Mom was happy-go-lucky, always bubbling with humor, and invested with a practical-joker streak which, given her pious demeanor, could—and often did—catch you by surprise if you weren’t paying attention.
One of my very earliest memories is of a Saturday afternoon, not long after my third birthday, during a family outing to a favorite woods near Twin Creek. It was late spring. Dad decided to head downhill and fish. Mom and I stayed near the car. She sat on a log while I toddled about, plucking wildflowers and playing in the damp leaves.
After a while, Mom called me over and asked if I’d like a cookie. When I nodded, she reached into her purse and proffered a yellow-and-black treat—which I opened wide to accept. The tiny box turtle, scarcely larger than a silver dollar, stuck its head from its carapace a millisecond before entering my mouth—just in time for me to catch a glimpse of its dragon-like countenance.
The unexpected sight sent me into a screaming fit—part terror, part rage, but mostly frustration over being denied the promised cookie. My howling wails so tickled Mom that she fell off the log amid gales of laughter, while bringing my father huffing up the hill to deal with whatever trauma had instigated such a clamor.
The baby box turtle was eventually released unharmed, though my ego never quite recovered. And fifty-odd years later, Mom still got a kick and a laugh out of teasing me about the “turtle-cookie” incident. Humor, laughter, and fun, Mom taught me, should always be a part of all life—and by extension, part of the outdoors.
My father, while not overly serious, was at least generally thoughtful, more contemplative. A scholar and logician. Dad was the nuts-and-bolts guy, the one who taught me the mechanics and technicalities of fishing for crappie, hunting gray squirrels, digging sassafras, tying a trout fly, fashioning an axe handle, or skinning out a muskrat. Mother, on the other hand, tended more towards guiding my attitude—though she also enriched my education by instructing me in such outdoor practicalities as cooking dandelion greens, frying catfish, canning blackberry preserves, or using the walnuts we gathered each fall to bake a flavorful cake delicious beyond description.
Like my father, Mom grew up on a farm in eastern Kentucky. She hoed corn on the hillsides. Read by the light of a coal oil lamp. Cooked on a woodstove. She knew how to butcher a hog, can peaches, churn butter, and spin sheep’s wool into thread which could then be put on a loom and turned into cloth. Mom loved the country, country ways, and country people. She loved telling and hearing stories. And throughout her ninety-four years of life, she never wavered in this love of the hills and its simple, honest values.
Mom taught me to love and understand old times, old ways, old places and things. She also taught me to appreciate beauty.
“Listen to that redbird sing,” she’d say, a hundred times each year. Her face would radiate the joy she found in the bird’s sprightly song. Should the brilliant cardinal alight within sight, perhaps in the middle of Mom’s favorite window-side rose tangle, her happiness was increased exponentially.
Mom found beauty in everything from wildflowers to sunsets, singing birds, buzzing bees, the hoot of and owl or a croaking frog. She liked hearing rain on the roof and the growl of thunder off in the distance. She loved fall’s patchwork colors. New snow. Lightening bugs twinkling a summer meadow. Fragrant apple blossoms in the spring.
“There’s beauty everywhere,” Mom said. “Just look around.”
Parents are like ears, in that we each receive a pair without any choice whatsoever in the matter. I was the luckiest kid in the world, blessed beyond measure in my gift of parents…and the older I get, the more apparent this fact becomes.
I was born on a Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day. Mom always claimed I was her Mother’s Day present. “The best-ever gift,” she said.
Personally, I think I got the better deal. Mom’s spirit was indomitable. Her joy irrepressible. Her love immeasurable. She taught me attitudes and values which still shape and enrich my life and outdoor experience every single day.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you with all my heart. Miss you every single day. Appreciate all you did—the tears you shed and sacrifices you made.
More than anything in this world, Mom, I’m honored and forever thankful to be your son.