Our first exercise was to write about an aunt, mother or grandmother. And we got stories about all three. Bev and Petunia talked about being loved and accepted by their grandmothers and the lessons they learned. I wrote about my Aunt Deedy and Karen told of a wonderful birthday with her family at Aunt Louise’s. And then there is Alex, who was the only one to write about a mother. With his permission, here is his memory of Mom.
“It seems to me that the best place to start telling about my mother would be at the end. Caroline Crabtree finally gave in February of 2005. A seven year battle with cancer had extracted the person who taught me so much about the worth of life; a lesson that has only become obvious in its clarity as of recent times.
The first words I uttered at her memorial were ‘Man Oh Man, that’s what mom means to me.’ I don’t know how many who were from outside the family really understood that about my mother, but I am sure they all began thinking about their own mothers in that light.
Even as the ‘terminal fidgeting’ began to set in, she fought back with an occasional impish grin and a fun tale or memory from a past that was way beyond me. It was during this time that I learned about my great-great-grandfather marrying and Indian princess, and that my grandfather (who died a year before I was born) would spend many hours at his favorite watering hole, which happens to be the same bar that would sponsor most of the charity poker runs I ride in.
I had stories for her too.
I sat at her bedside and in between the distractions of the fidgeting, told her the memories I held dearest about her; such as the time she took the family dog and marched to the sledding hill to confront the older boys who ‘sled jacked’ me.
The family lived in a lower middle class neighborhood of Dayton, Ohio during the very tense era of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The inner city was no place for any child, especially in the late 60’s, mainly because the intolerance of ignorant adults found a way to breed violence in the youth.
The winter of 1969 and I was sledding at ‘Mansion Hill’, an empty hill top, four city blocks from where we lived, where a stately home once stood. My sled was actually the lid from a wringer washer that I had punched holes in to attach rope handles.
Three black boys came to the hill, came right up to me and demanded I handed over my modified lid. I gave it to them and left. On the walk home I realized that it was better to have given up something I found in a discard pile somewhere, than to get my ass kicked.
When I got home, mom asked where my sled was. I told her and she said, “There will be none of that in this neighborhood.” She suited up for battle with her winter coat and leashed 80 pound family dog. Before stepping through the door she conducted the pre-flight check of making sure that we fours kids were correctly bundled. We marched off as if we were going to battle. By the time we reached ‘Mansion Hill’ we had maybe a half dozen more kids, three dogs, and a mailman (looking extremely official in his USPS issue ear muffs) in our entourage.
We took the hill unopposed and found the custom sled hidden under an old shrub nearby. Mom had won the day, at least that’s how we all looked at it, because if there was indeed a conflict, I doubt my mother would have been denied on that day.
Mom tugged and pulled on her unflattering gown, but she stopped long enough to smile at me and tell me that I remembered the Battle of Mansion Hill exactly as it happened.
Hospice rooms are by design free of anti-septic smells, seemingly unruly plastic tubes, and the noise of urgent intercom calls, yet you know that death still lurks, waiting to finally pluck the condemned fruit from a flourishing tree.
Mom was taken, but her spirit lives on as I see her in everyone that ever knew her; and some that didn’t.
“Man Oh Man.”