Life lessons from Mom

In her day, my mother was a political junkie. She attended town council meetings, wrote letters to senators, worked on local campaigns and followed national politics avidly. After suffering a series of small strokes at the age of 72, she no longer cared. “Let the next generation do the worrying,” she said.

Nevertheless, in 2008 she was excited to learn that none other than Bill Clinton was planning to visit our tiny borough, on a campaign swing for his wife during that year’s Democratic primaries. The former president was scheduled to appear at a home just a few streets over, but by then, Mom couldn’t walk well. She had no stamina.

So we drove up the alley to the church parking lot, a block away, to save her from having to walk uphill, then proceeded slowly, arm-in-arm, through the crowd for another two blocks.

Soon President Clinton came out onto the front porch and said a few words. He stands out in a crowd, literally, since he’s a head taller than most people. Mom—at just over 5 feet tall—had no trouble seeing him. Afterward, we returned home, happy.

I wish Mom was around during this election season, for I’d love to hear her take on campaign 2016—surely the weirdest in recent memory. Indeed, as we draw closer to the second anniversary of her death, I find myself wishing I could check in with her on other topics too. I miss her commonsense opinions.

I recently began jotting down a small list of life lessons my mother left me with—not the big things that every mother espouses, like “be a nice person” and “brush your teeth after meals.” It’s a more idiosyncratic list.

First item: Don’t bother cleaning any surface that’s taller than you are. Mom was a neat freak and kept her house immaculate. But she was tiny, so the top of her refrigerator was allowed to get as dusty as it liked without her intervention.

Mom taught me how to budget by tucking money into envelopes designated for particular bills every payday. She taught me to iron a shirt and to fold a towel into thirds for the neatest package.

She handed down her love of bargain hunting and thrift shopping. Mom unearthed interesting finds from junk shops long before Martha Stewart made it stylish. She always looked chic on no money, thanks to her ability to sniff out a deal. I remember the time she nabbed new, wool designer scarves for 50 cents each.

As she aged, my mother was philosophical about her health problems. She didn’t much complain; she just dealt with whatever life handed her. She didn’t fear birthdays; indeed, she felt it was a privilege to grow older and was proud of every year.

I asked my mother what it was about aging that she liked. She thought for a moment and said, “I’m less afraid than I used to be.”

That’s a lesson from Mom that I hope to take into my own older years.

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