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Mon, Jan. 27

An ode to all moms: Appreciate your mothers every day

It's surprising to find that, looking back, I am unable to discover the point at which my mother quit being a mother and became my best friend.

Perhaps it was when I was no longer embarrassed when she made fun of my choice of music and of the repeated playing of my limited selection of records. I can still remember her mimicking Elvis Presley singing, "I Want to be Free." At that time, my bedroom was next to the kitchen, and I would often sit in my room and play records while Mom was in the kitchen, cooking dinner.

I suspect that, to some degree, she must have enjoyed it, for even though she would complain, she never once asked me to turn the volume down or to go outside and play.

It was so wonderful to be able to sit down and talk. Gone were those days of "you'd better do this, or else," and you knew what "or else" meant. Many of our conversations found us going back over the years and reminiscing about various events that had happened.

I would be writing a story about one of my many escapades and would need information about the time, place and people involved. I would call her, and we would laugh and compare notes.

Mom would laugh as she remembered back to those times that I am sure were responsible for giving her more than a few gray hairs.

I remember that, as a boy, I often felt that Mom never understood me. It was only many years later that I realized that she not only understood me, but that she seemed to know what was going on in my mind.

I was given great freedom and latitude to express myself, but without my realizing it at the time, she was always in control.

Raising children is never an easy job. Raising six of us wouldn't be a job any normal, sane person would want.

During one of our conversations, I mentioned a statement I believe was made by the late Erma Bombeck: If I knew that motherhood was going to be like this, I would have remained a virgin."

Mom laughed and said that people have no idea what they're getting into. You just have to go along and deal with problems as they arise.

I have heard it said that running a family is like running a large corporation. Mom must have felt like she was running General Motors, without all of the fringe benefits.

Mom worked hard. There was never a day when dinner wasn't ready. She was always doing laundry, sewing or cooking.

It was sometimes hard to talk to her; she would never sit down. She had to be busy.

Even in the evenings when the rest of us were sitting around playing or watching television, she would be crocheting or doing embroidery.

As with most mothers, I suppose, she played a complex role, not only in my formative years, but also with my brothers and sisters. Her duties were so many and varied that now, as I look back, it boggles my mind as I realize the complexity of running a large family comprised of six independent and free-spirited children.

She had to wear many hats: a diplomat, mediator, fan club, confidential adviser, hostess, dietician, gardener, maid, purchasing agent and mother. That she was able to perform all of these jobs and still maintain impartiality among her children, and later, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, is clear and convincing evidence of her saintliness.

Still, she would be the first to tell you that she was no saint, that she only did what she felt had to be done and would never hesitate for a moment to do it.

She was a staunch supporter of her children. She would go to war with anyone who sought to punish one of her brood; that was a duty she reserved for herself, alone. And when she felt discipline was needed, she delivered it in such a fashion that the recipient knew they had been punished and would think twice before engaging again in such behavior as to invite a repeat performance. Mom was not one to spare the rod and spoil the child.

Mom always told me that she never gave one of her kids a spanking and did not, herself, get the worst of it. I never believed that; maybe with Pat or Larry, but not with Frances and me.

I recall how Pat would tell of the time Mother McCree - that was how Pat often referred to Mom, while Dad was Father Time - beat her with a vacuum cleaner. Mom would correct her and tell us it wasn't a vacuum cleaner, but only one of the attachments. Pat would still claim it was a vacuum cleaner. This was one case when facts weren't allowed to mess up a good story.

There is one thing that still puzzles me. Although Mom worked hard to keep Frances on the straight and narrow, and there was that one incident with Pat, I can never recall Mom going after Larry.

I know he was no angel; I guess he was smart enough to know when to get out of town.

Mom also had a thing for ethics and honesty. She would never let us keep anything we had "found," to guard against us finding things that weren't really lost.

I remember one time, when I was quite young and had been sent to the corner market to get a package of Kool-Aid for lunch. I had made my selection and for some unexplained reason, put a second package into my pocket.

When I returned home, I tried telling Mom they were on sale, two for the price of one. Mom didn't believe that story for a second. She knew that old Leonard McBride would never offer a deal like that.

She made me put both packages in the garbage. That wasn't the worst of it. Not only did I not get any punch with my lunch: I got to spend the rest of the day in bed. Mom had strong feelings about right and wrong.

Mom was also very supportive when I was working to earn a little money. In the summer, if I needed money to go to a movie or to go swimming, I would take our old push mower and go up and down the streets in our neighborhood until I found a house that needed the lawn mowed. In the winter, I had to wait until it snowed to earn some extra money.

There was one morning when I woke up to find that it had snowed heavily during the night. I quickly dressed, and grabbing the coal shovel out of the basement, took off out the door.

It was a beautiful morning, and I managed to earn several dollars before the sun came out and began to melt the snow.

It was also well past time for me to be in school. Mom understood how important it was for me to earn some money for Christmas, and she had no problem writing me an excuse for school.

My efforts to make money made me the subject of many jokes around our hose. Most of my efforts were harmless, so Mom on occasion felt it necessary to step in and put a halt to things before they got out of hand, like the time at the air show.

Dad had taken the family to an air show at Hill Air Force Base, and I discovered an exhibit that was giving away souvenirs. What they were is forgotten now. As opportunistic as ever, I took several.

Later, Mom discovered that I had been selling them in the parking lot to people as they came in the gate, and she made me stop.

She said it was wrong, somehow, for me to be selling something that was given away for free.

Our family resources were limited. If we wanted spending money, we had to earn it. Pat and Frances would baby-sit. I had to be more creative and was always looking for an opportunity to earn a few bucks. By the way, reprints of this article are available at the ticket offices for only $2.

The point is that when Mom felt discipline was necessary, she wouldn't hesitate.

Mom occasionally bought me a paddleboard, a flat, paddle-shaped board with a rubber ball attached by a long, elastic band. They were fun until the elastic broke.

Frequently, I would find the paddle setting on top of the piano. I never realized it at the time, but Mom had put it there. She wanted to keep it handy. It was her own personal board of education.

And, I am embarrassed to say, she had numerous occasions to apply that to the seat of knowledge - my seat. It should be noted that her methods of child raising were very successful. Over all, her family turned out pretty well, a fact that she always took great pride in.

Her greatest source of pride were her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She took great pains to remember birthdays, and would feel hurt if she ever overlooked one of them.

She loved every one of us and would make each of us feel that we were special.

She would knit a blanket for every one of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It was something she enjoyed, and as you hold one, you can feel the love she sewed into every stitch.

Mom always took an active interest in our lives. She wanted to be there to share in our rewards and accomplishments and would do everything possible to make it happen. When Frances became interested in Girl Scouts, Mom became a troop leader. There were no others in our area.

When I became involved in scouting, Mom was there again. She would push and help motivate me to take a more active part and to advance in rank. When I did advance, she was always there at the award ceremonies, smiling proudly as a new badge was pinned on my uniform.

As I stood there, I could see Mom in the audience, as always, smiling proudly. It was something she could take pride in because, if it had not been for her help, I would never have been there. I would not have received that award.

When we were sick or in the hospital with some injury, she was there, nursing us back to health, offering comfort and assurance. When the school band or choir had a concert, there was Mom, sitting in the audience, filled with pride and applauding our performance.

There were also times when things didn't go right, and we knew we could go to her with our troubles. She was always there, listening, asking questions and offering to help in whatever ways she could. No matter what, Mom was there for us.

It was a basic part of Mom to be active, to be involved, to be busy. For years, she sang in the Sweet Adelines, and then she later volunteered to help in the schools, helping young children learn to read.

Mom told me once that she had a great life and few regrets. She gave of herself freely, with little expectation of reward. For her, staying busy and being involved were all the reward she wanted.

She had many friends and was continuously making new ones. There was no one who ever knew her who doesn't miss her.

Maybe I dwell too much on this, but then these are some of my memories of my youth. Mom had so many wonderful qualities that all who knew her were aware of.

I just want to take a moment to talk about how she shaped my life, how she taught an impetuous, headstrong, thoughtless boy to take a moment to consider his actions and the possible consequences. As I look back, I think she did a pretty good job.

She proudly made the change from Mom to Grandma and then to Great-Grandma. She took pride in each new role. She was not just a mom; she was a great mom.

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