My Mother — I Wish I’d Known Her

The news came in the evening as we were together with friends: back home in Saskatchewan my Mom had died of a heart attack.

What could I say?  “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  Isn’t that what they say when somebody dies?  In the course of intoning a farewell for the deceased, didn’t the old-time preachers often quote these words from Job?

“The Lord giveth…”  How true.  All life is a gift from God.  All children born into this world are to be cherished, nourished, brought up with loving care.  A loving, but firm earthly father is to be an example of our loving, but firm Heavenly Father.

Would to God that all children could experience this!  But sometimes this precious gift of life isn’t appreciated.  Sometimes this new life given so freely is taken for granted, neglected, maybe even abused.

Some children born into this world need special care and training.  So it was with Louise.  They say that she was a bit simple even as a toddler; then her mother died of cancer when Louise was only two.  Before she died, Grandma asked Grandpa to put Louise into a Home where she’d get the special care she needed–but he said no.

It wasn’t because he planned to take such good care of her.  On the contrary Louise became an abused child, being knocked around first by her father and then by her husband.  Taken advantage of by many people.  Appreciated by few.

When we were younger we children took her for granted.  She was just there.  None of us gave a second thought as to why Mom was the way she was, why she didn’t seem to have any backbone, or why she hung out at the bar all the time.  Back then few people knew about what physical and sexual abuse does to a child, how it drains the spark of life and takes away any incentive to improve.  Few people even knew about the abuse; what went on at home was kept at home.

My aunt once told me, “Your Mom was made to work really hard when she was still so young, banged over the head with frying pans.”  We heard of the time her dad lost his temper with Mom for some reason and beat her over the head with a chunk of wood.  (Years ago folks had the idea that someone is dumb, you need to whack them on the head to make them smarter.)  As stories like this came to light, I began to understand our mom’s listlessness a little more.

A woman can perhaps recover from abuse if given a decent chance in her adult years, but Mom was never given that chance.  She married a man who finally had someone he could rule over–and he did.  He loved her, but they had some real knock-down-drag-out fights; I was witness to one of those one morning.

Mom spent a lot of time at the town “beer parlour” –and this was back in the days when women weren’t allowed into bars.  She’d go without a penny to her name, trusting some generous fellow to pay for her drinks.  And as my sister said, “A couple of beer and she’d be drunk enough to do anything.”

In my childhood years my Mom meant nothing to me. I saw her, but I hardly knew her.  I was her second child, born eleven months after my brother and, since I was sickly during my first few months, I was raised by my aunt & uncle.  I only saw my natural parents for a few weeks in the summer when I’d stay with them –just enough to know who they were.  If Mom wanted to correct us or get us to do something, our Dad informed us that she was “just the old lady” and we didn’t have to listen to a word she said.

When it came to right & wrong, facts & fiction, Mom seemingly had no clue.  Most of us have some awareness of when we’re doing something wrong or bad, but Mom lacked this sense of right and wrong.  My sister and I each came to the conclusion that Mom was at about the level of a nine-year old in her understanding.  One day we compared notes about this and my sister had been told that Mom got her head stuck in a cream can when she was nine and had turned blue by the time they got her out.

She had very little training in keeping house to begin with; by the time I knew her she had absolutely no interest, either.  Their house was filthy, the children neglected, she was at the bar.  Though he was no angel himself, Dad was probably extremely frustrated and angry at times.  This brought more fights.  I was so glad to be out of it all.

But there came a time in my life when I got enthused about genealogy and I went back to my ‘roots’ to piece together a bit of history.  In Melfort, the town where I was born I met one of Mom’s cousins. “Chris,” she exclaimed as soon as I had introduced myself, “You look just like your Mom!”

“Ooooh!” I half groaned, half wailed, “Is that supposed to be a compliment?”  I thought my mother was so ugly!  Let’s face it, being punched in the face for 50 years does nothing for anyone’s looks.  She had no teeth, stringy hair, and the vacant look of someone who doesn’t care what happens next.

My cousin soon set me straight.  She told me about how my mother was when she was young, that she had been much more caring and was fairly good-looking, moreover she was kind.  She said that when my parents were first married Mom had tried to make a decent home, but was constantly put down–and finally gave up.

She told me some things she’d seen.  One evening Mom had given my brother Jim a bath and he was ready for bed when Dad arrived home from hauling coal all day.  “Show Daddy how nice and clean you are,” she’d said.  And Dad said, “You don’t look like my little boy, so clean!”  And he proceeded to rub Jim down with his coal-covered hands & coat until Jim was filthy.

Seeing Mom through the eyes of someone who really knew her, who had watched her grow up and had seen what life had handed her, I began to understand.  Being older and a mother myself by this time, I was starting to appreciate that this woman whom I resembled so much had given me the gift of life–a precious gift.  I also realized that I would probably resemble my mother even more if I’d had to walk in her moccasins!  For the first time in my life, I really cared about my mother.

Life went on for us and we moved away to Ontario.  Though we came back for different visits, I never saw Mom alive again.

“…and the Lord taketh away.”  Finally He calls back that life that He once gave, and an account must be given.  “For we must all appear at the judgment seat of Christ…”

They say we are all, at any time, only one heartbeat away from our coffin.  One last beat “…and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”  For Mom, that last beat came December 1, 1995, when she was 72 years old.

A woman once came to Jesus and poured precious ointment on His feet.  She wiped His feet with her hair.  She wept, because she knew she was a sinner.  Some Pharisees watched this act and their eyebrows rose quite high.  “If this man were truly a prophet,” they murmured among themselves, “He would know what manner of woman this is that is touching him!”

But Jesus did know.  He understood the circumstances of her life intimately and knew what had made her do the things she did.

The call came and I made the trip back home to see Mom one last time.  At the funeral home, I looked down at the silent form of my mother lying in the coffin –and I understood.  God knows what kind of a life she led–and why.  I leave her to the judgment of the only One Who can judge her life fairly.

by Christine Goodnough
Published in Canaquest Friendship newsletter for Women, January 1996.