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Five Snippets in Honor of My Mother

FIVE SNIPPETS IN HONOR OF MY MOTHER: My mother, Hedwig (Jadwiga) Tokar, died in 2010 on her 93rd birthday.  When I went back to Ohio for her funeral, I felt compelled to say a few words in her honor at the evening visitation.  I repeat them here today, on Mother’s Day, in her memory:

My christening day with Mom and my sister.

We held hands, walking through the sawdust, down the aisle of wooden cages, as she carefully judged which hen was the best she could buy.  Later, she’d unwrap the white brick of butcher paper and hold the bird over the gas stove to singe off any remaining feathers.  The chicken would go into the ten-quart stock pot for soup, but before its flesh fell off its bones, mother would fish it out and crisp it in the electric roaster for Sunday dinner.

We’d gather around the kitchen table to mull over the choices before us – Cootie, Skunk, or BuncoSkunk was my favorite.  Amidst the crashing of the dice, we’d share our stories, our hopes, our humor.  I knew I hit pay dirt when my punch line coincided exactly with mother’s sip of coffee, and she’d look at me with twinkling eyes and reddening cheeks as she fought in vain to keep the not-swallowed coffee from spraying all over the table in her fit of laughter.

I quickly learned that if I sat under the backyard cherry tree and read a book, I was invisible.  But, if I talked on the phone too long, or sat in front of the idiot box, or said I was bored, mother would have me scrubbing the floor, or walking to the grocery, or cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer.  Spelling words and math problems animated her.  She prioritized education, seeing it as a key to a better life, a bigger world, a deeper understanding, a key to all those doors that were closed to people like her whose opportunity was snatched from grasping hands.

It was 1968, and Faye Dunaway raised Bonnie, from the movie Bonnie and Clyde, to a fashion icon.  That year, as we had done in so many previous years, mother and I rode the bus downtown to window shop at Higbee’s and May Company.  We’d study the mannequins, memorizing style and color, fabric and texture.  Then we’d sit leafing through pattern books — Simplicity, McCall’s, Butterick, and Vogue.  Her knowing hands would glide over fabric, evaluating how it would drape, or crush, or stiffen.  And when she brought it home to cut and sew — all the pieces of this magic puzzle came together to form my “reach for the sky,” “shoot ‘em up” wool, brown pin-striped eighth-grade graduation suit.

Mother had driven Dad to work.  She rarely drove, but today it was raining, and she was determined to deliver us safe and dry to St. Stan’s for the final Tuesday of our St. Anthony novena.  She placed a pillow on the driver’s seat, stretched her toes to grace the pedals, and pulled herself up over the steering wheel to see out the window.  In church, I watched her as she prayed, head bowed, lips singing Tantum Ergo, incense swirling up to heaven.  We knelt at the communion rail to kiss the relic of St. Anthony, waiting our turn patiently, as Fr. Clarence wiped it clean with a white linen cloth which was turning purple.  Mother never missed Sunday Mass; she attended devotions regularly; prayed daily; loved God and His Church in self-giving surrender.

Mother Teresa frequently said, “You can’t give what you don’t have.”  There were things that mother didn’t have, but she gave us so much.  She gave us herself.  Thank you, Mom.

1 Comments on “Five Snippets in Honor of My Mother

  1. This made me cry and touched my heart. What a wonderful tribute!

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