Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mother's Love

~Published in the Charleston Gazette - Sunday, May 9, 2010~ 

"Some are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same.” ~Pearl S. Buck

“Pretty is as pretty does.”
“Little girls are supposed to be seen and not heard.” 
“Tell the truth and you may not be punished; tell a lie and it’s certain you will be!” 
“Always respect your elders.”
These are just a few of the guidelines I, an only child, received from my mother long before I knew what all of them meant.

My mother was a strict disciplinarian. I was afraid of her. My dad, on the other hand, was tolerant and easy going. He laughed often – and I adored him!  It took me a lifetime to realize I loved my mother, too. Though I grieve for the lost time, I’m grateful I found out before it was too late!

When I was a child, not many women worked outside the home, especially mothers, but mine did. It’s quite possible I was the original “latchkey” kid. I longed to come home from school and find my mother in the kitchen baking cookies or fixing dinner – as my friends' mothers did – but I arrived to a lonely, messy house instead, and it was my job to get everything in order and start dinner before my mother got there. I considered this unfair and was convinced she didn’t love me.

On Saturdays, I had to help clean house and do laundry. However, if I did my chores to my mother’s satisfaction, I could go to an afternoon movie with my best friend, Carol. We so enjoyed sitting there together watching a movie and munching on buttered popcorn that we often stayed for the second showing. Sunday was church day. After lunch, I’d either go for a walk with Carol or spend the afternoon reading – my favorite pastime. Sundays passed quickly and Monday morning came much too soon!

Sometimes, after school, I’d get my work done fast and venture outside to have some fun. I remember one day, in particular, when I disobeyed one of my mother’s rules and learned a hard lesson. We had a large apple tree in our back yard that I loved to climb. But climbing trees was strictly forbidden! “You could fall and break your neck!” Mother warned. “And besides, it’s just not ladylike!"

 “Just this once.” I told myself. “She’ll never know.” So I scrambled up the tree, grabbing an apple on the way and chose a sturdy limb to sit on. As I sat there, legs dangling about seven feet off the ground, chomping my juicy apple, I felt as free as a bird – and was confident my mother would never find out!

When she got home, I was in the kitchen, as usual. The look on her face told me something was wrong. “What were you doing in the apple tree, today?” She asked in a stern voice.  Stammering, I said, “I wasn’t!”

“Don’t lie to me, young lady!” she said, shaking her finger in my face. “What have I always told you?” 

“If I tell the truth, I won’t get punished, but I will if I lie,” I said tearfully. When she went outside, I knew what was coming next. Returning with a peach tree switch, she quickly stripped it of its leaves, switched my bare legs until they were red and sent me to my room, sobbing.

Afterward, when I asked how she knew what I’d done, she said, “A little bird told me.” I later learned that the “little bird” was a neighbor Mother had enlisted to watch from her windows and report to her if she saw me breaking any rules.

She punished me many times after that, but I now understand that I may have turned out differently if she hadn't. God doesn’t make mistakes! He gave me a strong will, and then blessed me with a mother who would temper it. Just as He uses adversity to refine us and make us stronger, my mother combined just the right mix of nurturing and discipline to shape my character.

After my father died, at 63, she lived twenty-five years, never remarrying. As she aged and began to suffer from ill health, I became the mother and she, the child. She depended on me for everything and wouldn’t make a single decision without consulting me.

We enjoyed many hours together in those last months while I cared for her at home or sat by her bedside at hospitals. Intimate conversations revealed a softer side I’d never seen, and I began to realize that this woman I'd feared all my life actually loved me very much. Why else would she have spent so much time and energy trying to make me into a worthy person? 

Just before she died, she looked into my eyes and said, “You’re an angel!”  Bending over, I kissed her forehead and said, “I love you, Mother.” And meant it!

This story also appears in my book, Somewhere in Heaven My Mother is Smiling~


  1. It shows tha you loved your mother even if she was strict. I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Great story Peg. I could read stories like this all day. You're the best storyteller I know.