This is a picture of Ruth Detweiler in the 8th grade, a picture that turned up not too long ago. Mother to Conrad, Jonathan, Grace, Linford, Frances & Myron Ė and eventually our spouses too. But also to other young folks and couples who wandered through her door from time to time.
The first thing I will mention is the food. Good food feels a lot like love. Our family never had a lot of money, but we ate well. My parents grew a lot of their own food, but it was my mother who often had us out picking blackberries, or dandelion greens, or choke cherries, or june berries, or elderberries, or apples Ė if there was something fresh and edible growing wild nearby, we ate it. (My older brothers provided the venison.) Many times, driving through a neighborhood, my mother would spot a fruit tree in someoneís yard Ė an apple tree, or plum tree, or cherry tree. If there was fruit lying on the ground beneath the tree, my mother would instruct the driver to pull over. She got out of the car, knocked on the front door, and asked the owner if we could come back and harvest the bounty at a time convenient for them. I donít recall anyone ever turning her down. It was a good feeling as a child to be rousted out of bed on a Saturday morning, put into a sibling assembly line, and by mid-afternoon, see 70 quarts of homemade applesauce gleaming in jars on the kitchen counter.
Because of my vocation, which requires so much travel, Iíve had the privilege of eating in many fine restaurants around the world. It has become humorous to Karin and I how many times Iíll see something on an expensive menu that my mother made in her own kitchen. I canít tell you how many times Iíve said Ė in Paris, or Seattle, or Tokyo, or Wellington, or NYC Ė wow, this Ė fill in the blank Ė is almost as good as my Momís. The last time was last week Ė a beautiful salad in Little Rock that was garnished with pickled beets. They were almost as good as my motherís.
The second thing I will mention is music. As a young child, my mother wanted a piano, but no piano was forthcoming. She made herself a cardboard keyboard Ė with keys cut with a scissors and colored black and white. As a child, my mother would sit and play her cardboard keyboard in her bedroom, hearing only the imagined music inside of her.
When I was a child, we got a real piano, and my mother let me get out of washing dishes if I would sit at the piano, open the hymnbook and play for her while she did the washing up. She would hum along in her high soprano, and I always tried to find a hymn that she didnít know, just to see if I could. I donít ever recall finding one she didnít know.
My mother is 83 years old now, and still rises at about 6am. When I visit her, the first sound I usually here waking up in the morning, is her singing softly to herself in the kitchen, the aroma of breakfast beginning to bloom.
A few years ago, I was going through an especially dark time, and I asked my mother what she did when things got dark. She replied, I sing. I began trying that too, and now a few years later, I find myself singing more. I hadnít made the connection that she may have played a part in me beginning to sing more. (My wife had been gently nudging me in that direction for years.)
My mother is also one of the most quotable people Iíve ever met. She told us that when we drove, she would pray that angels would watch over us, but if we drove over the speed limit, the angels couldnít keep up, and we were on our own at that point. Like the poet Mary Oliver, my mother convinced me that each new morning was a miracle: miss a sunrise and you miss something significant, transcendent. Iíve missed so many Ė how did I become a night owl?
I think a holiday like Motherís Day is not about praising perfect people. Itís about remembering our particular people Ė all of whom had or have something to teach us. A few things off the top of my head that my mother taught me: eat well, sing, say something memorable if you have the talent to do so, and treat your life like the gift that it is. Thereís more, but Iíll have to write the book. LJD