Seeing that it is Mother’s Day and we are in the middle of a pandemic, my imagination got ramped up a bit. I began to reflect on how my mother might have responded. I pulled myself back into my childhood memories (yes older people still have them) when I was a boy. I wonder how Mom would have acted or reacted to events we see around us today. Her day was vastly different from the day in which mothers live today, yet there were some striking similarities. In her day there were few mothers that worked outside of the home. A vast majority of the mothers had lived through the challenges of World War II experiencing either absent boyfriends or husbands. The ones they loved were separated from them – my mother was for several years as my Dad served with General Patton in the 3rd Army. Even walking down a street in those days reminded her of the frailty of life. Prominently displayed in neighborhood windows were stars – blue stars represented a member of the family serving in the military and a gold star meant a member of the family was killed in action. Communication was sporadic and a loved one’s status was always uncertain.
After the war when service men and women returned home, they faced a shattered economy. All of industry had been geared up for the war efforts so luxuries that we now consider necessities were scarce. Mom had to put her name on a list to see if she could get a refrigerator since they were so scarce. Ice chests were the norm. Cars were scarce too so one per family was the norm. This meant Mom had to walk everywhere or seek out public transportation to do shopping for necessities like food and clothing.
Mom had seen her daughter die in the hospital with pneumonia just months before Dad was shipped overseas. She grieved alone. Shortly after Dad shipped out, the small row home had to be abandoned as the house payments could not be met. Then she moved in an apartment with her Mother. There she worked in a war factory.
At the end of the war I was born in October 1948. The problem is that I was born in the midst of the polio epidemic. Polio, basically a mystery disease, really blossomed in 1916 in Brooklyn, New York. It appeared each following summer somewhere in the nation. The 1952 polio epidemic was the worst outbreak in the nation’s history – 57,628 cases reported that year; 3,145 died and 21,269 with paralysis ranging from mild to disabling. In grade school around 1957 I recall lining up in a school hallway as a nurse and doctors vaccinated the entire school with a vaccine developed by Jonas Salk. Prior to this, each summer was dreaded as “the disease hit without warning… required long quarantine periods during which parents were separated from children: and it was impossible to tell who would get the disease and who would be spared” (en.wikipedia.org). Mom was careful where I swam – no pools, where I drank – no public water fountains, and who I contacted – no house with a posted quarantine placard.
Was she a paranoid mother during difficult days, financial chaos, and medical uncertainty? Hardly! She was more like Jochebed, the mother of Moses (Exodus 6:20). Remember the hard days in which Jochebed lived – slavery, poverty, death, brutality, uncertainty, and her child facing euthanasia. What does she do? She puts her beloved three-month-old child (2:2) in an “ark of bulrushes… and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank” (2:3). Her slim thread of connection to him was Moses’ seven-year older sister, Miriam. After caring for Moses as Pharaoh’s daughter’s nurse, she returns Moses to the pagan culture to be reared in a royal Egyptian home. Jochebed was certainly not a “Helicopter Mom” (“hovering” and overprotective), or “Lawn Mower Mom” (“mows down” all of their child’s struggles, challenges and discomforts), or “Snowplow Mom” (pushes away obstacles so children have a clear path ahead of them). https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-to-tell-if-you-are-a-snowplow-parent-2019-03-22. If I would give Jochebed a label it would be “Horticultural Mom” – one who gives a child roots to grow and a chance to be fruitful as God planned.
My Mom was like Jochebed in many ways. I was an only child since my sister had died. Yet she let me loose in the neighborhood – much to the neighbor’s chagrin I am sure. I left in the morning without a third degree of my plans for the day. Were times safer then than now? Perhaps. But bad things happened in those days too. I know. I did them, unfortunately, and paid the consequences! Mom made me secure in her love. I never wondered if my stupid shenanigans would separate me from her supportive care. Mom listened to me and helped me to process life. She asked more questions than she gave lectures. Mom saw that the spiritual dimensions of life were planted in my heart. I still can remember the prayers she taught me, the Apostle’s creed I memorized, and the importance of attending church and paying attention when I did. Mom celebrated my successes even though honestly, they were few. I was the classic under achiever – every teacher reinforced that reality. She saw beyond the present reality and gave me hope that another reality was possible.
Every November I stop by her grave in the cemetery to clear away the leaves and put a Christmas wreath on her headstone and reflect. How she loved Christmas! She died too early in my opinion. But she accomplished her calling. She was a great Mom to and for me. Thanks Mom! Thanks, all mothers who rear children in difficult days!