Like so many teenagers, I thought my mother was pretty stupid.
Mom never finished high school. She didn’t like to read and wasn’t good at math, both of which came easy to me. Her writing was like chicken scratches; I thought that meant she was illiterate. She didn’t use recipes, just cooked and baked with the “dump” method – dump a handful of this and a little of that. Sometimes it would come out delicious, sometimes not.
Mom was raised in a blended family. When she was four, her mother accidentally started a kitchen fire. She became disoriented and locked herself in the bedroom so she would die in the fire she created. Grampa saved their four children, including my mother, but soon realized he couldn’t raise the kids on his own. He married a woman with two children of her own, and they had two more. So Mom had three biological siblings, two stepsiblings, and two half-siblings.
She came of age during the Great Depression, when money and sleeping arrangements were tight at home. She chose to marry a man she’d known only six weeks to ease the financial pressures her family was facing.
Mom didn’t excel at anything that I valued, like reading, education, sciences. I didn’t notice at the time, but her gifts were loyalty, integrity, stubbornness, submission, protectiveness, and humility.
After Mom discovered that the man she married (my dad) had an ugly side, she chose to keep her family intact and protect her children the best she could. When I asked her once why we didn’t leave, she replied, “Where would we go? Who would take in a woman with six kids?” This was before the days of safe houses, so we felt trapped.
But she remained faithful to her marriage vows and trusted God to keep us from harm. She served Him faithfully all her days, singing from her heart and sharing her talents – including dump cooking and baking – whenever and wherever they were needed.
She gave me a modified sweatshirt once. It was cut and trimmed down the front to make it a jacket, then edged with appliques. I thought it was cute – until she told me she’d done it herself. For some reason, the value decreased in my eyes.
When I was thirty, mom died.
After her death, when I could no longer call her to cry on her shoulder, ask for advice, or just hear her voice, she became so much more. I could hear her sing through me in hymns at church. I saw her hands as I decorated birthday cakes. I noticed that my handwriting was chicken scratches, since I had tried to copy hers. And I would wrap myself in that sweatshirt, silently thanking her for making it.
Mom was smarter than I gave her credit for. She may not have had classroom learning, but she was intelligent, something I wish I’d appreciated while she was still alive.
I’ve heard it said that, to a 15-year-old, parents are stupid. But a 25-year-old is amazed at how much parents can learn in ten years.
Maybe we need to look objectively at our elders. They’ve lived through much more than we have. We might face some of the same things later, but they have years and experience to draw on.
Let’s appreciate the wisdom housed in those golden and silvery heads. We can hope that, when our heads the same age, we’ll have learned as much as they knew, if not more. And let’s pray that our kids and others younger than us will respect our wisdom.
In the meantime, let’s learn as much as our gray matter can hold. No one respects ignorance!