Mom is in her pink dress again. For at least a decade the pink dress symbolized every major event in the family. Weddings, reunions, anniversaries all brought out that pink dress. This time there is nothing festive about the dress.
Mom is gone.
It is the day of the visitation and the funeral. As I stand first in the line but the last of her six sons I get to find things out first. The two biggies are, first, every person seemed to have served on a committee of some sort with my mother and, second, everyone did have a story of some bit of wisdom that my mother passed along to her that really hit home. She seemed to have the words that helped people in the two churches she attended through the toughest of times.
Oddly, I do not have that story of Mom.
Don't get me wrong. We did actually talk about pretty much everything and she would offer perspective through her faith and it almost always came down to me believing, too. Still, she was not the one to come up with the perfect pearl that I could quote or hold on to and I think I usually sold her short because that whole "Faith Thing" was just too easy an answer.
Or so I thought.
It now occurs to me that this is not a bad thing. My Mom's faith in God got her through unimaginable challenges because she knew he would always be there. For me, I found through my much less insurmountable challenges that I would persevere because SHE never doubted that I would.
My Dad died when I was four years old, leaving Mom with six sons and no job. Dad had taken care of a lot of the financial part but I have to believe that at age 42 that it occurred to her that she had not signed up for this.
What she did do was keep living her life. She had already sat through hundreds of Little League Baseball games and worn out multiple stadium seats. (The bleachers were a bit hard so Mom was always prepared for this with a peculiar looking fold-out pad with a back that always looked more uncomfortable than any bleacher. People for miles around knew that when they saw it that Marie must be around and a Pearson must be playing ball.)
Fate gave her no breaks. She had spaced out her kids in a way that meant she sat through twenty-five consecutive years of Youth Baseball without any any time off. Oddly, I am pretty convinced that in that time she learned almost nothing about the game. The one factoid that she had mastered was that whenever I was pitching and the team ran off the field that I must have done something right. After every inning I pitched I would hear "That's the way!" and that meant Mom was paying attention or, at the very least, was still there.
Again, she never gave me any wisdom about baseball but just like with everything later in life I just knew she was there. Everything in Geneseo, Illinois is within five minutes of each other so it may seem like a little thing that she could get there but that little thing and that "That's the way!" from the stands made me know someone was always behind me.
Mom was raised in the depression as part of a big family, too, so she was like a lot of people who grew up then. She could get by on very little. That meant a roast and potatoes on Sunday for a family gathering meant the same roast and potatoes for those still living in the house on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and probably Thursday. That may have been why we all became very adept at the use of ketchup as a food moisturizer.
That is great but what she actually mastered was salesmanship. She could convince us that what other families would consider as lame were special events that we were lucky just to experience.
It blew my mind that we were blessed because we got to go to Hardees (fine dining in town at the time) each Sunday and, if we went the extra eighth of a mile to Kentucky Fried Chicken, somebody must have done something huge!
She also had us convinced that what is known as the Quad Cities were actually real cities and that driving twenty minutes to get there and buying something other than Farm & Fleet Brand Jeans was akin to something Lewis & Clark would admire. So, when she put my brother Dan and I into our 1975 Buick Apollo (it's the only car I remember) and drove us to Denny's in Moline, I figured that this exotic meal of "Dinner Italiano" (probably Ragu on some sort of patty) meant that we must be among the elite. It was either that or at least she had set aside her change for months to make this bounty happen.
Imagine my surprise when I grew up and and people filled me in that Denny's was where they went late at night when they were drunk and looking for something cheap. I am convinced to this day that with that salesmanship Mom could have made millions in Used Cars.
Mom the Salesperson also came through in another way. I have no exact moment when she told me that I was a good-looking kid but she somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, had me believing that there probably was something wrong with the girls who did not really notice me. This notion was some "Mom Magic" because when I look at pictures of me from Seventh Grade through my Junior Year I have to say that I kind of look like the spitting image of every serial killer in his teen years.
The chubby kid with braces and plastic glasses so thick that I accidentally burned some ants when the sun hit them the wrong way was going to be fine because Mom believed it.
In my life, I have quoted Mark Twain or Martin Luther King and every song written between 1982-1992. I have never quoted Mom. Pretty much every bit of advice I ever heard her give was from a Bible verse so I know I underestimated her wisdom. No, she did not come up with "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it, " but she lived it. That is probably more important.
The other one is "Bloom where you're planted." It is the centerpiece of the incredibly inaccurate impression that I sometimes did of Mom. Obviously, she did not come up with this one either but as I have moved from place to place with varying levels of success I did often take my voice to a high-pitched realm and assumed that there is no way that Mom's simple quote could possibly apply but then I have somehow gone out and proved her right.
Her message was to just shine in whatever situation you are in. She convinced my brothers and me that the fact that most of our toys did not quite go together because they were hand-me-overs from cousins and other people simply meant we would be more creative than everyone else. I did not actually know these things should not go together but I was able to come up with games involving a hand-me-down Lone Ranger with a broken arm and no lasso, twelve army men of varying sizes, a monkey with mustard and jelly stains and a vibrating Electric Football set.
She developed that creativity in me despite the fact that I could pretty much tell she had no idea what I was talking about. Throughout my life I would make pop culture references that I know she did not get but she figured they must be funny because I said them. People around me may not be thrilled by this because now I probably expect laughter at every inane thing that pops out of my mouth because Mom was there and Mom laughed.
Whenever I was dumped in my life (and believe me, I was dumped a lot!) just hearing that she knew I would move on made me realize that I would be fine because Mom knew I would be.
The salesmanship came in because we would talk and she would marvel at how well I was handling being dropped on my head by a woman or two or, in my case, ninety-three. I know now that she was telling me about how incredible it was that my sense of humor was getting me through these tough times because I needed to actually use my sense of humor to persevere. Mom said I was handling it well so I just handled it.
I am not sure if Mom was Tony Robbins or Vince Lombardi, or both.
When a boss did not quite understand what I was bringing to the table she just knew that I would convince him otherwise. I did because, well, you know.
When another boss succeeded in getting me out the door over the beliefs of everyone else working with me, Mom did not tell me how to fix the problem but was so absolutely sure that I would deal with it and be able to support my family that, well, you know.
I am sure she worried. I am sure she wondered how she would get through hard times. I am sure she thought that having a youngest son who called himself, "The Forgotten Trip to the Drug Store" probably had her thinking there might be trouble with this one.
She just sounded so sure that there wouldn't be trouble. Having convinced myself I am a writer I have worked to come up with my own way of putting things like "Bloom Where You're Planted." She acted like it was brilliant when I said, "If it doesn't kill you or make you pregnant, it's not a big deal."
I am kind of proud of it but I would not have gotten here without the thought that if Mom believes you will be fine then you will be fine.
So, as my wife, three-year old daughter and eight-month old son move forward without her, I do know that I do not always have to have brilliant words or even that sage advice that will last them a lifetime.
They will just know that I know they will shine. And so they will.
THAT'S THE WAY, MOM!