Traveling back in memory to the little house on Hardcastle, I am once more safe in my mother’s arms. For she was the center of my Universe, and the sight of her could banish any grief or woe. Despite the availability of jobs during the war years, Mama chose to stay home and tend to her children. Practicing economies learned in the Depression, she made ends meet. She gave piano lessons and was not too proud to take in ironing or pick berries for local farmers. With these tiny earnings and a small stipend from my father, she provided a stable and happy home.
Though we never had much, we always had enough. And the finer things of life were never relinquished or abandoned. Mama was an accomplished musician, so often the strains of a Chopin etude or an old folk song would float out into the dusk of our summer yard where my brother and I whispered secrets and planned adventures. The combination of music and lamplight would draw us in just before bedtime, cheeks aflame with fresh air and exertion. When summer turned to fall and winter, Mama often read aloud. The Little House in the Big Woods was best remembered and, over the years, we collected the whole series. Laura and Mary and Pa and Ma were discussed as though they were family.
I also remember how no illness could long endure under Mama’s gentle ministrations. Her hand on my forehead, her dark eyes looking into mine, seemed to ease every symptom, and I knew I would soon be well. Now, as I face a serious health issue, it is easy to find tears filling my eyes. If only Mama were here, she would sit by my bedside, nurse me with simple but nourishing dishes, and best of all, touch my cheek and say, “There, there. You’ll be better in the morning.”
No matter how old we are, no matter how many years have passed, our mothers are never far from us. I recall a visit to a nursing home when I was very young. A long, bony figure of a man with hollowed cheeks and a sunken mouth lay upon a white cot. Eyes closed, he called, over and over, “Mother! Mother!”
At last I know why. For who will remember us when we grow old and infirm? Who but mother?