Patrick Kuhl: I can picture her on the back porch steps

May 12, 2013 

There have been 31 Mother's Days since my mom died in 1981.

I'm afraid I'm forgetting some of the little things I love about her.

Like the pins and needles I had to watch out for whenever I crawled up in her lap to get a hug. She always had some sewing project going. Making all of her own dresses. Hemming and unhemming and re-hemming hand-me-down pants. Patching holes in jeans knees. Even sewing my sister's wedding dress.

With eight kids, she never could sit down and do a lot of sewing at one time. Whenever she was interrupted, she just stuck the needle through her dress top, with the thread hanging down, and went about her business. Sometimes there would be two or three needles. You had to be careful when you got close to Mom. But, boy, it was worth it.

There was that homemade soup she always made. I have her recipe and I've been trying to duplicate it for all these years. But it's just not Mom's Soup. Her most important ingredients were ones you can't buy in grocery stores.

I can picture her on the back porch steps, snapping snap beans picked fresh from the garden while she watched us play in the backyard.

How she laughed so hard at Red Skelton and rooted so hard for Chester on "Gunsmoke." I remember how surprised she was years later when she saw Dennis Weaver on another show and he didn't walk with a limp. I think she might have prayed for his leg to get better.

Being the baby of the family, I had the best seat in the car on summer drives in the country. On Mom's lap. That was before they invented child car seats.

Who can forget the time she dyed her gray hair and it came out greenish? Or the time she decided to help out Pop and used his clippers to cut my brother's hair. He wore a cap to school for a week.

I can hear her humming as she hung wash on the line or did any of her endless chores. I think I inherited that. Sometimes my neighbors make fun of me when I'm finished mowing the grass. Who would have thought they could hear "Eight Days a Week" over the roar of the mower?

Every morning, Mom would get up early and make breakfast for Pop and whichever of us eight kids were home at the time, wash the dishes, get kids off to school, maybe start some laundry or other chores. Then everything stopped.

Mom slipped away to the top drawer of her dresser and pulled out a small black book. It was well worn and bulging with stuff that wasn't part of the book at all. She carried it carefully, with both hands so none of her treasures would fall out, to the kitchen table.

For the next half-hour or so you had to be absolutely quiet. It wasn't that she demanded it. You did it because you could tell by the look on her face that there was something very important going on here.

Mom would close her eyes and say a prayer or two. She didn't really need the little black prayer book because she knew them all by heart. Then she opened her eyes and dealt out on the table all the holy cards and letters she had stuffed into the book. Each in its own turn. Each in its own place, like a big game of solitaire.

As she put down each one, she paused and mumbled something. They were little prayers of her own that weren't printed anywhere in any book.

When I was little, sometimes she let me climb up in a chair and pick them up. She told me about all the people who were in the papers and in her heart.

There were cards in the stack, many with the names of people who had died. She had picked up the cards at their funerals. Her dad. Grandma and Grandpa Kuhl, who died before I was born. A childhood friend. Neighbors. Relatives. I don't know what she said for each one, but she told me a lot of them were saints now and helping God look after us.

Later on in her life, there were photos of grandkids. A picture of our house in Texas from when they came on a Greyhound bus to visit.

My favorites were a couple of handwritten letters and a photograph of her best friend who became a nun and went off to be a missionary in Africa.

It was my first geography lesson. The nun was in Tanganyika, which isn't even a country anymore, on the East Coast of Africa.

If I asked, she read me part of a letter. The nun wrote that Tanganyika must be the most beautiful place in the world. She wrote about exotic animals and plants. She talked about how nice the people in her world were even though they were poor and endured much suffering. She asked Mom to pray for them. And she did.

Mom said she thought about becoming a nun and being a missionary, too, when she was young.

I'm glad she didn't.

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