Eastern Wake: Opinion

Column: You are your mom’s labor of love

By Johnny Whitfield

Johnny Whitfield
Johnny Whitfield ehyman@newsobserver.com

Hope you remembered to pick up some flowers, or chocolates before Sunday morning. Or better yet, perhaps you took some time to be thoughtful about the gift you bought for the mother in your life on this Mother’s Day. Maybe it was something you created by your own hand – something that can’t be bought in a store. Maybe it’s something that comes in her favorite color or has her favorite quote or passage of scripture.

Whatever you do, we hope it properly expresses the depth of your sincerity this Mother’s Day.

Adult children often realize the value of their mother in their lives. We remember little things like Mama patching the hole in that favorite pair of blue jeans. We realize now, as parents ourselves, that Mama didn’t fuss at us just to be mean because she could. She really did want us to do the right thing and enjoy the benefits that come with doing the right thing.

But it’s hard – I mean, really hard – when you’re a child to understand the bigger picture and to grasp the idea that discipline isn’t born of spite or a hateful personality.

So often, as children, we believe Mama doesn’t really understand our perspective. After all, Mama came from the womb as an adult, didn’t she? She’s always had responsibility and she’s always cooked and cleaned and fixed problems and attended PTA meetings and paid bills and held down a job and all those other things, didn’t she? She never loved anyone but Daddy or had her heart broken, did she? She never really had a chance to experience the difficulties of childhood, did she?

Oh, the ignorance of childhood.

I was thinking about my own mother last week. She grew up on farm in southern Virginia in a house with three bedrooms and no running water. She shared a bedroom with her two sisters, while her brother got a room of his own. They worked in the tobacco fields and had a few animals on the farm, most of which they slaughtered for their own consumption. She rode the school bus to school, where she excelled and graduated as the school’s salutatorian. But she yearned to escape the farm life and the Southside Virginia twang. She went off to college, where the freedom to avoid physical labor and the ability to manage her own time led to long nights of playing cards with the other girls and not a lot of studying.

College lasted just a year for her before she migrated to Raleigh where she met my father and really began her adult life. She rarely worked outside the home while she raised her children. There were a few years when she worked in the office at Banner Tobacco Warehouse in Wendell, but that was only a couple days a week for about half the day at a time.

I liked that she worked there, though she always left me with some distasteful chores like vacuuming and taking care of my little sisters.

What I didn’t see were the long, long conversations she had with my dad every night when he would talk about the farm we owned and the work that was going on there and the challenges of getting all the bills paid and still keeping their children planted squarely in the center of the middle class. I didn’t see all the work she put into the Vaiden Whitley booster club when I was a student there. I didn’t see her struggle when she sent her last two children off to college and became an empty nester.

Last week I visited at her graveside and I wanted to tell her about the successes her granddaughters have enjoyed recently. I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth, so I had to just think them. I know she heard me, but it wasn’t like being able to sit at the kitchen table and telling her those things face to face.

So make sure the gift you give your mother on Sunday is a good one. She’ll know then, that the fruits of her life-long labor have blossomed.