Mom was christened Mary Catherine Ryan and grew up on a Kansas farm where she was somewhat of a tomboy and could race her horse, Smoky, as fast any of her brothers. Her petite figure didn’t stop her from being the running center on the high school basketball team. With the loss of her father at age eighteen and the onslaught of the great deep depression she boarded a train for the first time with five dollars and headed for Kansas City. Knocking on the door of a convent and asking the dear nuns to help her get a college education, mom found herself, four years later, as a registered nurse. During those trying years she scrubbed walls and floors of operating and hospital rooms to earn extra money to send home to help the family save the farm. They did save the farm and were the only ones in the area to do so.
Her small frame and spunky spirit as well as her natural beauty singled her out to be selected as one of the first airline stewardesses for TWA. Those were the days of Amelia Earhart when passenger aviation was in the infant stage. Mom didn’t fly long and she always changed the subject when asked about it. It wasn’t until after her untimely death that we began to put two and two together. As spunky as she was she never had a driver’s license and only drove on country roads when visiting the farm. Dad gave her numerous gift certificates for driver’s ed only to have them remain in a drawer. Mom died of a cerebral hemorrhage caused by the high blood pressure she couldn’t control. Her medical background and condition cautioned her to never drive and it answered the mystery of her flying days cut short. It was part of her quiet unselfishness to put others first and out of danger. It was also part of her Irish heritage of “holding one’s own counsel” and not drawing undo attention to oneself.
Recently, I was in California and got together with a high school friend who brought up memories of mom. My friend’s name is Mary too and maybe that is why they hit it off so well, although to hear her tell it, it was because of the homemade goodies mom always had on hand. Mary was thin and hungry and mom was delighted to have a small hand in fattening her up. Everyday after school Mary stopped off on her way home and while we snacked on mom’s fresh baked treats we danced to American Bandstand. We both became pretty good jitter buggers and I am sure it was because of all the new steps and twirling we practiced in front of the black and white Hoffman TV. Mom never seemed to mind that we claimed the living room for an hour or worried about wearing out the carpet. She was just as generous in the winter with my younger brothers when they took over the living room floor with their electric trains. With Christmas came the trains that didn’t disappear for at least six weeks.
All through her life the memory of the depression and her deep Catholic faith kept her grounded on what was important. Little was wasted in our home but at the same time she had no difficulty treating us to the most delicious hot fudge sundaes during a shopping spree. She loved her children to look well groomed and took pride in seeing that we did. She related to me years later how upset she was after a long hospital stay to come home only to find my braids a tangled mess and my shoes unpolished with heels worn down. She knew my dad did his best but she couldn’t hold back the tears.
We had few clothes but what we had were well made and up to date. It was a matter of course that school and Sunday clothes were taken off and hung up before play. My youngest brother’s first grade teacher commented that he was the best groomed child in the class. Mom made sure all of our shirts had a touch of starch and were well ironed so we could wear them at least twice. I remember complaining when I was a teenager about not having as many clothes as my friends. She explained that what was necessary to look great was to have a rested face, clean hair and laundered clothes. The amount of clothes were not as important as keeping them in good condition. Besides, I wore uniforms and it was foolish to have unnecessary things taking up space in the closet and adding clutter. She smoothed my teenage attitude by promising I would have all I needed for college. She kept her promise. As I look back on those days, I realize we did have everything we needed and less was truly more.
Through those everyday examples lived so naturally she taught me not only to care for clothes but also for home furnishings. Being the only girl with three brothers the two of us worked together as a team keeping up the house. To this day, I am convinced that no one can or could make a bed like my mother. It had to be her nurse’s training that made getting into bed seem like the next best thing to heaven. I will always remember after the difficult birth of our third child coming home to my mother, the nurse, and a bed made with linen that was as crisp and fresh as sheets blowing in a winter breeze. It was the best gift she could have given me and it is one I will always cherish. Those touches of love spoken and demonstrated, I am convinced, are the most precious and are singled out to live on through the years.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom and may you enjoy your 100th birthday with your dear Creator who made it all possible!