You Were Gone Too Soon

Today is Mother’s Day.
I remember how you used to wear a red rose
every year on Mother’s Day to indicate
that your mom was still living …
then a white rose after she died at age 96.
We had rose bushes out in our side yard,
on a little bank next to my aunt Reb’s garage,
so it wasn’t much trouble to find a red rose.
After Mamaw died in 1983, I don’t remember
whether the white rose you wore came from our yard
or if Daddy bought you a corsage at the grocery store.
I was in my 20s, in my early married years, living in Nashville,
generally oblivious of what went on in my parents’ lives.

I would have paid more attention
if I had known you wouldn’t be with us for many more years.
In the summer of 1984, you kept a persistent low-grade fever
and things generally weren’t well with you.
Daddy would tell me over the phone what was going on,
and I felt helpless to respond.
Oh Mom, I wish I’d been a little more in tune
and had encouraged Daddy more to relentlessly explore
what was going on with you.
We didn’t have the Internet then to look up symptoms
and fret over all the awful things that might be wrong with us.
Maybe it was just as well.

In 1985 you were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease …
and you began your slow decline into tremors, forgetfulness, dementia,
all part of the cruel progress of your disease.
Too bad Michael J. Fox hadn’t yet been diagnosed with Parkinson’s;
when celebrities get ill, people seem to suddenly take notice
and often donate money to foundations that fund research.
Too bad they didn’t have the medical advances, research, and surgeries
that are available today.

I remember our last visit with you before Daniel was born.
It was Christmas 1986.
I cried and cried when John and I left Kingsport that year,
knowing somehow that I had to enter
this journey of motherhood largely on my own,
without your guidance, reassurance, advice, and cheering me on.

When Daniel was born, I wanted you, Mom.
You weren’t able to leave familiar surroundings by that point.
I got the postpartum “blues” in a bad way.
I cried and cried, overwhelmed by the thought
that I was responsible for this sweet, dependent baby …
and I had no idea how to be a mom.
I didn’t know then that one doesn’t suddenly learn how to mother.
It happens gradually, with experience and the support of friends and family, and often through trial and error.

I called my Aunt Reb from the hospital.
My obstetrician, a wise man, could tell I was
in bad shape emotionally, and, kindly, he approved
a longer hospital stay for me. (Those were the days when
insurance didn’t kick you out the door the day after your
baby was born.)
I begged Reb to come to Nashville and help out.
I knew that John would help,
but I needed a mother figure.
John’s mom was 80 years old. I felt close to her, but not enough
to depend on her for the emotional support I so badly needed.

Reb came to Nashville a couple of days
after we brought Daniel home.
Aunt Myrt and Uncle Paul drove her to our house,
and Aunt Myrt helped with Daniel’s first bath.
I was scared to death that I would drop Daniel and injure him for life!

Reb stayed for a week, and gradually my frayed nerves
began to heal, and my hormones calmed down.
When Aunt Myrt and Uncle Paul left with her a week later,
I watched out the window, holding Daniel, as their car rolled
down the street.
“It’s just you and me, baby,” I whispered to him. I may have
shed another few tears, but I figured I would be all right.
I was never alone — I had John and friends at church and work
and my mother-in-law to help encourage me
and teach me how to be a mom.

By the time Julie arrived, 3 years and 8 months later,
I felt much different about this experience called motherhood.
I welcomed Julie joyfully,
barely taking time to recover from her birth.
When she was 4 days old, my dad and I took Daniel to the park,
leaving Julie behind in her daddy’s care.
There was no time to stop and think
about all the changes in our lives.
And it was okay.
With a few years of experience under my belt,
I was comfortable with the thought of
being a mom,
no longer overwhelmed.

Mom, you held Julie for the first and last time
when she was 6 weeks old.
By then you could no longer talk much,
but you took pleasure in holding your granddaughter.
I captured the moment with our camera.

And when Julie was only 6 months old (and Daniel was 4),
you left this world.
I cried once again, the first of many times,
for I knew my children wouldn’t remember you
except vicariously through the stories I told them about you.

So it is in life:
we experience love and loss,
joy and sadness,
and somehow we manage to get through
with the help of faith, family, and friends.

I was fortunate to have you as my
mother and mentor
for 32 1/2 years.
You remain in my memories.
I will never forget you and your
positive, kind, funny, hardworking, dedicated, faithful example.

You live on, Mom, inside me
and in the lives of your grandchildren
through the many lessons you taught me.
I am grateful.

Though you were gone too soon,
You made a difference in our lives.

I might have worn a red rose a few times
while you were living (mostly during my childhood and adolescence).
Today I will wear a white rose to honor you
in my imagination.
We don’t have any rosebushes,
and I forgot the rose tradition when I went to the grocery store yesterday.

Yet, I will remember
and I will see your smile,
hear your voice,
and I will always love you
with all my heart.


In Honor of Mom

My mom has been on my mind a lot this month. May 2 was her birthday (she would have been 89 this year), and then of course I thought of her on Mother’s Day.

Hattie Bernice Robinette (oh, how she hated the name Hattie) was born May 2, 1921, the youngest of six girls born to Rosa Alice Steele and Henry Tyler Robinette. Mamaw and Papaw married in 1912, about a year after Papaw’s first wife died of  “consumption,” or tuberculosis, as we know it today. But that’s another story.

My mom grew up with five sisters who were close in age: Eunice Mae was born in 1913, Reba Susan in 1914, Della Bertha in 1916 (I think), Myrtle Virginia in 1918, and Edna Frances in 1920 (again, I’m not sure of the year). I could get out our family Bible and find all those dates, but it’s downstairs and John’s asleep, so my memory will have to suffice.

Mamaw and Papaw were farmers, and, I found out not long ago, sharecroppers during the Great Depression. So my mom grew up in poverty, though that wasn’t unusual for the people in her little “holler” near Fairview, Virginia.

I don’t remember my mom talking much about her childhood. She showed me pictures of her house and school, and everyone looked poor. I think the family was too busy eking out a living to do much else. Hard work was definitely a Robinette family value.

My mom’s mantra later on in life was “Keep peace in the family,” so I imagine there must have been lots of arguments among six girls and two stepsisters from my grandfather’s first marriage.

Education was another Robinette family value. My grandfather had a degree in agriculture from Lincoln Memorial University, and my grandmother went to college to be trained as a teacher (I think they only went 2 years in those days). All six sisters in my mom’s family got a college degree. Options for women were limited in those days, so all were trained as teachers. The neat thing to me is how the sisters helped each other financially during college. When one would graduate, she’d work and save money to send to the next sister.

Because of finances, my mom went to three colleges before she finally got her degree. She went to Carson-Newman for one year (and always talked about it), Radford College for one year, and finally finished at UT-Knoxville.

My mom and dad courted for 7 years before they finally married in 1954. My dad said that the last time he asked her, that was going to be THE last time, so it was a good thing Mom said yes.

So my mom had me when she was 37, which was old in those days. I remember asking for a brother or sister for Christmas when I was about 7, and she joked, “You’re going to have to put your order in a little sooner.” Then she explained to me that she was a little old to be having another child at age 44.

Here are some things I remember about my mom:

* She was a strict disciplinarian. None of that “Wait til your father gets home” stuff for her. I remember countless spankings with a yardstick. Our daschund, Sandy, used to run with her tail between her legs when she saw my mom reach above the kitchen doorframe, where she kept the yardstick.

* She rarely spoke a critical word about anyone. I remember that she said something encouraging to the preacher every Sunday after worship at our little country church, no matter how green the preacher (we had a lot of religion students from Carson-Newman who served our little church) or how ignorant (later we had some bivocational pastors whose preaching I could hardly stand to listen to; they yelled and windsucked, and I really hated being in church. I couldn’t understand why they were so angry).

* She was a partner with my dad. They cooked together, planted flowers together, and did lots of household chores together. I took this model into my own marriage, but it hasn’t worked too well most of the time because I’m strongwilled and John likes to be the boss…well, there you go.

* She was dedicated to her career, often slavishly. I don’t recall many nights going by without her sitting at the kitchen table grading papers or averaging grades for report cards. In fact, I resented how much attention she gave to her work. (This came back later to haunt me when my own teenage son made the comment, “You and your precious work.” That got my attention.)

* She was close to her family and was the peacemaker of the extended family. Seems like she could always come up with a joke just at the right time, when tensions were high as we were preparing Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, or on other occasions.

* She loved music and passed on her love (and perhaps some of her desire to play) to me…she signed me up for piano and clarinet lessons and then pushed me to practice. Occasionally she would sit at the piano and try to play hymns, and the result was less than pleasing to the ears … then she’d say, “Oh, Anne, you can play so much better. Why don’t you play ______________ for me?”

* During my teenage years, my mother did not try to be a friend to me. She had the guts to break up one of my friendships that she thought was moving in an unhealthy direction. Turns out she was right…during my freshman year in college, she sent me a newspaper clipping about this girl, informing me she’d been arrested for prostitution. Gulp. Anyway, when my own children were teenagers, I remembered her example of standing firm and not trying to win a popularity contest. Can’t say I did quite as well as she did.

* Mom’s faith was important to her. I remember her love of singing hymns especially, and she took notes like crazy and wrote in the margins of her Bible. I do the same thing today…she taught me that you can learn something from everyone.

*My mother was very outgoing and loved to talk to people. As a child and teenager, I hated waiting around on her while she had conversations after church (eternally long conversations), but she always had a smile on her face, and people seemed to enjoy her.

*Perhaps the greatest lesson my mom taught me was how to face adversity bravely and make the best of it. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1985, and watching her deteriorate each time I saw her (by then I’d made my home in Nashville, 5 1/2 hours away) was one of the most painful experiences of my life. The hardest thing to watch was her mental deterioration. My mom had been a very smart woman, and she was reduced to being able to speak just a few words in response to questions. Even then, she’d attempt to make a joke, and she always had the sweetest attitude.

Nearly 20 years after her death, I still miss her. She was my encourager, the one I looked to for advice, and we were just becoming adult friends when she fell ill. I like to think of her looking over my shoulder sometimes and wonder what she’d say.