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Oct 06

For Mother

Of all the angels in my life, none has loved me longer or better than my mother.  Early on the morning of September 30, at age 91, she left this world for the better one Christians are promised.  I can’t begin to describe how my father, my sister and I miss her, and I know our entire family is only beginning to understand what we have lost.

For two days, during calling hours and the funeral, we heard stories about my mother’s generosity, concern for friends, and gentle humor.  Her family knew her differently than her friends, as I assume must be the case, but we found the stories gratifying, and they left us even more in awe of the person she was.

I’m embarrassed to admit that it was only well into my own middle age that I appreciated how much of me comes from my mother.  My extraversion, enjoyment of belonging, pleasure in performing, and love of attention all come from her.  We both became what I call “collectors of experiences,” and we both loved to learn.  Over the years, I know I collected some experiences that weren’t exactly what she had in mind, but her hopes for me never waivered.

Even though we had different views on some things, I knew she was remarkably intelligent, and I wish she had more opportunity for formal education.  Her faith was informed and strong; she was a lifelong student of the Bible and of Presbyterian theology.  My mother was a nuanced thinker on religion, not a rigid doctrinaire, and she was well worth listening to.

My father’s career took them to many places, including Puerto Rico, Belgium, Canada, Texas, and her beloved New Orleans.  It was a long ways from Dry Ridge, the rural farm in West Virginia where she grew up.  I had left home by the time the moves started, but I got a lot of great vacations from visiting them, and my mother always had studied her new “home” and made sure I had an opportunity to appreciate what was unique and entertaining about each place.

On their first assignment outside of West Virginia, in 1969, my mother took an art course, taught by a priest, at Catholic University, in Ponce, Puerto Rico.  From that time on, wherever they lived, she studied art, painted pictures that drew on that locale, and shared her work with friends.  Generally, she became part of a local art club, and she won many awards in competitions.  Everyone who has a piece of her art cherishes it.

Almost 15 years ago, my mother decided that she and my father should move closer to family, so they relocated from near New Orleans, to Lancaster, Ohio.  For the first time since I was in college, we lived close, and because our children and grandchildren all live in Columbus, these recent years brought a family experience that I missed for much of my adult life.

Other than her love for the Lord, nothing mattered to my mother so much as her family.  My parents dated in high school, and I have a picture of my mother pinning on my father’s pilot wings, about three weeks after they married.  The artist and the engineer, as I call them, had a wonderfully strong relationship, partly because my father’s love allowed him to accept and support my mother’s collecting of experiences, as well as her many social commitments.  Never have I seen more dedication to another person than my father demonstrated over the past couple of years.

My sister and I had our own relationship with my mother.  She could be firm and frustrating, from our point of view, but we never doubted her love and commitment to us.  When we were children, she would go to bat for us, without hesitation, and she always tried to expose us to great ideas.  We grew up in the Church, and no matter where our own minds carried us, we had a spiritual grounding that we owe to Mother.

Marguerite Frances Clendenin Bird lived a long, full life.  I still can’t believe I won’t hear her voice again, when I call the house, but I have a clear image of her in my mind:  I see her with her older sister and her own mother; I see her delighting in the knowledge she now has that the rest of us are yet to understand.  I expect her to visit me, sometime, to let me know that all is well, and I look forward to being with her, when God says it’s time.

She’ll say, “Charlie Boy, how are you?”  But she’ll already know the answer.