A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Me and my mother, Romania Sue Small, circa 1963-64.

I am told that a certain member of my family apparently did not appreciate my sharing the following story at my mother’s funeral last Friday. 

I have to admit to having been somewhat baffled by this response. Certain things being what they are, certain people being who they are, perhaps I shouldn’t have been. I don’t know. 

Everyone else seemed to appreciate the story, and had nothing but kind things to say about it after the fact. But this one particular individual didn’t, it seems.

And the fact that this one particular individual didn’t seems ample enough reason to share it again here now, just out of spite.

And so I shall.

Stick THAT in your pipe and blow bubbles with it... 

•     •     •

It happened on Sunday, Aug. 13, 1978. I know the date because, for whatever reason, I actually thought to write it down at the time. I know it was a Sunday because... well, okay, I looked it up. I Googled it.

I don’t remember after all these years the specifics of what actually happened. I can’t recall if we were all to blame, or if just one or two of us were the actual culprits and the others simply got caught in the crossfire; it was known to happen at times. I only remember that my two younger brothers and I got into some sort of worse-than-usual mischief that caused our mom to yell at us a little more loudly than she might have ordinarily. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, so whatever it was we got in trouble for, I’m sure I at least was old enough to have known better…

Sometimes, when Mom really had to get on to us for some stupid thing we might have did or said, or didn’t do or say something when we should have, she would yell at us and then go into her bedroom and cry. I never understood that when I was a kid. But it happened every now and then, and when it happened on this one particular occasion it really shook me up. So much so that I felt moved to apologize.

I was never much good at face-to-face emotional scenes - I’m still not, for that matter - so I went about it the only way I knew how. I wrote her a note. But not on a piece of notebook paper that I could place on the kitchen table or stick on the refrigerator or slide under her bedroom door. 

Instead, for whatever reason, I went to the living room bookcase and pulled out Mom’s white leather Holy Bible - the Bible I placed in her casket after the funeral last Friday, the Bible her parents had given her when she was still a teenager, the Bible she held the day she married my dad, in which she wrote down all the important milestones in her life and from which she occasionally read to my brothers and I on Saturday mornings when I’m sure we would have rather have been watching Bugs Bunny and Superman - and wrote on one of the few still-blank pages to be found just inside the front cover.

This is what I wrote:

To Mother:

I know that the kids and I don’t show it to you very much, but we love you as much as a mother could be loved by her children. We do some idiotic things sometimes, but we know that you and Dad have always tried to do what you thought best. I guess we just take it for granted. I just want you to know that we truly love you, and would even die for you if necessary. You are the greatest mom in the whole wide world.

And then I signed it, and dated it, and quietly placed Mom’s Bible back on the bookshelf, confident that she would eventually see that hastily written note. And even if she didn’t, well, at least I had gotten it off my chest. And as Mom was sometimes known to say, sometimes that’s enough.

And then I went on with my life and eventually forgot all about it…

•     •     •

Now I told you that story in order to tell you this one:

Many years later, after I had become a parent myself and was lucky enough to have forged a more-or-less successful career as a professional writer, Mom and I were sitting in her living room one Saturday afternoon just chatting. At some point the conversation turned to my work at the newspaper and an essay of mine that had just recently been published in an anthology devoted the works of Philip José Farmer; Mom started talking - not for the first time - about how happy she was that I was getting to do the one thing I loved most for a living and how much she always looked forward to reading my column even when she didn’t agree with what I had to say. It was a conversation we’d had a number of times before; Mom was always my biggest cheerleader, occasionally to the point of embarrassing me ever so slightly. 

But on this particular occasion, Mom did something she had never done before. 

She reached over to the bookcase, pulled out her Bible, and opened it to that note I had so sloppily written in a fit of remorse nearly four decades earlier and then forgot about. 

And she said in a soft voice, “But of all the things you’ve ever written, this will always be my favorite.”

It was the first time she’d ever acknowledged having read it. And I’ll be honest: I had a hard time holding back the tears when she said it. I didn’t even try when I shared this story at her funeral last week. Because of all the memories of my mother that I will always hold dear - and believe me, there are many - this one stands far above the rest. 

•     •     •

I am told that the reason the one particular family member mentioned above greeted my sharing of this memory with such apparent disdain was because she felt I was bragging about the fact that I am a professional writer. As if to suggest that this is something I do on a regular basis, and that my ego or sense of self-worth or whatever is so utterly fragile that I have to keep reminding people of who I am or what I do, regardless of the real subject at hand at any given moment, just to remind myself that I really am as important as I think I am. “Hey, look at me - I’m a writer! Aren’t I special?”

Nothing - and I do mean nothing - could be further from the truth. 

I have nothing to brag about. Believe me, I have NEVER considered myself to be a great writer - or even a good one, much of the time. At best I’ve always felt myself to be pleasantly mediocre at the one thing I am somewhat good at, and lucky enough - incredibly so, sometimes - to have experienced even the smallest modicum of success at that chosen profession along the way.

And trust me, I am fully aware that the bulk of any such success must be attributed to the guidance and support and love of two wonderful parents who set me on this path in the first place by teaching me to read at an early age, and instilled in me a love of the written word that made me want to become a writer in the first place, and to try and share with others that love that my parents bequeathed to me.

My successes have been their successes. I owe them everything. All I’ve ever wanted to do in life is to make my parents proud of me, to help them believe that all their hard work and effort and worry might actually have paid off, even if only just a little bit. It’s still all I want to do.

Hearing my mother laugh at some silly thing I might have written in my newspaper column on any given week, or the pride in her voice when she told someone that I was a professional writer, or seeing the smile on her face when I gave her a copy of my first book… those things have meant more to me than any award or bonus paycheck ever could.

Like I said, Mom was always my biggest cheerleader.

So no, I was not bragging. If anything, I was celebrating - celebrating the love between the greatest mom in the world and the son who still isn’t always sure that he ever truly deserved that love. Celebrating the way she was always there for me, no matter what. Celebrating the way she occasionally had to give me a good swift kick in the rear to set me down the right path… and how my journey was always a better one because of that kick she gave me.

I was celebrating my mother.

And I’d like to think most folks last Friday actually understood that.

I know Mom would have...

(Copyright © 2017, by John A. Small)