My Mom Was A Flesh-And-Blood Saint Who Would Have Hated To Be Called One


(OPINION) I realized with a bit of a start that if my mom were still here she would have turned 90 on Aug. 6. Sad to say, she passed away in 2003.

Even though she had cancer, she died unexpectedly, and I never got to properly tell her goodbye. I’ve had 20 years to think about what I’d like to say to her if I could.

Mostly, I think, I would express my gratitude. I realize most people revere their mothers, and rightly so. God love moms. But two decades without her have convinced me mine may have been nearly unique. At least I’ve never known anyone else quite like her.

She not only incubated me for nine months in her body, but she’s been incubating and protecting and teaching me for 67 years. Whatever virtues I try to adhere to or even recognize are mainly things I learned from her. The older I get, the more I hope I can still turn out to be like her. I haven’t accomplished that yet, but I’m working on it.

Here are some virtues she showed me, largely by living them, not by preaching them. Maybe they’ll speak to you, too:

Just be kind. Be kind to everyone, to those who are kind to you and those who aren’t. Be kind to your family and friends but also to those who look down on you or get on your nerves or aren’t particularly bright or aren’t even sane. Kindness is about the most important thing in the world.

Mom told me once that it’s just as easy to be nice as to be grouchy or touchy or offended; all those things are choices, so why not choose the best one?

She was kind to me always, that’s for sure. Even when I was messing up my life. She was kind to bitter relatives and to bellyaching church members and to surly teenagers when she worked as a secretary at the local high school. She handled people’s neuroses or their pompous pronouncements with equanimity, without judging, condemning or telling tales. She’d offer troubled people a piece of candy, which was one of her cure-alls.

Her kindness is what I treasure most.

 — Speak softly, listen deeply. I can’t recall ever hearing her raise her voice. She didn’t yell. Didn’t scream. Didn’t threaten. Through her I saw — eventually — that quietness packs its own power. When you rant and rave, people stop hearing. When you speak softly and rarely, people will strain to listen.

Partly because she didn’t feel compelled to have an answer for everything, she was a great listener. I remember coming home after school as a boisterous kid and usually having some tale to tell about what had happened in class that day or else some issue I was trying to sort through — say, a girl I liked who didn’t like me.

Whatever Mom was doing, she’d stop. We’d go sit at the kitchen table. She’d give me a glass of milk and some cookies. I’d prattle on and she’d just – listen. She rarely offered advice. She didn’t pass judgment. She occasionally said, “Mmm,” whatever that might mean in the context of the conversation.

Apparently she did that with anybody who needed an ear. After she passed away, I lost count of the people in town who came to me — people I didn’t even realize she knew — to say, “Anytime I was in trouble, I’d go see your mom. I’d vent to Alice. And in a little bit I’d feel all right again.”

Not too long ago, a lady asked my oldest granddaughter if she liked spending time with me. When she said she did, the woman asked why. My granddaughter replied, “Because you can talk to him, and he really listens.” When I heard that, I thought, “Maybe the spirit of Alice Prather is settling upon me after all!”

— You might as well laugh. Dad was the performer: the preacher, schoolteacher, life of every party. He had canned jokes for all occasions. Because Mom was so laid back, what hardly anybody outside our family realized was that she was the true wit.

She was droll, spot on with her observations about people and life. Her timing was perfect. And she could work her face as if it were silly putty. With no more than a cock of her eyebrow she could lay me out in the floor laughing.

Oh, there’s so much more I want to say. But time, space and words fail me.

Sometimes Mom’s virtues could set us mere mortals on our heels.

I remember when her best friend, incredulous at some miracle of patience Mom had exhibited toward a dunderhead, said, “Alice, you’re either a saint or a damn fool!”

I vote for saint, in the best sense of that word. Not the kind of saint who’s a holier-than-thou, pious prig but a real life flesh-and-blood human with her own fears and foibles, who simply made up her mind to do right by folks — and then actually did it.

I miss her every day.

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