Betty J. Slade
I was asked, “Who has had the most influence on your life?” I hadn’t thought about it before. There have been many people. I’ve had wonderful teachers who have tipped the scales, opened a window to look through and stretched my mind beyond any formal education. They encouraged me to think rightly and for myself.
Many loyal lifetime friends gave me their time, energy and encouragement. They showed me how to love, forgive and search for a better me. But there is only one person who gave me a backbone and developed core values in me which I carry today.
When asked who had the most influence in my life, I paused and smiled, “It must’ve been my mother. I’m not sure where I’d be today if it hadn’t been for her. She was really hard on my brothers and me. She meant business and we knew it.”
I told her story and said that I realize how hard I’ve been on my friends and family, and added jokingly, “If you don’t like me, blame my mother.”
They looked surprised and tee-heed.
My mother was not about relationships. She was about getting the job done. Tough? Why was she so tough? Was it because life was tough on her? I thought back to a comment I heard years ago. “Your mother, at 13 years old, sat on her mother’s grave and cried for weeks. The family made her come home.”
Did she pour out all her heart on that grave? Maybe something broke inside her, possibly she couldn’t trust love or she couldn’t afford to be hurt again.
Warm and fuzzy? Not at all. A stay-at-home mother, on Monday she washed the clothes in a wringer washing machine. She hung them on the line in freezing weather and gathered them up stiff as boards. On Tuesday she ironed, Wednesday she cleaned house and the rest of the week was as predictable. She lived life as a job.
My mother, a widow at 36. With three teenagers, no insurance money and no way to support us, she lived life as a survivor. She had never worked outside the home. She got a job washing pots and pans in a junior high school cafeteria. She went to business school at night and landed a job at Sandia Labs in Albuquerque. She kept the family together. We never had to sleep on the streets or beg for bread.
She taught me, “Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.”
Still grieving, she came home from my dad’s funeral and said to my brothers and me, “No kid of mine is going to lay around on the couch. To stay out of trouble, I’m getting you a job.”
In her 1955 green Chevrolet, she drove me to an ice cream shop. I was 13 when she totally embarrassed me and took me to see the manager. I don’t know if the manager took pity on me or her, but I got the job.
My brothers and I agree, “One thing for sure, mother taught us how to work. She told us there were no free lunches and if we didn’t work, we didn’t eat.”
She taught us if we borrowed money from her, she expected to be paid back. If she gave it to us as a gift, then it was a gift. After I had my family, she’d visit us. She kept her purse in her lap during the visit, and when she was finished talking business, she went home. She was all about getting the job done.
She loved to travel. She took each of my children on several trips. She had a wonderful relationship with them. My children saw their grandma differently than I did. When I asked my youngest daughter how she would describe her grandma, she said, “She wasn’t flowery, but she was my best friend and buddy. She never missed a special occasion.”
In her later life, I think it was my children who helped heal the hurt in her heart. I couldn’t; I was too much like her.
Final brushstroke: My mother gave me something no one else could. She taught me to live with intention, and intention has been built into every stage of my life. Being like my mother, I have fought against those hard edges in me, sought to change and worked to have a softer heart toward those who are a big part of my life. My mother’s influence has never left me, but hopefully the Lord has transformed me more into his image.