Recently I heard a joke that seems fitting for Mother’s Day. I would gladly cite the source, but I don’t recall where I heard it, just as I often don’t recall where I left the glasses that are sitting on my head. Here’s the joke:
During an exam to become a police officer, a young recruit was asked how he would respond if, in the line of duty, it became necessary for him to arrest his own mother.
The young man fell silent trying to imagine something so utterly unimaginable. Finally, he nodded and replied.
“If I had to arrest my mother,” he said, “the first thing I’d do is call for back-up.”
If you’re laughing, chances are you were blessed, as I was, to be raised by a formidable woman.
The New Oxford American Dictionary on my laptop defines “formidable” as: “Inspiring fear or respect through being impressively large, powerful, intense, or capable.”
The qualities in that definition fit my mother like an iron glove. She was not large physically, but to me, she was larger than life. She was also powerful, intense and extremely capable, not to mention insufferably stubborn.
She surely inspired fear and respect. I personally never dared to disrespect her, but my sister did. Once. She promptly learned never to do it again.
Having told you that, I will tell you this. Years ago for Mother’s Day, I wrote a column about all the women in my life who had been like a mother to me.
I included my grandmothers, my aunts, a few teachers and Sunday school teachers, my mother-in-law and several mothers of my friends.
I called it “Mamas I Have Known and Loved.” My intentions were good. I meant no disrespect to my mother, and didn’t expect it to be a problem. The column was syndicated, but not in my hometown. I told myself there was no way she’d ever read a word of it.
That was not the first time I underestimated her, or made the mistake of doing something thinking I’d not get caught.
As fate would have it, someone was kind enough to mail that column to one of the mamas I had mentioned in it; who was kind enough to share it with my mother; who was kind enough, barely, not to kill me.
Imagine my surprise when I phoned, totally unsuspecting, to wish her happy Mother’s Day.
Instead of “Hello,” she said, “I read what you wrote and all I can say is you need a few more mamas who aren’t me!”
Then she slammed the phone.
As with other disappointments in life, she took time to get over it. But she did. She always did.
Forgiveness ranks high among all the skills needed for being a mother. It might be number 1.
We never spoke of it again.
Years later, at the end of her battle with lung cancer, I spent three days at her bedside in the hospital. I sang to her hymns we had sung in church and songs she had sung with her sisters on the porch. I read passages to her from the Bible and told her stories that would have made her laugh, if not for the pain meds that made her sleep.
On the third day — the last day of her life — when my sister insisted I had to leave the hospital long enough to take a shower, I kissed my mother goodbye and turned to go. But something made me look back.
She was sleeping peacefully. I went over to her bedside, leaned down and whispered in her ear.
“Mama?” I said. “You’re my one and only mama. The only one I’ll ever have or want.”
Her eyes fluttered open and she gave me a look as if I had said something that made no sense, like peaches don’t have fuzz. It was a look I’d often seen over the years, but would never see again this side of Forever.
“That’s right,” she said, pointing her finger at my nose, “I’m your one and only mama. And don’t you forget it.”
I have never forgotten it. And I never will. Especially — but not only — on Mother’s Day.
Contact freelance columnist Sharon Randall at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove, CA 93950 or email@example.com.