Don’t Hold Back
My sister cannot remember a time when my mother’s hair was not gray.
My mother told me this in a letter she sent me not long ago. Her hair turned completely gray when she was younger than I am now. She did not bother to color it, preferring, I think, to spend that time and money on something that was more important.
Mothers can be like that. They put themselves on the back burner when other kettles are boiling, they give a mile when an inch might do, they hold back while everyone else helps themselves.
Last spring, my father turned eighty. We created a book for him that included pages of “life lessons” that we had learned from him and photographs taken throughout his lifetime. When I asked my siblings and my father’s twelve grandchildren to contribute to it, one of my brothers wrote this:
“I learned from my dad that a woman who can cook, fish, sing, play the piano, raise four kids and beat you in a game of one-on-one basketball is a keeper.”
That sums it up, really. A very short, concise version of who my mom is.
She truly was a threat on the court. She makes the best mashed potatoes and a mean blueberry pie. She still plays the piano and sings better than any of us. And she raised us four.
Which contributed, I am sure, to the graying of her hair. My contribution to the gray hair was most likely larger than that of the other three.
She is, of course, much more than a concise statement. If we were to compile a book of what we learned from my mother, there would be a very, very long collection of loving memories and a lot of words about the well-earned respect that we have for her. She taught us quietly and without fuss. We learned and are still learning from her.
We did not notice when her hair turned gray. It is only when we look at pictures of her as a young woman that we remember what she looked like before she had gray hair. When you see someone often, you might not notice small and gradual changes in appearance.
But when you age and grow and change together with someone else, you find yourself looking at them differently. Not looking at what they look like, but looking at who they are. And you notice things you would not have observed when you were 15.
We do not notice her gray hair. We see instead how fortunate we are that she is our mother, our grandmother and our great-grandmother. We who are or will become parents and grandparents can only hope to be as fine.
Today, she turns 80.
I do not think there will be a big fuss on her birthday. That doesn’t suit her. But we will all gather there next week to celebrate Thanksgiving. On that day when we make a point of counting our blessings, she will be counted at the top of the list. At the top where she always belongs. And when we gather around the table for yet another time, we will wait to help ourselves and be sure that the beautiful woman with the gray hair is first in line.