Most of you know I grew up in Nebraska and I still read my hometown newspaper on its website. I have never met Melanie Wilkinson, a journalist for the York News-Times. That being said, we know many of the same people and we could walk down the same streets of that small town blindfolded. Over the past several years, I have come to appreciate her work online as I try to stay current with life in the Midwest. Last week, I found an editorial she had eloquently penned about her mother. Her mom and mine had so many common characteristics! With Melanie's permission, here is her beautiful tribute to her mother.
Twenty With, Twenty WithoutBy Melanie Wilkinson
For 20 years, I was blessed to have a relationship with a woman who I truly regard as my hero. And for 20 years, I’ve missed her. I realized this week that it’s been two decades since I’ve seen my mother — as another anniversary rolls in. But it’s interesting . . . time does heal all wounds and at this juncture, I find myself dwelling on the 20 years I had her in my life, not the 20 without.
My mother, whose name was Cheri, was a woman who treasured sunsets. Every evening during the spring, summer and fall — if there wasn’t work to do — she’d take us kids out for a “hike” in the pasture. It was just a short jaunt through the prairie grass at the time when the sun would be going down. She loved the view — from that place, there was nothing obstructing the big orange ball in the western sky. And then she’d tell us that no matter where we were, or how old we got to be, all we had to do was look at the sunset and she’d be with us. “If we’re both looking at the sunset at the same time, we’ll be together, no matter where we are,” she’d say. Cheri loved flowers. She really was a master horticulturist — a trait she did not pass down to me. Her flower beds were filled with the biggest marigolds I’ve yet to see surpassed and rosebushes that bloomed repeatedly. If she stuck a couple petunia plants in the ground, they’d branch out to fill areas with massive square footage. Heck, her cactus gardens even bloomed. We didn’t have a lot, but we had beauty everywhere. She wanted to be able to paint. She often tried. She’d get oil paints and canvas . . . deciding she wanted to depict some of the views of nature she loved. They weren’t very good and she acknowledged that. But that didn’t keep her from trying anyway.
Cheri was transformed when playing the piano. Her first wooden musical piece came from a school auction when she was a girl and she said she would clunk away on it as much as she could. When her mother abruptly ordered it to be taken from the house, because it took up too much room — she said she was crushed and longed for another the majority of her adult life. Then came my parents’ 10th anniversary — the day a delivery truck pulled into the yard bearing the logo of a music store in Norfolk. She sobbed with joy as my dad took the front door off the hinges and the men wheeled a giant box inside. The furniture was moved and within the hour, the house was filled with some recital song she memorized as a child. So much music filled that space over the years.
My mother was a really good cook. She made everything from scratch and was heralded for her cinnamon rolls. Cheri was the queen of meatloaf, a genius at jazzing up oatmeal and a connoisseur of “potato surprise.” Cheri was a pioneer of masquerade as she tried different ways to use all the wild game my father brought home each fall. Ever heard of mooseburger? Well, it wasn’t good — but she could still hide it in the chili without having any of us be the wiser. The woman could sew. Especially when we were younger, she made the majority of everything we wore. Sure, sometimes her fabric choices were horrifying or the sleeves weren’t quite right. There were also times that we’d beg to not have to wear matching outfits, just because she got a bolt of cotton on sale that week. Oh, the horror of being the seventh kid in a room wearing the same blue print shirt! But I did love her wildly colored quilts that exemplified her enthusiasm and her thrifty goal to never waste anything. Mom was a hard worker — a really hard worker. She did all those things, raised seven kids and worked alongside her man as they built a dairy farm with few dollars but a lot of heart. She could rake hay, move irrigation pipe, disc, milk cows, feed calves — everything but grind feed because she was allergic to the corn dust.
Cheri loved her Lord. She clung to her faith when life was gut-wrenching tough, thanked Him for the good stuff and wasn’t afraid to ask for help when we disappointed her. She knew exactly where she was going when she died and I’m sure she wasn’t disappointed when she got there. Cheri loved her kids. Whether we were standing on folding chairs at the kitchen counter making cookies, hanging up clothes in the summer breeze, or maybe quietly lying on her white bedspread for an afternoon nap — we always knew she adored us. Even when she had to threaten to leave us on the side of the road because we weren’t behaving in the van — or if she actually kicked us out a mile from the house, we knew that she would always come back. And she always did. Cheri was fun. She loved to dance with my father, play cards with the guys and put back a Fuzzy Navel on occasion. Her piano-playing fingers could really tickle, her eyes sparkled when she mentioned old boyfriends from high school (just to get a rise out of my father) and she could run faster than any of us, despite the fact that body gave birth to all of us.
Cheri had her dislikes. She hated cleaning chickens, having dinner at Grandma Onie’s house, going into the cave during bad weather and lecturing me about boys. She couldn’t tolerate mice, pickups that wouldn’t start and any type of lacy lingerie. She loved my father, hated his temper. She loved his loyalty and was intensely angry when he died, although it wasn’t his fault. She loved the fact she was fortunate enough to find her soul mate and was sorry that it couldn’t have lasted longer. She loved her first house — a white trailer with rooms built onto the back side. She’d joke that decorating it was like “polishing dirt,” but when she was done making her cheerful curtains and maneuvering yet another bunk bed into the floor plan — I guess we thought we lived in a castle. Cheri was so thrilled when the new log house was finished after years of planning and financial maneuvering — but sad to see the old one go. That was the place to which she brought each of her newborn babies, she said. That structure was the first thing she and Dad ever owned.She didn’t dwell much on the past because she was always forced to move forward. She didn’t feel sorry for herself, because there was always somebody on her hip who she thought was more important. Her mantra was to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” although she hardly ever used it. And she loved intensely because she said it was the one thing she could always afford to do.So I had her for 20, I’ve been without her for 20. But I think she gave me enough in the first half to carry me through. I had her in my life — period. The rest is just an issue of time.
Applicable quote of the day:
"When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child."
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