A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I only saw my mother mad once.

OK, OK – to my brothers and sisters who are reading this, you can stop laughing now.  That was a little inside joke for you guys, selfishly imposed on millions (OK, dozens) of readers out there in honor of Mother’s Day.

The fact is, Mom was . . . um . . . shall we say volatile?  Outspoken would be another good word.  It was said at her funeral that you always knew where you stood with Mom.  What wasn’t said – but was thought by everyone there – was: “Whether you wanted to know or not.”

Don’t get me wrong.  Mom was also all of those lovely virtues Hallmark tosses around every Mother’s Day.  She was sweet.  She was kind.  She was compassionate.  She was loving.  But she was all those things in her own inimitable way.

Take “loving,” for example.  Mom loved her family fiercely.  She was like a lioness, and we were her pride.  And like a lioness, she would occasionally cuff a cub for getting out of line.  Once she blamed my brother Bud for an earthquake – she figured it was Bud doing something he shouldn’t be doing in the basement.  And he got . . . you know . . . cuffed for it – gently, I’m sure (YOU GUYS STOP LAUGHING!).  But there were no apologies when she found out about the earthquake later.  She just said: “I’m sure he deserved it for something.”  And that was that.

But if anyone ever said or did anything against one of her children – including Bud, cuffing or no cuffing – the fangs were bared and the claws came out.

Which brings me back to the time I saw her mad – you know, the one I mentioned earlier.  It was Mother’s Day, and my sister was in tears (I won’t say which of my sisters this story involves because I don’t believe in holding family up for public ridicule).  (KATHY, IF YOU DON’T STOP LAUGHING I’M GOING TO TELL EVERYONE HOW OLD YOU ARE!)

Evidently, my sister had teasingly asked her husband (and I just want to say categorically that I adore all of my brothers-in-law, and this is truly no reflection upon them, collectively or individually, no matter what my mother said) what he was going to get her for Mother’s Day.  He replied with a blank stare: “I wasn’t planning on getting anything for you from me.”

My sister was hurt.  “Why not?” she asked.

“Because,” he replied matter-of-factly, “you’re not my mother.”

This is the point at which the smoke started curling out of my mother’s ears.  Her eyes, usually bright and expressive, narrowed into tiny slits.  “But you are the mother of his children,” she said in a voice that was husky and cold.  “You are the mother in his home.  If he can’t respect and honor that on this one special day . . .”

Her voice trailed off, but I think she said something about feeding him to the lions.

As I cowered behind the laundry hamper (this didn’t seem to be a good time to be male and visible), it occurred to me that it wasn’t just my sister to whom this slight was personal.  And it wasn’t about gifts – it was about respect.  For Mom, motherhood wasn’t just a biological fact.  It was omnipresent, embracing and enriching every aspect of her life.  Nor was motherhood something that happened one day in a delivery room.  It was something that happens every day in a kitchen, and in a living room, and in a child’s bedroom and in every room of the house.

I don’t remember what happened as a consequence of that discussion between my mother and my sister, although I’m pleased to report that my brother-in-law survived and has actually become an outstanding Mother’s Day observer.  Yes, he gives my sister nice gifts.  But more, he honors and respects her as the mother of his children and the mother in his home.

Mom would be proud, I think.  At least, she wouldn’t be mad.

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— © Joseph Walker

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