By CHRISTOPHER SOUTH
Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday.
I have to write something about mothers periodically to remember my own mother, who passed away in 2006. If your mom is not around, you need to think of her from time to time and appreciate all she meant to you.
The truth is, as a kid I thought my mom was tough.
There is an old expression about being raised by hand, and I’m sure that applied to my mother. She was a hands-on parent. At my house there was no such thing as “Wait until your father gets home,” unless that meant you were in for round two.
My father worked long hours when I was a kid, and mom didn’t bother him with trivial things such as disciplining kids. I was the seventh child, and she knew how to handle children.
The neighbor kids knew my mother was tough. I remember a first underage drinking experience. One of the guys was 18 and he used to go to a liquor store everyone knew as “Grandma’s.” It was operated by an old woman, who either couldn’t tell how old you were or didn’t care. He was taking alcohol orders for some of the guys, but when it got to me he said, “Oh, no! I’m not buying booze for Chris! I’m not going to have Ann South after me.”
My mother had never actually beaten any neighbor kids, so her bark was worse than her bite, but her bark was sufficient to get your attention. She was something of a singer, not a professional of course, but that might have helped with her projection.
Maybe her yelling helped with her singing. Either way, I learned to yell, and later to sing. I guess I get it from her.
My mom would cringe to know I was writing that stuff about her, but it was part of who she was. I remember her as being hard working, and I remember she did the lion’s share of the housework, despite there being a large number of kids. I remember her doing laundry for hours.
I also remember her on her hands and knees scrubbing floors. She always used Murphy’s Oil Soap to clean the floors, but I never knew why. I’m sure there were products like Mop’n’Glo on the market, but I don’t remember us having any in the house. I sometimes think of that as I “Swiffer” the kitchen floor.
There was a time when I thought all my mother did was work around the house.
As the seasons changed, so did the chores.
Spring meant storm windows were taken out and stored and screens were cleaned. There were flowerbeds to tend t0, and a garage that had to be cleaned out. The basement would also need a good annual cleaning.
We had to share in some of the duties, I’m sure, but I never remember being overly burdened. The older kids might tell a different story. I was the baby in the family for 10 years until my little sister was born.
Amy was the eighth and last child. My mother really loved babies. You could hardly see her happier than when someone had placed a baby in her arms. Mom used to say she loved babies when they were “squeezable” – or, as she put it, “you can give them a little squeeze without hurting them.”
Kids learn to like being squeezed. They want to be hugged, and they seem to like it when you put a little “oomph” into it. My grandson was over the other day, and because I was just reading that roughhousing was good for kids, I asked him if he wanted to fight.
Of course he did.
So we wrestled around, and I would catch him and give him a squeeze, which never failed to make him giggle. Kids want that kind of hands-on treatment, and sometimes need the other.
Mom had to cook all the time. I remember her preparing large pots of soups or stews because there were a lot of mouths to feed. But that didn’t making cooking drudgery. She loved it when a dish turned out just right, and she was a good baker.
She also liked to prepare a lunch plate for little kids. She would make a half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and slice it into triangles and serve it with some sliced apples. It was not much, but she made it kid-sized and she made it just for you.
I once asked my mother how she chose my name, because in my grade there were a lot of Christophers and Christines. She said it was a popular name at the time.
In 2006, we got news that my mother’s health suddenly turned for the bad and she was not expected to live. My sister and I flew out to Ohio, and when I got to her bedside I said to her, “Mom, it’s Chris.”
“Christopher,” she said.
My name was the last thing I ever heard my mother say.
I think about that from time to time. I believe it was an indication she knew I was there.
I take some comfort in that because she was always there for me.
Christopher South is managing editor of the Cape May Star and Wave and a contributing columnist and reporter for sister newspapers the Ocean City Sentinel, Upper Township Sentinel and The Sentinel of Somers Point, Linwood and Northfield.