- A test or criterion for the qualities of a thing.
- A black siliceous stone formerly used to test the purity of gold and silver by the color of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal.
(Source: Dictionary.com Unabridged, Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2011.)
My mother died a year and a half ago and this weekend my sister and I thought it was time to go through the personal items that my sister had boxed up from her dresser when she died. My sister brought the box in from the garage and gave it to me to open. The very first item I pulled out of the box was a simple, tiny, plastic stamp dispenser. Like myself my mother was an avid writer but her writing took the form of letters. Living over 2,000 miles away from her most of my adult life I’d gotten hundreds of letters from Mom. Her letters were always engaging, entertaining and filled with humorous stories and vivid descriptions.
She probably wrote a letter to each person in her address book once a month. So for years she had bought stamps in rolls of a hundred and used her stamp dispenser daily. That stamp dispenser was such a tiny thing, yet such an enormous part of who my mother was that simply touching it brought tears to my eyes immediately.
I began crying, my sister began crying, and my sister’s little two year old granddaughter began slapping her grandmother on the leg because she thought Grandma had made Aunt McKenzie cry. It was quite a scene which ended with us laughing at the baby girl and explaining to her that we were crying about our Mommy and that Grandma hadn’t hurt Aunt McKenzie. We then put the box away to try again another time.
My mother was my touchstone. She was my mirror to my place in the world. Being Lois’ youngest daughter — the attractive, successful happily married one who lived on the East Coast — was an enormous part of my identity. She not only took pride in who I had become but reminded me always of where I came from. With my mother’s passing I felt not only her loss, but without my tether to the past and my touchstone to reflect the purity of my beliefs, I lost a bit of my identity for a while as well.
Mom was a strong and independent woman who rarely asked anyone for help. She survived a fractured skull in her twenties when she was hit by a car while on her bike. Until the day she died she had slight hearing loss in one ear and dizziness when she turned her head to a certain angle from that accident. She survived the loss of an infant child, WWII, the great depression, poverty, the loss of a spouse, raising six children alone, the death of her youngest child before his fortieth birthday, a dog attack, and at eighty was hit by a truck while out walking. The doctors and physical therapists told us that no one else her age and in her condition would have walked again. It was her sheer stubbornness that brought on her recovery and ability to walk again six months later. She did all of these things, and others too numerous to mention, and carried on with a joy that brought tears to your eyes.
The one strong belief that my mother had that she passed on to me was that every day is a fresh start and a chance for renewed hope. No matter how bad things get I realize that the very next morning I could wake up to a day that brings me infinite joy. So it was with this belief that I put one foot in front of the other each day after my Mom’s death until the pain subsided and I was able to tether myself to my place in the world again.
I hope that one day very soon my sister and I can attempt to sort through Mom’s personal belongings once again. Next time we’ll better prepare ourselves for the bittersweet memories we’re sure to experience and perhaps, without a toddler there, we’ll allow ourselves as many tears as we need to get through it and finish the job.
Reprinted below is the speech that I wrote for my mother’s 80th birthday celebration and gave again at her funeral.
My Mom was born on November 10th and shared her birthday with the United States Marine Corps. These two events may seem to be unrelated to some, but not to those of us who know both the Marine Corps and Mom well. Let me enumerate just a few of the characteristics they have in common.
Courage – Whether attacked by the poverty of her early youth, distance between loved ones, government red tape, or the common hardships of everyday life, Mom always faced her enemies with courage and taught her children to do the same.
Loyalty – Lord knows, each of us children tested the limits of our Mother’s loyalty and love and found it remained limitless and unwavering.
Honor – Mom’s honesty and integrity were beyond questions. In fact, I’m sure there are those of us who wished at times that she had been a little less “honest’ since she tended to “call ‘em as she saw ‘em”. Her straight forward approach and homegrown advice usually hit the mark.
Endurance – No matter how many times circumstances conspired to knock her down, she pulled herself up and never lost hope that things would get better. In fact, it was because of her singular determination that many things in our lives WERE changed for the better. Even getting hit by a truck couldn’t keep that woman down. After her recovery, she continued to volunteer at St. Alice Parish and McKenzie Willamette Nursing Home.
Strength – You can’t tell me that raising the flag at Iwo Jima was more difficult than raising six children to maturity (especially these particular children!). As far as we’re concerned Mom deserves a monument in her honor as well.
Through her 88 years she maintained a nobility of character that made us proud to call her Mom. We’re proud today to celebrate her life. She was a great mother, a great grandmother (in both senses of the term) and a friend to many.