Each of us, as we pass through different stages of our lives, have many people who touch those lives in various ways — brothers and sisters, childhood friends, high school buddies, college pals, and, for many, military buddies and, eventually, those with whom we work.
Each of those people we meet along the way has an influence, one way or another, on the lives we live as adults.
I submit, however, that the single most influential person in everyone’s life is Mom.
That is not to snub Dad in any way, but Moms offer comfort that, somehow, Dads find difficult to give.
In many ways, my own Mother was called upon to fill both pairs of shoes. I was just 19 years old, the eldest of three children, when my Dad’s fragile heart finally stopped beating for the final time. That was more than a half-century ago, but his memory is still strong. My last real vivid memory of Dad was how proud he was to see me walk across the stage and receive my diploma at Waldorf College; it was just a two-year degree, but I’d become the first in my family to receive a college degree of any kind.
Two weeks after that event, my Dad suffered his last of several heart attacks. This one was fatal.
Mom was there to help pick up the pieces. Certainly, she grieved with us all, but she knew she somehow had to keep this family together.
Although I was the oldest, I couldn’t be much help. My own grief was so deep and long-lasting that I’m sure I was more a problem than a help for Mom.
“You’re not just going to sit around and do nothing,” she said to me one day in a voice that told me she meant what she said. “You either go out and get a job or go back to school.”
I knew what Mom said that day was more than just a suggestion.
I’d tried a third year of college, but dropped out after just six weeks. That was too soon after Dad’s death, I rationalized.
Sunday’s newspaper brought with it several pages of available jobs (it was like that 50 years ago) and I began scouring those pages looking for my golden opportunity. Urged on by my Mother, I finally found a small ad that caught my attention: “Wanted: Sports Writer. Contact Bob Brown, Sports Editor, Fort Dodge Messenger …”
My eyes agog, I said, “Mom, do you think I could do that?”
“Billy,” she said (she always called me Billy but I really didn’t like it), “You can do anything you put your mind to do.”
That was all I needed to hear. And it led to my first job in the newspaper field. In the years since then, I’ve had many occasions to think about everything else my Mother did for me and my brother and sister through the years.
When we had no money in the early 1950s, Mom just sat down at her sewing machine and created shirts and coats and various other items for Christmas — not only for three small children, but for an extended family and aunts, uncles and cousins, too.
When I wanted to be “Superman” or needed a chest protector to play catcher in baseball, she sewed those things, too. When my dad suffered his first heart attack at just 36 years old, my mother had never driven a car in her life. Her first job was at the old Abe’s Super Market in Ames; somehow, she got behind the wheel, said a prayer and drove up Highway 69 to work (a license to drive came a little later).
She saw to it, too, that the three of us kids somehow got to Fjeldberg Lutheran Church in Huxley each week for Sunday school. She’d drop us off, go back home, put chicken and potatoes and dumplings in the oven, drive back so that we could attend church together, then drive us home again to a wonderful Sunday dinner.
There was always just enough money for my brother and I to go to the State Fair, but not enough for Mom to go shopping for things she really needed. There was enough money for my brother and I to attend a “Three-I” League baseball game in Des Moines, but not enough for Mom to have a night for herself. There was always just enough money to stop for ice cream cones for three kids, but Mom passed (“No, you kids enjoy those; I don’t feel like ice cream today.”).
For several years, my brother and his two sons lived with Mom in Iowa Falls. Later, Mom moved in with my sister in Webster City.
I visited several times, but never enough to satisfy Mom. It was almost like a grand reunion when Judy and I spent time with Mom. Every time she knew we were coming, she’d bake my favorite “graham cracker pie” or she’d fix kumla, a real delicacy that I love … or she’d do something else to make me feel like the most special son in the world.
Through the years, I’m sure I never telephoned her enough, never took the time to visit and probably never said, “I love you, Mom” enough.
If I didn’t, I’m sorry.
If there is a place in Heaven for moms who were truly Saints on earth, I’m sure my Mother is there, doing what she did her whole life — looking out for others.
Mother’s Day is this Sunday. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about the woman born Lela Evelyn Knox.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at email@example.com.