Life is too short, but as long as you both are alive there is still time. And isn't there enough regret in this world already?
I love you, Mom.
Until next time....