It is a sad fact of life that, all too often, we become so bogged down with the minutiae and infinitia of everyday life that we find ourselves accidentally forgetting the really important stuff.

That almost happened to me this week. I got so busy tackling what was required of me while working on this week’s issue of the Capital-Democrat that it almost - almost - slipped my mind that today (Wednesday, Oct. 11) would have been my mother’s 75th birthday.

It’s hard to believe that it has almost been six months since she passed away. The pain has subsided some since then; the grief has not, and I fully expect that it never completely will. To some degree I’ve made my peace with that. I read somewhere once that grief is part of the fire which fuels the crucible that forges our lives; so if the things that make me cry help make me who I am, who am I to fight it?

Besides, to paraphrase something another person once so famously said in one of my favorite science fiction movies, she’s not really gone as long as I remember her.  And the memories I have of my mother are ones that I will cherish for the rest of my own life.

Like the smell of her chocolate pecan pie at Thanksgiving.

Or the way she bragged to everyone she saw when I published my first book.

The way she would play solitaire with as many as 10 decks of cards at one time.

Or even those moments which drove me nuts at the time they occurred. Like the way she used to fuss at me for mischief my two younger brothers would get into when I wasn’t even home. One time when I was in high school I came home and was met at the door my Mom, who greeted me with a swat across the behind.

“What was that for?” I protested.

“That’s for being their brother,” she snapped, still frazzled from whatever it was they had done in the first place.

“Well, heck, you can’t blame me for that,” I shot back sarcastically. “I wanted a puppy, but you and Dad kept bringing those things home instead.” Years later we would both laugh any time she remembered that particular exchange, but all it got me at the time was another swat across the behind…

She was the first one who realized that Melissa and I were destined to be together when we started dating in high school. She was also the first one to smack me on the back of the head and tell me what a jerk I was for briefly breaking up with Melissa during a weird period in my life a couple of years later; and the first one (well, after Melissa, that is) to express happiness when we got back together just a week after that.

Mom could be my harshest critic, but she was also my most vocal supporter. She was also my first - and in so many ways my best - teacher, one whose lessons have held me in good stead my entire life.

Mom was the one who taught me to treat everyone the way I would want to be treated, regardless of the color of their skin or the church they belonged to (if any) or the condiment they preferred on their hamburger.

She was the one who taught me how to read and, along with my father, gave me an appreciation for the written word that proved to be the best gift they ever gave me, the one that enabled ed me to find the right path for my life.

Mom was the one who taught me that I should never hit a girl. “Unless she hits you first - then you go right ahead and hit her back. Don’t be a bully, but don’t let yourself be bullied, either.”

She taught me to stand up for what I believe in, even if I’m standing alone. But she also taught to respect the beliefs of others, even if I do not share them.

She taught me to take responsibility for my actions, and to take whatever punishment that might result like a man.

She taught me that it was okay to be that geek that reads comic books and watches Star Trek and Star Wars. Because, every now and then, the geek wins the day, gets the girl and has the last laugh.

She taught me that vacations are about the trip, not the destination.

She taught me to be a good friend to my friends… and that the best friend is quite often the one who just sits quietly and listens.

She taught me that there is a world of difference between earned loyalty and blind obedience to someone or something undeserving. And that true patriotism is something far more than simply wrapping one’s self up in the flag and singing “God Bless America.”

She taught me the importance of being able to cook and fend for myself. But she also taught me that, yes, there was someone for me out there somewhere. And, boy, was she right…

She taught me to take joy in the little things in life. Like the clean smell of a springtime rain. Or the sound of a child’s laugh. Or the happiness to be found in a simple bag of penny candy…

Most importantly, she taught me the importance of trying to live each day of one’s life as if it was the last. Because, one day, it will be. It will be those memories that will remain to comfort those we leave behind.

Happy birthday, Mom.

I love you.

(Copyright 2017 by John Allen Small)