My mother will turn 81 next month, on the day Sue and I leave for our great Andes adventure in Peru. I’ll be calling her during our first layover in Atlanta, and she’ll be following our journey through our Facebook postings. Her oldest son and daughter-in-law will then be leaving the country and she will worry, because that’s what moms do. It doesn’t make any difference whether her son is 6 or 60.
This is Mother’s Day weekend, and tomorrow I’ll be celebrating with my wife, who will be getting calls from our kids, and I’ll call Mom down in Arizona. I had flowers delivered to their house yesterday. It’s been a year and a half since I’ve seen her and Dad, so I am making plans to rectify that with a trip down there this fall. In the meantime, I will be thinking of her and shaking my head that so many years have gone by. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was a kid and I saw her every day.
Let me tell you a little bit about my mom.
Sandra Sue Carpenter grew up in southeast Wisconsin, primarily in and around her parents’ hometown of Palmyra. Her father, Alvin Carpenter, worked as a depot agent for the Milwaukee Road. Her mother, Meta Hohnke Carpenter, grew up on a farm without electricity or running water until she was a teenager, and not long after that she met and married Alvin and became a housewife. My mother was the first of their five children, three of whom lived to adulthood. My grandmother worked many jobs outside the home to help support the family. Times were tough for a young couple who married and raised children during the depths of the Great Depression, but they persevered, and my grandparents’ lessons of faith and family and the value of hard work were passed down to my mother and her siblings.
Considering their similar backgrounds, it is no surprise my parents made such a great match. My mother and her family moved to Platteville, in the southwest corner of the state, just before the start of her senior year of high school in 1953. That had to be tough for Mom, leaving behind her longtime friends in Palmyra, but I never heard her say a word of regret about it. I’m sure that’s because it was in Platteville, during the winter of that senior year, that she met a Class of ’52 alumnus, my father, at a roller-skating rink. They were engaged before she graduated and married the following October.
Some 15 years and three sons later, after supporting my father during his Army days, then college and the start of his professional career in public education, my mother went to college herself. She graduated from UW-Platteville when I was a junior in high school, then went to work. Entering college so long after her own high school days certainly wasn’t easy for her, but once again, never was heard a discouraging word. My mother is probably not the most optimistic person on the planet, but she’s in the top three. She became an honor student, all the while keeping a meticulous household for us in Potosi. My brothers and I all had chores to do, of course, and it never occurred to us to complain about it. Work had to be done and that was it. Mom needed the extra help because she was going to school, so we stepped up.
My mother has given me many gifts, and I’m not talking about material things I might receive for Christmas or birthdays. I mean real gifts, like love and faith and the meaning of family. My mother loves my father with a passion that hasn’t dimmed in 63 years, but she loves the Lord even more. The Lord, in turn, has blessed her with a great marriage, three sons who worship her and six grandchildren who think the world of their Grandma.
I can’t really remember a time when my mother was sad, except at her own parents’ funerals. Even then, her sadness was tempered by her rock-hard assurance that she would see them again in heaven. Mom’s sunny, optimistic disposition is one of her many good qualities. As a family we have had many good times together, but if I had to pick the best, I would say it was in December 2004, when the entire family came together for a cruise down the Pacific coast of Mexico, in celebration of the season and my folks’ 50th wedding anniversary. The first night we gathered on board the ship for dinner was the very first time my parents had sat down for a meal with not only their sons and their wives, but all of their grandchildren. It was a special moment, and Mom got kind of emotional. But so did the rest of us. Every meal we had together on that cruise was special.
The cruise was so much fun we did it again three years later, this time to the Caribbean. The next family reunion didn’t take place until July of 2014, when my nephew Ian got married in Los Angeles, and everybody was able to attend. Two months later was my daughter Kim’s wedding in Boston, and my parents made the cross-country flight for the big event, just days before their own 60th anniversary.
Some years back I was talking theology with someone and was asked if I truly believe there are saints among us. “Of course,” I said, “and if you knew my mother, you would agree with me.” Tomorrow I will call her, and she will ask how I’m doing in light of my recovery from knee replacement surgery this past winter. Am I taking my medication? Getting enough sleep, enough exercise? Mothers never really stop fretting, because that’s their job, and nobody does it better than my mom.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all of my life.” I know exactly what he means.