The world would kick the beam

As far as I know, this is the only photo of Mama with me as a baby, taken early 1957.

As far as I know, this is the only photo of Mama with me as a baby, taken early 1957.

“If the whole world were put into one scale, and my mother in the other, the whole world would kick the beam.” Henry Bickersteth, Lord Langdale

Even after I became a mother, I have never liked Mother’s Day.  It seems to me an artificially contrived and ultimately inadequate invention designed primarily to sell cards and flowers, and in some cases, to assuage an adult child’s guilty conscience.  Nonetheless, I do find myself thinking of my own mother each year on this day, and feeling at a loss for words to describe what her presence has meant in my life.

Perhaps I dislike Mother’s Day mostly because none of the sentimental, flowery tributes commonly sold at this time of year ever seemed an appropriate homage to my mother, who was and is a formidable woman.  Her blunt practicality and unfailing generosity are equal to her iron will and undaunted courage in the face of adversity.  She has never been the longsuffering, quiet, kind and gentle saint portrayed by so many of the maudlin descriptions of motherhood. More than anyone I know, she embodies the truth that tough love is, in many cases, the most beneficial sort.

Yet just when she seems most intimidating, a whimsical humor will break through and leave us laughing.  She is still the one I run to when hit with unexpected sorrow or hardship.  Somehow, nothing seems quite as impossible after I’ve talked to Mom about it.  She’s been through more than most of us can imagine, but always managed to outpace almost anyone I knew.

She survived poverty and polio as a very young child, and has lived almost her entire life with only one “good” leg, but she never allowed that to slow her down. She had four children in four different states within a period of ten years, my father’s career having demanded frequent moves.  When she was nearly killed by a drunk driver going 70 mph who rammed into the driver’s door of her car, no one knew if she could ever fully recover, but she soon was back to her unrelentingly busy schedule, caring for her children and working on various church and community efforts.

Years later, when she faced brain surgery for a hemorrhaging aneurysm shortly before our wedding in 1980, she stayed true to form, stoic in the knowledge that she might not survive.  Showing no fear and little emotion of any kind, she reminded us that no matter what happened, we all should feel grateful that she had lived through the car crash and was able to care for us until we were all grown.  For as long as I can remember, she has given us a nearly flawless example of what it means to live in faith and trust that God will do what is best.  I know that example will be with me always.

So, with all due respect to those who celebrate this day, to the preachers who will preach their yearly sermon about mothers, and the restaurants that will be filled to overflowing, and the many fitting tributes of love and appreciation that will be shown today, let’s all admit that no day could ever be long enough, no tribute strong enough, to capture the gratitude so many of us feel for the amazing gifts our mothers have given us.  Happy Mother’s Day to all!

46 Comments

  1. What a precious photo. Yes, stoic is the word, isn’t it? This attribute has eroded sometime in the recent generations.

    You echo my closing thoughts in this piece about the Invisible Woman:

    http://aholisticjourney.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/the-invisible-woman-who-whipped-her-son/

    • Thanks so much for visiting here, and for your comments! I can’t wait to explore your blog more; in the very brief seconds I had to scan it (I’m in a bit of a rush just now) I saw many common threads. I have long felt that motherhood is the most emotionally dangerous job around, for a great many reasons. I appreciate the link, and your visit here!

      • Emotionally dangerous…..
        like that.

        • Thanks, its so true and that’s not a sentiment the Hallmark Card folks spend much time admitting.

  2. So beautiful I don’t even know how to comment! Thank you for the wonderful picture and for such an accurate, touching account of our mother and what she has been to us.
    Indeed….HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!

    BTW…You must get your “feelings” about this day from our Daddy. He says the same thing about Father’s Day, but never disparaged Mother’s Day!

    • Carla, thanks so much! Yes, I suppose I caught a bit of Daddy’s cynical attitude about Father’s Day, but it was so funny how he always said Mother’s Day was a genuine occasion. 🙂

      • I’m still looking at this blog entry, 🙂 and remembering how we always said you looked like the Gerber baby!!!

        • Yes, there was one black and white photo in our family album that really looked like the old Gerber label (that old label probably disappeared years ago). I had never seen this photo until just recently when I absconded– one of Daddy’s favorite words– with some of his old negatives from his Ikoflex camera, and scanned them. I’m so glad Daddy took photos. I only wish we had more of them.

  3. Chris and Carlos

    Long-time lurker, but have been enjoying your blog immensely! Printing out today’s entry for a certain “little” brother to enjoy! Take care!

    • Chris, I am so happy to have you and Carolos visit me here! I am glad you have been enjoying it. Yes, please do give this to the “little” brother; I know he will understand it in a way that few can! Thanks so much for being here, and for your comment!

  4. Yes, i too believe and so I pray that those who still have their Mother on earth will take every opportunity to express their gratitude and honor their Mothers. You & yours are in my heart and prayers this day of the LORD. Phil. 4: 5,6. IJN. amen.

    • Kate, thanks so much! YES, those of us who still have our mothers with us are feeling very grateful today! As always, I appreciate your prayers and your visits here.

  5. This Pic is a Jewel, Julia.

    • Thanks so much, Harshit! I’m so happy to have you visit us here. Hope you are doing well and finished with the exams for now.

      • Interesting that Harshit calls the pic a Jewel…since that was Granny’s name!!!

        • Yes, and what an appropriate name for her it was!

  6. Lani

    Julia, I really enjoyed this memory of your mother. I vaguely remember many of those events, but never really understood ALL of them. Wow. You really do have some great DNA!! No wonder that you stand firm through such adversity – what a great model you had to follow. I look forward to seeing you again one of these days. (My daughter is coming to D.C. with her husband in a few weeks – I think this is a good time of year to come, but not possible for me to come with them this time, although I wish I could!!) I do read your blogs everyday and they are really wonderful. I hope you compile them in a book someday – a devotional of sorts. It would be well received, in my opinion. Thanks for your perspective.

    • Lani, thanks so much for your kind words. I really do hope you will come to DC sometime (and/or the “historic triangle” or Virginia Beach, both of which are close to our other home) – there is so much to see and do, and I would LOVE the chance to spend time with you again! Your parents were such steadfast friends to my parents and help us survive all these bumps in the road. I’m so happy to know you are reading and enjoying my blog! Thanks for being here!

    • Can’t resist saying hi, Lani!! Hope you are faring well! We still love your family very much.

      • Yes, as I told Lani awhile back, many of my favorite memories include her family. Lots of home-made ice cream, too! 🙂

        • Lani

          Well, HELLO Carla!!! Yes……..we did spend a lot of time together, didn’t we? So glad to hear from you and yes, ice cream and swimming. Would be fun even today!! Thank you for saying hi. Good to hear from you.

  7. Ryan

    I respect this blog entry far more than the drivel I experienced in place of a meaningful service to God this morning. Far too many preachers feel obligated to offer their sermons to this Hallmark Holiday when the actual Holy-Day belongs to The Lord. In spite of this, I thank you for your tribute to our family Matriarch. Happy Mothers Day to you!

    • Ryan, one of the things I like best about our preacher here in Newport News is that he has not (as far as I know) ever done a “Mother’s Day” sermon. We generally have a small presentation before church where the children say a few short words that are far more meaningful and definitely more cute (lots of “awwwws” in the audience), but it doesn’t turn into a sappy repetition that bores some and offends others. I’ve always been keenly aware of what a hard day Mother’s Day is for many women who have longed for children or lost them. Although I know there are many who don’t share our view, I agree with you that church is for worship and motherhood does not qualify one for that level of admiration. (And don’t even get me started on the old “hymn” called “Precious Memories.”) 🙂

    • Well, George had a “Mother’s Day” sermon this morning…about Eve, Sarah, and Mary!!! It was excellent if I do say so myself! I do agree with you both totally!
      Love you all!

      • I have never heard George get sappy though, so his would be quite different. We were at church in Marseille for the French observation of Mother’s Day (slightly later than ours) and the preacher there chose to preach on the question of Jesus: “Who is my mother?” and the answers he gave to that. Fitting, I thought. At the end of the talk he explained that in the church, “we have many mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.” That was a Mother’s Day sermon I liked.

  8. Carlyle

    Julia,
    All the attributes you ascribe to your mother can make for a less than even relationship with a husband of 64 years. I appreciate that your blog served to remind me of the very real and remarkable qualities that I tend to overlook or forget in the day to day grind. I am glad that you, and hopefully your brothers and sister, hold on to those memories long after we have moved on. I cannot express my appreciation enough for your expressive skill. Thank you!

    • Thanks so much Daddy, and I appreciate your honesty in sharing that such attributes do come with challenges. But even there, we have grown up seeing a very real example of what a lasting marriage is like, and here again, it bears little resemblance to the overly sentimental “hearts and flowers” lingo of Valentine’s Day. As our friend Ashleigh Brilliant has said of his own enduring marriage to Dorothy, “The secret of our wonderful relationship is that, much of the time, it’s not really so wonderful.” As far as my verbal expression goes, most of what I learned about that I learned from you. Your appreciation of good literature, lively conversation and just a touch of your father’s flair for drama have given all your kids a proclivity for verbal interaction. Whatever else could be said of our family (and admittedly quite a bit of it would not be flattering) no one could accuse us of not communicating enough! 🙂

  9. Sheila

    Julia, what a lovely lady your Mom must be. You certainly are a reflection of fine parents! I hope you’ve had a nice Mother’s Day. Sheila

    • Thanks Sheila, she’s one of a kind, that’s for sure. I appreciate your kind words. I do love my parents and feel very fortunate to still have both of them here for us. I did have a nice Mother’s Day and hope you did too!

  10. Beautiful photo. Truth in the sentiment. There are not enough words or skill to describe the work and worth of mother’s everywhere. Hope you have a great day today and everyday.

    • Thanks Amy, same to you. I am so glad we shared our preschool children’s years. Lots of fun memories there for sure.

  11. I adore this picture! The emotions captured, the light..perfect!

    Your mother is an inspiration, Julia.

    • Thank you! I just visited your blog and saw your stunning photos, so I’m very honored that you like this one. My father was pretty good with a camera although it was just one of many hobbies for him. Yes, our mother is an inspiring person. One story I didn’t tell about her (because I only heard it third hand) is how in high school she insisted on trying out for marching band despite her bad leg, and the kind teacher who tried to talk her out of it, fearing she would only be disappointed when she didn’t make it. Not only did she earn a spot in the school band; she went on to make All-State band too! “Can’t” is a word that was never in her vocabulary. Thanks for being here!

  12. Seeing the picture first I thought the post is about some advertisement. You look so cute!
    What a lovely tribute to your mother! The mothers of the previous generation were tougher and they endured a lot. It’s amazing how they managed it all. The post has touched me deeply.

    • Thanks so much Bindu! Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself I think of the incredibly strong women of past generations; it sounds corny but they do give us something to live up to, I think. Motherhood, as I am fond of telling new mothers, is “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” I appreciate your kind words and visits here! Hoping and praying all is well in your world.

  13. Rene

    Just saw this on FB. The friend who posted it has a sadly hysterical Mother’s Day story—let’s just say it concludes with her husband telling her son, “We’re going to keep doing Mother’s Day until you get it right.”

    http://bethwoolsey.com/2014/05/mothers-day-may-suck-but-its-not-our-fault-yay/

    • Rene, thanks for the link, I really liked that page. I think of how often life can be described as “sadly hysterical” – at least a little comic relief slips in that way! I love the concluding quote from the Dad. That will be a funny family story for years to come.

  14. Rene

    The photograph of you is adorable by the way. I love pictures of laughing babies!

    • Thank you Rene! Matt was quite a laughing baby and now our grandson Grady is a real giggler too, so maybe something about it is genetic. 😀 I appreciate the compliment.

  15. Constance W Reed

    Julia, what a wonderful tribute to your mother. This tribute speaks truth about any of our mothers. I am so sorry that you have lost yet another LOVED one. Please know my prayers are with you and you family.

    • Thank you, Connie. I am thankful for the memories of the wonderful example set by both our mothers, and so many others of their generation who have dedicated their lives to making our lives better. Thanks for being here! I appreciate your prayers and have a fond place in my heart for you always.

  16. A lovely tribute to share again, Julia. I can see that I was a visitor then and never commented and I guess by now I’ve shared why. Perhaps you inherited her strength and no doubt so many more qualities too. Thank you for sharing a little of your mama here xox

    • K, you’re welcome. Our relationships with our Mothers are such complicated things! I think that’s why I instantly fell for Amy Tan’s novels. People have often told me I was like my mother, and though there were times when that was NOT said as a compliment, usually it was, and in any case, I have always taken it as one. Thanks for reading and sharing my tribute to her here.

  17. Mike

    Beautiful picture. From the side view she looks a lot like Natalie Wood to me.

    • Thank Mike. I never thought about it but in that photo I can see a little of what you mean. When I was a child I always thought she looked a lot like Barbara Bain – especially in photos like this one.

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