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Sun, Jan. 19

Lighting a candle for the one who lit the flame of love in my heart

I will light a candle in memory of my parents this week. Lighting a candle is a tradition that was passed on to us from our mother. From the time we were young children we would watch as she lit the candle and said a prayer for her mother. Sadly, her mother had been gone since she was only 11 years old.

Because we never knew our grandmother on that side of the family, we only had the stories Mom and our aunts and uncles shared with us. When we grew up, we told those same stories with our own children. Some of the stories were sad and some were happy, but were all from a time that we could not relate. Our grandmother had come to this country from Poland. Her husband, our grandpa, was from Lithuania. They settled in Chicago and had seven children. When our grandma passed away, she left those seven children, the oldest one 14. They were raised by their father, who never married again.

Of all those seven children raised without a mother, none of them ever divorced. And most of them married before age 21.They lived through the depression and war. Yet they made a lifelong commitment to one another. I remember once asking my mother why she thought none of them ever got a divorce, while at least one of THEIR children from nearly each family did. She said, "In our day, we stuck it out through thick and thin. We did without many things and only had each other. When things got bad, we just wanted to provide for our children the best we could, instead of just running away." It made me remember that a whole bunch of us lived in the same house at one time when I was a little girl. There were aunts, uncles, and cousins living with my siblings and me. I seem to remember that a couple people had jobs, and nobody made enough money to move out for a very long time. I do not remember ever seeing or hearing anyone fighting or anyone being thrown out! At one point there were 14 of us living in the house together. We must have loved each other very much.

Stories about past generations are probably boring to today's young people. Many of them will either not listen, or quickly forget what you may have shared with them. I am not merely speaking of the old traditional "We walked five miles in the snow just to get to school." I am talking about the real hardships of not having enough food, watching your mother hide behind the door while you told the bill collector, "Our parents are not home right now." And washing your only pair of socks in the bathroom sink at night.

When my mother was very close to death, I sat with her and was prepared to spend the night in a chair beside her bed. We did not want to leave her alone in the hospital and there was no home hospice care back then. I remember so clearly the last question my mother had for me. She asked, "Was I a good mother?" That seemed an odd question to me at the time. I replied, "Of course you were Mama. You taught us how to love people, animals and all living things. That is the most important thing you could give us." That made her smile. A few short minutes later, she was gone.

My parents taught us many valuable lessons while we were growing up. We learned to find humor even in the darkest times. We learned to share whatever we had with whomever had less than us. We learned that having THINGS did not always make people happy. We learned that people who told lies were not always GOOD people to be around. We learned that family is forever, no matter what.

I have tried to pass on a lot of things from my huge and wonderful family that I grew up with to my own children. Perhaps in the end I will just be happy to know that I taught them how to love, just as MY mother did.

Anything else is just a bonus.

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