A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
A MOM BY ANY OTHER NAME
To tell you the whole, complete, honest truth, I didn't know that her name was Edith until I read it in her obituary last month. For a whole group of friends coming of age together during the early 1970s, she was always just "Mom."
Technically, she was Dave's mom, and I'm pretty sure he knew her name. But I'll bet he didn't know what my Mom's name was. And neither one of us knew that Jim's mom's name was . . . well, whatever her name was. As far as we were concerned, all three moms were just Mom, and we all felt as safe and comfortable and welcome in their homes as we did in our own.
My own mother was the single most powerful influence on my young life, and I adored her. Growing up, Mom was the ultimate threat ("I'm going to tell Mom!"), the ultimate put-down ("Mama's boy!") and the ultimate source of sibling psychosis ("Mom always liked you best!"). She was my best friend, my confidant, my Canasta partner and my queen. But by the time my teenage years arrived, I was more than she could handle. Thankfully, there were other Moms out there to provide the mothering I still needed (even though I didn't know that I still needed it).
For my high school friends and I, "Mom" was more than just a shorthanded way of referring to somebody's mother. It was a title of honor, bestowed only upon women who meant something to us. Wanda's Mom, for example, was a pistol. She had a naughty sense of humor and a salty tongue -- she lovingly called us all little "(expletive deleteds)." But we knew she loved us. And even though we all dated Wanda and took turns breaking her heart, whenever we saw her Mom she alwayss had a big hug and a funny story for us -- not to mention an expletive deleted.
She was Wanda's mother, but she wasn't just Wanda's Mom. She was Mom to us, too.
So was Mama Carnes. Of course, it didn't start out that way. For many of the kids who took high school English from her, she was Thunder Lizard. And with good reason. She was a large woman with a commanding presence, and she didn't brook nonsense in the classroom. But when she became our class advisor, we got to see another side of her -- a loving, caring, nurturing side. She believed in us with all her heart and soul. She encouraged us. She gently pushed and prodded us. She hugged us and told us we were her favorites. About the only time I ever saw the Thunder Lizard side of her emerge was when she did battle with the school administration in our behalf.
Poor Principal Perkins. He never knew what hit him.
Mama Carnes' fierce loyalty to us inspired us to be fiercely loyal to each other -- and to her. She wasn't our mother. But she was our Mom.
Looking back, it's easy to see the sweet, calming, uplifting influence of the many Moms in my life. Everywhere I went -- to school, to church, to a friend's house -- there was a Mom who I loved and respected and who I knew loved and cared about me. Each taught me something special. They didn't replace my Mom; they just supplemented her influence with Mom-ish influence of their own.
And now I see the same thing happening for my children through the supplementary influence of the Moms in their lives. Anita is an extraordinary mother -- that's one of the reasons I married her. But there are other women -- teachers, neighbors, grandmothers, aunts, cousins and friends -- who have significant influence on my children. Together these Moms are helping them feel as secure as they can feel in an insecure world. That's why I'll be thinking of these Moms this Mother's Day.
Even if I still don't know all their names.
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--- (c) Joseph Walker
Look for Joe's book,"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.