My Mother

When we were young we little knew
How rare a love in her heart grew.
Through sacrifices large and small,
She wove her love around us all.

As children do, we brought her pain;
But never once did she complain.
She did not welcome autumn days,
When school would take us all away.

For fame and wealth she did not long,
But found fulfillment in her home;
Nor did she count her life a loss
Or think she bore an unkind cross.

Delighting in us all our days,
She heaped upon us words of praise.
No greater love have children found--
Our mother wanted us around.

from Down Mare Creek Road, p. 124

This was my mother. You never heard of her. She did not do some great work that changed the world. Her life's work was rearing five daughters.

Mary Magdalene Conn was born on September 16, 1917, in Banner, Kentucky. She was not a well child and quit school after a few months in first grade. She could not write a letter, but she dictated them to us girls. She could sign her name and read a little, especially from the Bible. She married my father on February 5, 1938, and became Mary Adkins, which is how I knew her.

I don't know how she did it, but Mommy made sure all of us felt loved. In a house full of girls one of us could have easily felt neglected or slighted. But, even though I never recall my mother's telling me she loved me, I knew without a doubt that she did.

Education was important to my mother, probably because she had so little of it. She once told me that if she could have anything she wanted she would want to be "smarter in this world." I told her then and I believe it to this day (though Mommy has been dead since January 5, 1981) that she was one of the smartest people I have ever known.

When I was very young we lived behind the school building where my older sisters attended school. Though she had no formal education my mother opened a small store in a little building next to our house. She sold snacks to the school children during lunch and recess. When I was older Mommy cleaned houses and took in ironing for neighbors to make money for our family. My father was ill for a long time and died when I was fifteen, but my mother somehow managed to make sure that we had food and clothing. At one time we lived on $50 in food stamps each month. How she kept us going like that with no money is beyond me. But I never recall going hungry.

When I was in second grade I begged my mother to let me quit school. "Oh no," she said, "you have to get a good education." I whined and whined until she agreed to let me quit when I got to seventh grade.

"But that's too long!" I cried. "Let me quit now!"

"Tell you what," she offered, "I'll let you quit in fifth."

That seemed fairly soon so I accepted it and tried to make the best of the situation. By the time I was in fifth grade I loved school and had no desire to quit. I think my mother knew that would happen, but she was wise enough to give a sad little girl hope so that she could go on.

My older sister was graduated from high school in 1966. My mother moved the family to Prestonsburg, Kentucky, so that my sister could attend the community college there. When my sister finished at Prestonsburg, Mommy moved us to Pikeville so that my sister could finish her education at Pikeville College. We lived there until my younger sister and I both also attended college.

I am not sure how Mommy instilled in us the desire to learn. I do not recall her ever saying, "You need to go to college," but we knew it was important to her. We knew how much she wished she had been able to go to school. Maybe the knowledge that she herself valued education made us desire it. Perhaps it was her pride in us when we achieved. I remember the year that my sister was valedictorian of Betsy Layne High School. The same year I was valedictorian of my eighth-grade class. I don't know that I've ever seen such pride in my mother's face. She never bragged on us, but she glowed when we accomplished our goals.

My mother's daughters have become an artist, a writer, a teacher, a seamstress, and an entrepreneur. I believe that my mother would have been proud of our accomplishments had she lived to see them. When Mommy died my sister who is now a seamstress could not even hem her own pants. She took them to Mommy. But from our mother's example she knew that if she tried hard enough she could accomplish her dreams, so my sister taught herself to sew and has done so well that she makes and sells quilted purses, cheerleading outfits, drapes, and furniture covers.

I had my first child not too long before my mother died. I asked her for advice on rearing him. She told me only two things: "Love him and feed him when he's hungry." I have tried to follow her advice and feel that if I am half the mother my own mother was, then my children are blessed.

Mommy was an encourager. She was not judgmental. She had many close friends who loved to talk to her on the phone and come to visit. I know why they liked being around my mother. She listened to them. They would sit for a long time and pour out their troubles. Mommy took it all in but she didn't spread it around. She kept confidences and her friends knew it. She was a gentle soul. Nothing shook her. Her faith was not such that she felt the need to broadcast it. Instead she lived it in her day to day life. Everyone spoke well of her.

My mother left a legacy of hard work and determination. She never gave up. Even in small things she was patient and dedicated and waited till the time was right. Then she made things happen the way she wanted them. Calm, cool, and collected--that was my mom. Like a rock.

I celebrate my mother today because in my opinion it is women like her who help make the world a better place to be. She did what she had to do. She did what she loved to do. She gave her life for others, particularly her children, in order to strengthen the future generation. She sacrificed so that others could have more than she had.

We could all learn a great lesson from my mother. Her greatest desire was for her children to have a better life than she had. She wanted us to have greater opportunities. She loved to travel and even when she was very sick she would go with us to visit Georgia or North Carolina or West Virginia. If a trip was mentioned she was ready to go. She offered us all the knowledge she could impart--both in books and in the world around us.

My mother was a jewel. When I think of her I think of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31: "Her children rise up, and call her blessed...."

Tina Rae Collins