The weekend edition of this newspaper is now delivered on Saturday. For many of you, it may have taken some time to get used to. But there is one advantage to the new delivery schedule. If you mother is still alive, you can make plans to see her tomorrow, on Mother’s Day. You can tell her how much you appreciate her and the sacrifices she has made for you over the years. You still have the opportunity. Others, like me, no longer have that opportunity. But I can use this column to share my appreciation for my mother, Ethel McPhail.
Life for a mother on a farm back when I was growing up was hard work. Add to that a full time outside job, and life for my mother was even more demanding. Days around our household growing up were hectic. Mama would get us up and get my sister and me ready for school, while getting herself ready for work. (Daddy was smart. He would usually get up early and get gone before the chaos would begin.) She would drop us off at school before going to work at Autry Bros. Milling Co. After a day of being the bookkeeper there, she would come home, fix supper, clean up and do whatever needed to be done around the house. Maybe she would be able to sit down and rest a little before bedtime, but probably not.
And living on a farm added more to the equation. It involved going to the garden after work to pick peas or butter beans during the summer. Then she would be canning or freezing whatever was “coming off” in the garden at that time. During tobacco season, her workload increased even more. Just about every afternoon for a few weeks, she would head out to the packhouse after coming in from work, in order to “take off” tobacco. I remember it well because I was also there, getting the tobacco ready to carry to the market.
But her most important job, at least to me, was being a mother. And she was good at it. She did all the standard mother things. She made sure my sister and I did our school work and encouraged (sometimes with a threat) us to learn. Mama, along with my father, felt that church was important, and attendance on Sunday morning was a given. It was Sunday, you went to church. I even had a couple of those perfect attendance pins. Of course, my sister had a whole string of them. I would hate to know what would have happened if I whined on one of those Sunday mornings and said I wasn’t going.
But the memories that stand out to me are not about events and important occasions, but of feelings. The feeling of comfort, when I was sick, knowing that Mama would make it all better. And somehow she would. There was the feeling of security, when I was a child, just crawling up in her lap, and when I was older, knowing that she would be there for support. She might be critical of my actions (probably for good reason) but I always knew she would be there for me.
It may be even more difficult being a mother when the child becomes an adult. You may be able to fix that scrap on the knee with a bandaid and a kiss. But what do you do if your adult child has a serious illness or injury? A mother may be able to help with the trauma of that first puppy love breakup. But what can she do later when that son or daughter is dealing with a broken marriage? I’m pretty sure I caused more concern for my mother after I became an adult than as a child.
About a month after my mother passed away, I caught a bad cold. I was sitting in my car, feeling miserable outside the pharmacy, after getting some cold medicine. I thought to myself, “I’ve got to call Mama and tell her how sick I am, so I can get some pity.” Then it hit me. I can’t do that anymore, she’s gone.
It’s now been over twenty years since Mama passed away. Time seems to do something to memories. They don’t seem as fresh, and there doesn’t seem to be as many. But there is one thing time hasn’t affected. Those feelings of a mother’s love. You can’t describe it or explain it. But one thing I do know. There sure are times I miss it.
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at [email protected]