When Howard Johnson wrote the lyrics for the song "M-O-T-H-E-R" in 1915, my late mother wasn't born, so he can be excused for not writing them exactly as I would:
"M is for the many things she gave me."
Well, that line is true enough and hard to improve. My mother gave me many things, but one of the best things she gave me is memories, almost all of them good ones. She also gave me moxie and still managed to keep a lot of it for herself.
"O means only that she's growing old."
I certainly would never have admitted this in print. In some dark recess of my mind, I knew Mother was growing old; she was 87 when she died, but she never appeared old to me. She seemed ill at times, but never old ... probably because she had such a love of life and a natural curiosity about things. She was passionate about politics and wasn't afraid to speak her mind to politicians when she thought they'd done something dumb - and, let's face it, they gave her plenty of ammunition. Married for many years to a dedicated elected city and state official, Mother had no patience with politicians who were more worried about keeping their seats than doing what they knew was right for their constituents. She called them gutless ... and she was right (see R below).
"T is for the tears she shed to save me."
Mother shed her share of tears. But as a child, I remember many more tears of laughter than of sorrow. She'd sit at the kitchen table, drinking coffee with her visiting sisters and brothers, and they'd tell stories and laugh until they cried. Because of those storytelling sessions, I know that my Uncle Hub - dubbed our "Bible Uncle" because of his religious knowledge - once climbed a tree on their family farm during an evening Sunday School picnic and dropped a raccoon coat on a man standing under it who "fainted dead away." Having a coat dropped on you would be startling, at the very least, but Uncle Hub committed that act during an Oklahoma "panther scare" and let out a panther scream just as he dropped the coat.
I also learned that Uncle Marion and Uncle Chink tried to sneak a smoke without Grandma knowing. They were happily puffing away on their shared cigarette when Uncle Chink spotted Grandma behind them. Uncle Marion kept trying to share the cigarette with Uncle Chink, who vigorously shook his head no. Uncle Marion caught on when Uncle Chink piously remarked that he didn't smoke and that his brother shouldn't either, but it was too late for both of them.
"H is for her heart of purest gold."
Yes, I'm pretty sure Mother's heart was 24 karat, but if I had written the song, "H" would stand for her humor. One of my favorite examples of Mother's sense of humor occurred a year before her death when she was in a nursing facility for two weeks of physical therapy before returning home.
"The nurse confiscated my plastic toothpicks," Mother complained. "She said they could be used as weapons."
I immediately had a mental picture of medical personnel running screaming out of Mother's room, their faces bristling with pink toothpicks embedded like porcupine quills.
And then Mother told me what her own reaction had been. "Weapons!" Mother exclaimed to the nurse, holding up her frail hands in a loose circle. "How about these wrapped around your throat? Or how about these?" she demanded, baring her teeth and making biting motions.
It took me 10 minutes to stop laughing. Still, it was fortunate that the nurse also appreciated Mother's humor or she might have found herself in a straitjacket.
"E is for her eyes with lovelight shining."
I'm sure Howard Johnson needed a way to get LOVE into the song and, without an "L" in "mother," he did the best he could. A mother's love is the very first - and the purest, most selfless - love we know.
"R is right, and right she'll always be."
I can't say that I always thought Mother was right (except about politicians), but she's the person I called whenever I had sticky questions about proper grammar. Every time I ended a sentence with a preposition, she cringed, although she admitted her high school English book included this rule: Never use a preposition to end a sentence with. I can say this with assurance, however: Mother was right far more than she was wrong.
Put them all together, and they spell Mother ... a word that means the world to me. I couldn't say it better myself!
- Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence. Information about purchasing her book, "Life Is More Fun When You Live It Jest for Grins," is available by calling 843-2577 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.