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Mom

Times were different when I was a lad. There were giants on the earth in those days. My parents were the biggest giants of all, of course. But friendsí parents, teachers and scout leaders – all grown ups ñ were giants, too. Life was magical for a little boy, wondrous.Mom was tall and leggy. Of course, everyone was leggy to me. I knew people by their kneecaps and calves. Being leggy, mom could cross the room in three strides and “snatch you bald headed,î if you were doing something you shouldn’t, like, say, poking in the silver-bubbled centers of dad’s loud speakers. She could also, in those same three strides, scoop you up and kiss your elbow or skinned knee and soothe the worst problem in the world in a moment.In olden days, moms raised their own children. I remember lots of time together with mom, in my career as a small boy before being dragooned into kindergarten. We used to go to the park and walk around the big pond together, she, with her long legs, and me, with my short ones. It was tragic really. Mom would dress me in shorts, but my legs were so short that no one could tell. She’d mince her giant’s stride for me and reach down with her hand. I’d reach up with mine and together we’d circle the pond, counting and walking: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight! – Eeek! Eeek! My knees feel weak!” In this way, mom taught her small boy to count and to love walking.One day, mom made an offer to my older brother and me. If we were willing to eat wieners and baked beans for dinner for a week, she could use some of the grocery money to buy us each little battery-powered boats to run on the pond. Wow! This seemed like a win-win proposition. Hot dogs every night AND an electric boat? Big brother and I were unanimous on this. Not only did mom keep her word and buy us the tiny boats, she also took the time to bring us to the pond. Oh, I worried. The cheap little one-battery boats were not radio controlled. You’d set the rudder as best you could and send the boat on its way. Would it get stuck in weeds out there in the middle of the pond? Would the weak little battery poop out and the boat sink, a victim of raucous ducks? I could only stand helplessly on the bank and watch the tiny boat as it made its brave but feeble way, bobbing over wavelets and passing geese, which were quite possibly of bad temper. At last, my little boat made it to the opposite shore, helped I’m sure by my furrowed brow and clenched-teeth calls of ìC’mon! C’mon!î Mom would tilt her head and laugh and hug us boys and say: “See? Nothing to worry about. They made it just fine.”One day, mom and dad brought home the second-best gift she could have given a small boy. Mom’s face was flushed and beautiful; mom was always beautiful. She carefully sat me down and tenderly entrusted me and my 5-year-old lap with a very tiny baby. I gazed a while at the sleeping tiny bundle of perfection, then slowly looked up at mom in wide-eyed love and awe at the wonders that life continued to show me and the trust she gave in letting me cradle the baby, a real baby: my newborn little sister.As my legs grew longer, I could really help the special lady who had always kept my best interests in her heart. She taught tennis lessons to bring in a little extra income, and I’d chase down the stray tennis balls. Mom’s beauty wasn’t just the static “pretty as a picture” sort. She had grace and power, though then I didn’t know the words for such things. We’d go to the corner store on her old, dark green English bicycle. There were no child bike seats for kids in those days. I’d sit on the rack and hold on to the back of the leather saddle. “Mind your feet,” she’d say, “Keep them out of the spokes!” The pulses of her strength carried us both several miles and up the steep hill to home.Mom always expected the best of her children. It was never negative. We were of “good stock,” and she simply assumed we’d do well in school and life. Mom loaned me her esteem until I could earn some for myself. Who but mom could possibly teach me to appreciate the nuances of a well-made peanut butter and jelly sandwich?Oh, and on my new baby sister being the second-best gift? The best gift that mom gave us kids, bar none, was her time. All of my memories, the best ones, are not of objects or structured events but of time spent together learning and laughing, breathing in and surrounded by love like it was air. Mom read us so many stories. ìWinnie the Poohî and ìThe Jungle Bookî came to life in mom’s evocative voice. Our heads were filled with vivid imagery long before these old tales were made into movies.Mom took up smoking more than 40 years ago. Smoking was considered cool and “with it” at the time. No dangers were spoken of way back then. Oxygen tanks and clear plastic tubes up your nose aren’t cool or “with it,” but such pictures of decline aren’t shown in the ads. And how many of us live with an eye to the future?A nonsmoker finally, with her hoses and tanks, she played Scrabble with dad for years. Her death was sudden and unexpected.I didn’t see mom and dad this past Thanksgiving. They live so far away. Family and job obligations kept me home. But I do remember the last time I saw mom. I told her how much I loved her. And I had to bend down to kiss her forehead, for my legs have grown much longer than hers.Mothers are so very important to their children and to the world. The world just lost a good one. Mom, you hid it well. I know now that you stood on the bank of the pond and worried. I’m glad you lived long. Long enough to see that you’d set our rudders straight. Long enough to see all your tiny little boats bob through the waves and make it safely to the other shore.

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