Mom was always there.
It was a different time. A different world. And that was just fine with me.
She was there when I got up in the morning to make sure I said my prayers first thing and to wipe the “coals” out of my eyes. But she had been busy long before I woke up, getting breakfast for Pop and any of the other kids who had gotten up before me.
She was there when we sorted laundry together and put it through the wringer and all those rinse tubs. When she hung the wash on the line, I could hear her humming or singing to herself as I played nearby, trying my darndest not to run into the clean sheets. At least when she was looking.
She was there when we walked a couple blocks to the AG store. And to lean on when I fell asleep in church on Sunday.
She was there to settle disputes with the wisdom of Solomon. If I frapped my sister with a dish towel and she caught me before I could run like the wind up the stairs, Mom was there to referee. Sometimes, she saw it was just heading into a tickling match and let it go.
Once, she wound up the towel and gave it to my sister to let her have a free shot. Now, Mom and I both knew that my sister wasn’t near as good at towel frapping as I was so it wouldn’t hurt too much. But it sure made Sis feel good.
She was there when Pop came home for lunch. With the radio tuned to WIBV so they could hear who was in the hospital and then hear Otto Schultz’s corny jokes. Who could ever forget Otto saying in his German accent: “I vas zo zurprized to zee the lady eating potatoes vit her fingers ... that za peas fell off my knife.” Pop and I thought it was hilarious. Mom didn’t get it.
She was there when I painted pictures on the kitchen table. And to help me clean the paint off the table, the chair and me.
She was there to curl up next to when she took time out to watch “Gunsmoke,” her favorite.
And she was there when I said my night prayers. Making sure I didn’t leave anyone out. Not Mr. and Mrs. Spencer. Not Paul the mailman we called Tarzan because of his pith helmet. Or Harvey, Orville and Alice at the AG grocery store.
One day, Mom wasn’t there. She wasn’t there the next day either. Or the next.
She had been having these pains for a while. Doc Hediger said they were gallstones and they had to come out.
I was too young to know what it was all about. All I knew was Mom was going to be away for a few days. My brother told me they were going to put a zipper in her belly. That didn’t sound so bad. I wondered what color it would be.
While Mom was gone, we had to pitch in. She gave us all jobs.
One of my jobs was to be sure and watch “Gunsmoke” for her and tell what Chester was up to.
Another was to make sure WIBV was on when Pop came home for lunch.
One sister was in charge of laundry. A brother had to clean up the kitchen while another took the bathrooms and another went to the AG for supplies, etc.
One of my brothers took command of cooking.
In Mom’s case, those were some pretty big shoes to fill. To this day, all my favorites have Mom in the title. Mom’s Soup, Mom’s Red Apples, Mom’s Chicken and Dressing.
My brother gave it his best shot. He did a pretty good job with soup. The French toast was a little soggy. The burgers were great, even if mine was shaped a little bit like George Washington.
Then there was the night he tried to make pancakes. He made a tall, golden stack of them. They looked like they were right out of an Aunt Jemima syrup commercial. But you couldn’t cut them with a fork. Or even a knife.
He must have left something out — or put something extra in. Shoe leather, perhaps. Even Cookie, our dog, turned up her nose at them. We tossed the rubbery discs around the room at each other. If only the Frisbee hadn’t just been invented, my brother could have made millions.
I didn’t get to visit Mom in the hospital. I was too young and the nurses enforced the rules in those days. But I heard Otto Schultz mention her name. And I went by and she waved at me from her third-floor window.
After a few days — years in little kid time — Mom finally came home. She showed me her zipper, which wasn’t at all like I had imagined. And a plastic bottle that held a few tiny stones that had caused her so much pain.
Once, I got them out of her dresser to show a friend. For a nickel. But never again. They reminded me of how much I missed her when she wasn’t there.