Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 10:19 pm | Fair 63º

Time Out

Paul Yarbrough: Life Wasn’t Always Easy, But Mom Never Let On

Her generosity, grace and incessant smile leave a lasting impression

[Noozhawk’s note: As Paul Yarbrough travels to eastern Montana this week to help his daughter settle in for her sophomore year in college, he leaves behind a special column. It first appeared in The (Eugene, Ore.) Register-Guard on April 15, 2000.]

Taco feasts were a weekly menu item when I was a child.

Paul Yarbrough
Paul Yarbrough

One night, when I was probably 5 or 6 years old, Mom left her tacos unattended for a few minutes. My two older brothers hatched a plan, dousing her tacos with the hottest of hot sauces. You know, the one where the thermometer goes to the top of the bottle.

Mom returned to the table, took a bite, but didn’t say a word. She ate that taco and the rest on her plate, with tears pouring down her cheeks. But not a word. She knew what my brothers had done, but didn’t give them the satisfaction of screaming and running to the faucet for a cold glass of water. She didn’t let on.

Mom, who died last month in California after an apparent massive stroke at age 79, didn’t have an easy life. But she certainly didn’t let on.

The youngest of eight children, she was born in pre-Depression Texas in 1921. When she was 2 years old, her father died. My grandmother packed up the seven kids who remained at home and headed to California, alternating between running a boarding house in Oroville and working in the apple canneries of Sebastopol. They didn’t have much, certainly not as much as the other kids around, but Mom didn’t let on.

My Mom and Dad were married in September 1941. Less than three months later, Dad enlisted in the Navy and headed to the South Pacific to fight in World War II.

My brothers were born a few years after the war ended, and times were tough. For a while, the family lived in a converted chicken coop. My brothers say they didn’t realize the family was poor, because Mom never let on.

She didn’t work much out of the home after the boys were born, though she always volunteered: at churches, schools and hospitals. She took care of a family down the street whose mother had multiple sclerosis, watching the preschool children and preparing their meals.

Forty years into their marriage — after more struggle than success — Dad was able to retire at age 61. But before they could take a trip to New England to mark their 50th wedding anniversary and view the fall colors, Dad started showing signs of dementia. They never made the trip, and within a few months, Dad had a stroke, then brain surgery, and spent five years bouncing among eight care facilities in Northern and Central California before passing away three years ago.

Dad’s illness and hospitalization took a toll on Mom. But she never let on.

My parents lost nearly all of their retirement savings in a widely reported investment scandal, which produced a class-action settlement of a penny on the dollar. That had to be devastating to a woman who lived through the Depression. But Mom never let on.

In the closing years of her life, Mom found a wonderful little church on a busy Modesto street. After her death, as we started going through her things, we found that she had been giving $50 a week to the church. About $200 a month — one quarter of her monthly Social Security income.

In the 10 years since my daughter — and her youngest grandchild — was born, Mom never missed a holiday or birthday. Every Valentine’s Day and Easter, Melissa would receive a card with the same personal handwritten message in it — “Always stay as sweet as you are today” — accompanied by a $5 bill.

When we returned home after spending five days in California after Mom’s death, we found a birthday card in the mailbox for Melissa, along with a longer-than-usual note and a check for $40. It had been mailed on the day she died.

At the memorial service, her pastor described her as a person who “talked the talk, and walked the walk.” He certainly got that right.

In the month since her death, I’ve heard from at least six women who told me Mom was their best friend. These friendships spanned 30, 50 and 70 years. Imagine. How many people would call you their best friend?

Her doctor graciously met with the immediate family for more than an hour in his office on a warm Sunday morning four days after Mom’s sudden death. He pored over her medical records, patiently explaining which medications she was taking and the symptoms she was being treated for.

He was trying to give us some explanation for why this seemingly invincible woman was gone. After all, her two oldest siblings had lived well into their 90s, and she had shown no signs of slowing down. Just weeks before her death, Mom had purchased tickets for a trip in June to Scotland and England.

At the end of our talk with the doctor, one of my sisters-in-law asked if he had any health recommendations for her sons and grandchildren.

“I don’t know,” he said, struggling to find comforting words for a grieving family. “Die healthy at 80, like she did?” It was good advice.

One of my brothers, who has been going through boxes of photographs since her death, told me he couldn’t find a picture of her without a smile.

Mom lived and loved life to the fullest. If she didn’t, she never let on.

Noozhawk columnist Paul Yarbrough can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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