My mother soloed a plane on her 16th birthday, and had her pilot's license before her driver's license. She could drive a truck, a motor home, a motorcycle, a tractor, and a skid steer. She baked beautiful wedding cakes -- and only did so as gifts for the people she loved. She learned to make baskets and to throw pots. She sewed and crocheted and embroidered. Her pies and breads were legendary. She could butcher a goat, deliver a lamb, and repair a haybine. Babies loved her -- of all species. She could quiet any fussy human baby and heal any struggling orphan lamb. She could run a bandsaw and a meat grinder. She had a beautiful smile, a wicked sense of humor, and the ability to make a sailor blush with her predilection for colorful cursing.
She was a tough parent to have when I was a child. My mother expected me to be independent and resourceful; she required me to have integrity and endurance. When I signed up for a 4-H project, I was required to finish it. When a horse bucked me off, I had to get back on. Birthday presents & Christmas presents were not to be enjoyed until notes of thanks were written to the giver. My mother believed that challenges made a person stronger, and children only learned through responsibility. She never helped with homework; it was my responsibility to succeed or fail based on my own resources. But she arranged her own schedule day after day to make sure I could take advantage of any opportunity I had in life. She expected a lot of me, but she was always in my corner.
My relationship with my mother suffered during my teenage years. She was struggling greatly with life, and had to face those challenges. This was very hard for me as a young woman grappling to find my own place in the world. I learned many powerful lessons, however, from my observations of what my mother experienced. Do not be afraid to fail, but always learn from your mistakes. If you hurt someone, make it right. Never give up that things can get better. Never stop believing in the healing power of love. Surround yourself with good friends who will support you & love you -- and let them be your role models as you master the journey that is life.
I was very fortunate that as an adult my mother was truly my best friend. We took wonderful trips together as adults. (Although, I will always maintain that my childhood "vacations" on the wagon train were some of her worst ideas ever.) We laughed a lot, we went to church together, we drank margaritas, and we planned all the wonderful adventures we would have together in the future. My mother loved my friends, willingly accompanied me to ballets and goat shows and bull riding competitions, and supported me completely when I was confirmed in the Catholic Church. It was hard for my mother to ask for forgiveness, but she spent my adult life making sure that our relationship was everything we both wanted it to be. It was awesome.
Watching my mother at the end of her life was inspiring. When she was told she had six months to live, she made it clear to the doctors that was not enough -- that was not even to Christmas. And she did make it to Christmas, and to her birthday, and to Valentine's Day, and to Easter, and finally to Mother's Day. As the cancer ravaged her physical self, her spirit seemed to shine without any temporal barriers limiting it. Some of the most beautiful photographs of my mother were taken right at the end of her life; it was as though the camera somehow physically captured her internal light free of any worries of hair or weight or makeup. There will never be a tougher woman than my mother facing the end of her days with love and grace and fierce rebellion against the reaper who was stalker her.
When my mother passed onward, my cousin (of the Dominican order) reminded me that death was the conduit by which Jesus was able to always be with His disciples. By this freedom from the constrictions of the temporal realm, our spirits can also likewise be freed through death -- and thus my mother would always be with me. I miss her every day. There are so many times I wish I could tell her something exciting, make her laugh with my misadventures, ask her advice when I have a conundrum on the farm, or receive a hug from her when I simply want to cry. I am grateful, though, for all the wonderful things I have to remember about her. Her toughness and her resourcefulness. Her beautiful smile. Her pear pie and her lasagna made with goat sausage. Her fearlessness in the face of a flat tire, or a divorce, or a diagnosis of cancer. I was uniquely blessed to have this amazing woman for a mother. I hope I can live up to the standard she set for me.