Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Random Thoughts About My Mom

It seems that whenever I read other people’s comments about their moms, there are always memories of particular nuggets of wisdom that were passed on. In my case, that’s not the case. I don’t remember any specific pearls of wisdom that my mom passed on to me. That doesn’t mean she didn’t pass them on; it just means that if she did, I don’t remember them. Rather, she mostly just set a tone in our house for how one should live. And as you will see, she sometimes set an example for how NOT to live.

Mom’s full name was Mildred Aliene Hall. She was born on February 17, 1916, near Huntsville, Alabama, to parents that lived on a farm. Think about that. She was born right in the middle of World War I. While she was reaching for a rattle, Sgt York was reaching for a gun. At some point while growing up, she acquired the nickname “Sackie”. She could never recall how that got started, but it stuck with her for the rest of her life.

Mom only finished the 8th grade. I do not know why she stopped there. I always assumed it was because the education of women in those days was not considered as important as learning to maintain a home. It might also have something to do with the amount of work required of the family on the farm.

I have been told that Mom always said that she was not going to get married until she was 30. That must have been a strange statement back then as it was common for girls to marry young during that time. But she remained true to her word. Yes, she dated a number of boys during her younger years, but it was my dad, Buford Carl Finch, that she fell in love with. And she had to rob the cradle to get him since he was seven years her younger. Mom turned 30 on February 17, 1946, and got married on February 23, just six days later. I guess you might say Mom was radical for her day. Had she been born later, she might have made a good hippie.
I know for sure Mom didn’t marry Dad for his money. You see, Dad was raised a sharecropper and only had a 4th grade education. Hey, for all Mom knew, she might have to be the one bringing home the bacon. But that didn’t happen. World War II had recently ended. The great production centers of the world were in ruins; except, of course, for the United States. The US economy soon rocketed and jobs were available aplenty. Early in their marriage, Mom and Dad lived in Detroit several times while Dad worked in various car factories. They also lived in Decatur, Alabama, for a while. Mom was not a stranger to work, having worked in various jobs before marrying. However, Dad seemed to always have a decent job, so working outside the home was mostly unnecessary for her. In fact, soon after I was born in 1955, Dad got a job on an assembly line at General Electric’s Appliance Park in Louisville, KY. This job provided us a decent living and was also very stable. Dad worked there for over 25 years and retired from there.

Mom was a nervous person. She seemed to worry about a lot of different things and had a number of fears. One thing she feared was driving a car. It’s my understanding that Mom drove some before marrying and maybe a bit after. But as long as I can remember, she never sat behind a steering wheel. This was not usually a problem. The houses in which we lived in Louisville were always within walking distance of grocery stores, drug stores, and Five and Dimes. I still remember walking to these stores as a child. In those days, the grocery store would let you roll the grocery cart home with you if you had too much to carry. Mom not driving meant that Dad had to do all the driving when we were on vacation. However, he never seemed to mind. Even when I started driving, he still did all the driving on trips. I can only remember taking over once. Dad did not go to church as I was growing up. That meant that Mom had to catch a ride with her cousin whenever she wanted to go. When I got my driver’s license, I became Mom’s chauffeur. At that point, Mom was able to break away from the limited arena called “walking distance” and shop miles from home. My pay was room and board and a college education. Pretty good deal I would say. While I was in college my dad got histoplasmosis, a lung disease caused by a fungal infection. He was in the hospital for five weeks. Since Mom didn’t drive, I would take her to the hospital every morning before going to school, then go back after school, study in Dad’s room for a while, then take Mom home. Fortunately, the hospital was only a couple of miles from the university.

Another fear Mom had was of water, in particular putting her head under water. Because of this, she never learned to swim. In fact, this fear prevented her from being baptized for many, many years. I can still remember going with her to the Baptist church she attended and watching her being dunked under the water. She came up frantically swiping her face, but she survived. Because of her fear of water, I grew up somewhat afraid of the water also. In a neighborhood park in Louisville there was a small wading pool that I liked to play in. When I was still very young, we went to a big swimming pool near where my cousins lived in North Alabama. As my mom was paying to get in, I saw the water. Thinking it was no deeper than the wading pool back home, I took off running. I will never forget finding myself floating face down in the water. I was paralyzed. Fortunately, my older cousin saw what had happened and came over to save me. After this fiasco, I really began to fear deep water. A short time after my near drowning my dad took me back to that same pool, over my mom’s protests, to try to teach me how to float and swim. I failed. He never tried again. For that reason, I never learned to swim as a youngster and always found an excuse to not go to the pool with friends. It wasn’t until my son was taking swim lessons that I decided to take them also.

My mom was a kind person. She always wanted to keep the peace. Whenever Dad had to discipline me using corporal punishment, Mom always seemed distressed about it. Mom may have yelled at me some, but it was so rare that I can’t even recall an instance of it. Because of my mom’s peaceful attitude, it was almost always calm around our home as I was growing up. That is probably why I dislike conflict so much as an adult. During Dad’s career at GE, he mostly worked the evening shift. That meant that during the week I was in school when he was at home, and he was at work when I was at home. So, I spent most of my time at home with just my mom. We sometimes played games together, but I remember her spending quite a bit of time playing solitaire and Scrabble by herself on the dining table.

Mom was always diligent about fixing my supper even though it was just her and me. And boy was she a good cook. I recall one day after arriving home from the university. Mom had cooked up some pork chops, pinto beans, turnip greens, and cornbread. I absolutely loved turnip greens with cornbread. Still do. I would eat so much of them that I could barely eat the rest of the food. I finally told her that whenever she cooked turnip greens and cornbread to not cook anything else. One of the things Mom fixed that I loved as a child was Orange Coconut Cake. She always made this on my birthday, and other times as well. She also made a German Chocolate Cake that the family loved. I, however, never cared much for this type of cake no matter who made it.

Even though my mom only finished the 8th grade, she understood the importance of education. I can remember her drilling me on math problems before I even started school. She made it seem like a game, so I didn’t rebel against it. Because of this, I always loved working word puzzles, and I came to love math and science.

On a bizarre note, it seems that my mom was a psychic. She told me that it began when she was a young girl. She was in the kitchen at home working on a meal when a voice in her head said, “The barn is on fire.” She didn’t think too much of it, but a few minutes later one of her brothers came running into the house yelling, “The barn is on fire.” From that point forward, The Voice would talk to her on occasion. The one I remember best is when she first met my new friend’s mother. The Voice told her that she and her husband were going to get a divorce. Well, it was several years later, but indeed the divorce did come to pass. When I was older, that same friend was going to the car races with his dad. They invited me to go and I really wanted to. I asked Mom if I could go. She was very hesitant about it. She finally told me that The Voice had told her something bad was going to happen. I didn’t care about The Voice, so kept pleading with her. She finally relented. My friend and I loaded into the back of his dad’s truck and left for the races. We had a great time and arrived home safely. Hey, even Jeane Dixon got it wrong occasionally.

Somewhat related to being psychic were the stories Mom used to tell me about spooky things she saw as a child. They were kind of like ghost stories, but supposedly true. She used to see lights bouncing around in the sky. Since this was before the days of UFO stories, she didn’t think too much about it. She would just marvel at them. One evening as she and her family were walking home from church they all saw a ball of fire approaching them from the east. As it passed overhead, her dad threw his hat at it. It continued on over the woods to the west and disappeared. She never knew what it was. But the most bizarre story she told me was about the time she had to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. At that time, potty time was not an easy time. There was no toilet in the house. They didn’t even have an outhouse. She had to go out to the field and squat. ‘Nough said. Anyway, when she went out the front door she noticed a three-story building with all the windows lit up directly across the road. That would be fine if there was actually a building there, but there wasn’t. It was just woods. And they didn’t even have electricity in the area at that point. She said she sat on the front porch for a while watching it. She finally did her business and went back to bed. I still don’t know what to think about all these stories Mom told me.

The most important thing about my mom was that I always knew she loved me and wanted the best for me. There was never any doubt in my mind about that. She would always worry about me at night until I got home from wherever I had been. She always wanted me to be safe. I recall one evening when a classical guitarist was going to be playing at a mall about 12 miles from home. (Note: I played classical guitar in those days.) There had been freezing rain and sleet during the day, so Mom asked me to stay home rather than drive on slick roads. I was adamant about going. So, she decided to go with me. I’m not sure how she thought she could help me, but perhaps she just wanted to be able to tell me to slow down if I got too cocky. Anyway, as Mom made her way to the passenger side of the car, she slipped on the ice. She was able to get back up and open the car door. She then immediately slipped again, her legs sliding up under the car. Once again she got up and finally made it into the car. Given that she didn’t hurt herself, I actually found it quite humorous. However, I always think of this as an example of how much she was willing to endure to protect me. Mom could also be a psychologist, knowing how to use reverse psychology. When I was in graduate school, I sometimes put in long hours at the university. One night I got home about 1 AM. Mom was still up waiting for me. I began complaining about all the work I was putting into my master’s thesis and threatened to quit. Mom calmly said, “Go ahead and quit if that’s what you need to do.” I responded, “I can’t do that. I’ve invested too much time in it already.” Well played, Mom.

Upon graduating from college I got a job in Alabama. Mom came down and stayed a few weeks to help me get started. We were originally staying with family an hour and a half away and commuting each day. I would drop her off at a new mall in town where she would stay until I got off work. We then spent time looking for an apartment. After finding one, we stayed in it, but I didn’t have any furniture. So, we spent a few days finding and buying furniture. She was a great help with all these tasks. Once I was somewhat settled, she returned home to Louisville.

In Mom’s later years, she became bedridden. She originally started out staying in a bed in a guest bedroom. Later, Dad got her a hospital bed to put in the living room so she could be around family when they came to visit. Mom never liked going to doctors, so she had to be nearly dead before she would consent to going to one. She finally gave up the ghost on September 7, 2002. It happened in the same hospital (Huntsville Hospital) where she gave birth to me over 47 years earlier. I do not know whether or not there is an afterlife. If there is and my mom can somehow see these words, I have this to say to her: “I love you, Mom. Thanks for loving me and showing me how to be a good parent. I hope to see you again someday.”

Dad and Mom in their younger years