Mother overcame, without self-pity

Published May 13, 2007

"Seventeen Jewels" is printed on the face of the tiny watch that I inherited from my mother.

A little stem on the side was a reminder that the watch did not contain a battery. I pulled the stem and set the time and wondered if it still ran. I turned the stem gently, afraid of overwinding, and lifted it to my ear. I heard the very slightest ticking, and I slipped it on my wrist. The tightness of the band reminded me how small my mother was. I have a small wrist and the watch was very snug.

A wedding picture of three generations including my mother shows how much we differed in size. My mother in her youth, if she stood very tall, was "5 feet, two eyes of blue" with a size 5 shoe. In the picture my daughter, the bride, is in the middle, and I tower over both of them. In her last years, Mom had lost so many inches that I could almost tuck her under my arm.

For such a tiny woman she carried more stature than I could ever hope for. She arrived in the United States as a toddler from Norway destined for the Northwest but ended up in Chicago. My grandmother died when my mother was a teenager; my mother was left with an alcoholic father and her dreams of being a ballerina shattered.

In her lifetime, she encountered a long list of overwhelming challenges. My father became a quadriplegic as the result of an accident, and we three children had polio. My oldest brother was left paralyzed from the waist down.

She took on the challenges without a "why me?" attitude. When my brother was in the hospital with wards of iron lungs, she found a movie projector and movies to show in the hospital. She was the co-chair of the first Mothers March for the March of Dimes in Detroit. With two handicapped persons in the house, they required her constant attention. I remember playing outside the rehab center in downtown Detroit. I still do not know how this pocket-sized woman managed to get my father and my brother into the car.

My family moved to a small town so my brother and father could work from our home. The town needed to provide employment for the residents. My mother spearheaded a committee to bring a small company into the community. That company still provides well-paying jobs there.

I do not think she ever stopped to ask about "having it all." The recognition and the love came to her because when she saw a need, she did her best to fill it. It was her love for others that caused her to work so hard.

My mother is just one of millions of women who are mothers. Women who may not be birth mothers but become a mother through the love of children. There are mothers who give their entire lives lovingly caring for a handicapped child. Being a mother is an exclusive, gratifying, exasperating and rewarding gift that we often take for granted.

My mother's final battle was with an opponent to which she had to surrender. Dementia robbed her of her memory, but it could not contain her spirit. Her smile was just as bright as ever and her laugh rang with the sound of joy. She was a diminutive morsel of a woman but still a shining star in a wheelchair.

Every year as the Mother's Day cards appear I wish I could send her one. My mother knew I loved her, but I do not think I ever told her how much I appreciated her strength and how much I admired her.

She gave her family and all who knew her a model to imitate. The popular WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) in my mind is WWMD, "What Would Mom Do?

She set the tone for my life just by being who she was. She deserved 365 Mother's Day cards every year.

Mary Partington lives in New Port Richey.