I think I was very lucky to have had Judith Ellen (Hinton) Cole as my mother. Heck, I suppose I could have had Typhoid Mary as my mom or my wife’s mother as my mom. Both would have been weird, I think. Luckily Fate designated Judy as my mom. I think it worked out pretty darned well.
At roughly 10:15 in the morning on the twenty-eighth of June in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and sixty five, I was born unto her in swaddling clothes. From that point forward, my mother showered me with gifts.
No, I’m not talking about the gifts you find under a Christmas tree – although some of those were pretty cool – I’m talking about real gifts: those that last a lifetime.
When I was little, she gave me the gift of snuggling. I still remember the warmth of her body against mine when I crawled up onto her lap and tucked myself under her arm. She was usually reading a book but never seemed to mind the interruption. At times I had to share her with my sister. I’d complain a little but Mom always had room for two. We’d wiggle in on both sides, happy as clams.
Mom had a lot of responsibility taking care of two children and always had to think on her feet. When I was almost toddler age, she gave me the gift of a deviated septum. The way she told the story, I somehow wandered beyond the front door of our home in my walker and toppled down the concrete steps. I can only imagine her terror as she realized that my tiny nose had been squashed like a pancake. Quick witted, she did what any good mom would do: she molded my nose back into place.
“There, all better!”
Mom gave me the gift of no-nonsense, too. Some may think that I got that trait from thirty years of continuous military service but that’s not true. It was from her. Mom had a sense of humor but she didn’t take any crap, either. This included any crap I threw her way. I had more than one wooden spoon broken across my butt. I have no doubt I deserved every one of them.
Mom was a bibliophile – a lover of books. She was an avid reader and often visited used bookstores in Buffalo, New York looking for new treasures. She passed the gift of loving books on to me. I’d accompany her as often as I could – always making sure I tagged along when I was in town on military leave. Our favorite haunt was Oracle Junction in Kenmore. I still have vivid memories of her pulling old and musty books off the wobbly shelves. We’d both walk away with brown bags full of interesting reads. I’d always end up laughing after we got home, however. Inevitably she’d look through her bag only to find one she’d already read.
It was a very sad day in 2012 when Oracle Junction closed shop for good.
My mother was the artist of the family. While I don’t recall her teaching my sister and I how to paint fine art, she did keep us involved in the smaller crafts. Near Christmas we’d make salt dough ornaments for the tree. Hers were always spectacular and ours always sucked. Still, they always ended up on the tree. Sister and I were proud of our accomplishment.
I’ve always wondered if Mom thought, “Do these kids have any talent?”
I joined the Coast Guard when I was nineteen and spent most of my adult life away from home. I got married, had a daughter, and was in a hurry to get my life going. Mom didn’t always agree with my decisions but she supported me anyway. When my first marriage failed, she gave me the gift of sharing her home with her. When my second marriage failed, she gave me the gift of sharing her home again.
It’s a good thing my third marriage didn’t fail.
The older I got, the more I learned to cherish my Mom’s company. She was more adventurous than I thought. Twice we jumped the pond to Europe. While her arthritis was pretty bad, it didn’t stop her. I was extremely proud to see her climb to the top of a large hill in Central England to see an obscure burial site without the use of her wheelchair. She, however, wasn’t so proud of me when I ran past her on the way down. You see, she opted to make the return trip in the wheelchair and I was supposed to be holding on. I still remember the look in her eyes when she realized she was free-rolling down the hill.
We visited England and Scotland and Wales and France. We went as far west as Land’s End and as far north as Loch Ness. In the east we visited a haunted rectory and our ancestral home of Panfield, England. We saw the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre in Paris. In Wales, we visited Hay-on-Wye, the Town of Books.
We also damaged two rental cars but that’s another story.
I found that I really enjoyed talking to her and listening to her stories. I loved hearing about how she saw the ghost of her grandfather. It was cool and creepy at the same time.
As time went on, our relationship developed into something I never expected. If you were to ask me the one single best gift she ever gave me, it would be that we became friends.
It’s that friendship I miss the most on Mother’s Day.
Mom passed away in 2006 after valiantly fighting leukemia for the second time.
I don’t like to think about those final moments as she slipped away because I don’t think she’d want me to. Instead, I prefer to think about how I stuck her with my cat Reba after I left for California. Reba was a female black and orange calico with an amazingly nasty disposition. Mom always said she hated that cat but I really think she loved her.
Someday I’ll now for sure. I’ll have to remember to ask her when I see her again.
I love you, Mom.
Happy Mother’s Day!