Thanks to James Edward Alexander of Bluffton for sharing a tribute to his mother.
This is our third "Sea Foam" essay from James, a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant who then earned a law degree. He has written three books: "Half Way Home from Kinderlou," "If I Should Die Before I Wake ... What Happens to My Stuff?" and "Approaching the Fork in the Road."
By James Edward Alexander
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To help us appreciate the significance of events in our lives we give them priority by time and frequency. There are "once-in-a-lifetime" events, and some that are capable of repetition, but we remember the "first time." Recently, I had an occasion to contemplate both.
The once-in-a-lifetime event was occurring as I stood beside my mother's hospital bed as she lay dying. As I held her hands and told her I love her I reviewed our relationship and some of our "once-in-a-lifetime" and "first time" events.
I appreciated that I was holding the hands that gave me my first meal, and my first hug, and it was from her lips that I first heard the words "I love you." These also were the hands that gave me my first spanking, teaching me how to behave in my new world.
Long before she was age 96 and I was age 72, she taught me some other one-time lessons -- how to play hopscotch, some clues for finding Easter eggs, and how to give emphasis to certain words and phrases, especially "please" and "thank you."
I caressed the fingers of a one-time wash woman who by day washed shirts and sheets, and by night ironed them until the wee hours of the morning, just a couple of hours before she took a nap and started her new day as a domestic. I then kissed the hands that wrapped warm irons and bricks in feed sacks and placed them at my feet on cold nights.
I remembered the day she made the final payment on the lay-away account and purchased my first Boy Scouts uniform. When it was time for me to leave home, she signed the one-time required document giving permission for me to join the Air Force, and for so many years she kept the first letter I wrote her from basic training. The first time she held each of my four children she uttered "un huh," which was both a sign of approval and the prelude to a grandmother's first kiss. In 1970, at the age of 60, she took her first plane ride to attend my graduation ceremonies at Indiana University.
During certain periods of our lives she reserved special time for us to sit on her porch. It was there that she felt safe enough to tell me certain things, and she prefaced what she intended to remain confidential with the words, "Now listen here."
As we watched the almost constant flow of traffic along U.S. 84, she often asked, "Where are so many people going?" One day I responded, "I don't know their destination, but some of them will not pass this way again." She just nodded her head and said, "Amen."
On another day I asked her the question, "What is your opinion on the subject of dying?" Without hesitating she looked into my eyes and said, "What you can't prevent, you plan for."
When she died, my first memories of her were those words, "What you can't prevent, you plan for." Then, I simply nodded my head and said, "Amen."