Sunday, June 8, 2014
My own Phenomenal Woman
Maya Angelou recently passed away and in her honor, many have been quoting from her poem, "Phenomenal Woman". This got me to thinking about my mother who has been gone for 14 years. For the first couple of years I simply did not celebrate Mother’s Day because it hurt too much. A few years ago, someone said that those whose mothers have gone should use the day to celebrate their legacy. And so I did but I never shared. I know it’s late, and she wouldn’t like that one bit, but I thought I’d share a list of the things my mother taught me.
1. Show love every day. Every time she would see me, she’d say, “Hi, guy!” and then give me a hug or a peck on the cheek. Even if she had just hugged me 10 minutes before.
2. Be kind to yourself. Whenever I would get mad for making a mistake or call myself a name, she’d always tell me, “Don’t you talk about my child like that!”
3. Never downplay someone’s feelings. Once, when I was having a very dramatic response to something in seventh grade (and isn’t everything dramatic in junior high) and had decided, and then apparently announced that I would run away, she listened and quite seriously asked “Where would you find the love that you have here?” Having no answer, and quite frankly no concrete plans, I stayed.
4. Always learn. She stopped at every roadside marker to see what historical significance it held. My brother and sister were none too keen on learning new things in the wilds of America but I was always game.
5. Try new things. One of the added bonuses of these side trips was any time we explored an area, we got to explore the food. Her favorite phrase was, “Don’t tell and we’ll get a little snack”.
6. Enjoy the now. On road trips, I would sit in the middle of the back seat and lean my elbows on the console and she and I would talk the entire trip, whether it was 13 minutes to town or 13 hours to my grandmother’s. My brother and sister usually slept, but I was up and I was chatty. No one who knows me should be surprised by this.
7. Find a hobby that you love. She loved to read and passed that love onto her children. It was a common sight to find all 5 of my family sitting and reading at home.
8. Make time for yourself. She would give anything for those she loved and I always wondered how she kept giving and giving without tiring. But I remember when she needed to be by herself, she made it happen. There was more than one occasion growing up that my siblings and I would find ourselves ushered toward the door with the admonition to “go play”, hearing the door lock behind us. When we protested the heat or wondered what to do if we became thirsty, she’d point at the water hose and blow us a kiss. We became adept at creating games, some as simple as the “it’s your fault we’re out here” blame game. I always lost.
9. Don’t wait to be asked; offer your help. We never had much money but what we had she tithed and shared. Her mini-van was the unofficial youth and children’s church bus for Mesa Baptist and free taxi for many others. She was never put off by someone’s appearance, reputation or circumstances. She simply loved.
10. Work for what you want. In 4th grade I wanted a calculator. Yes, I know I was a nerd from way back. She told me I needed to earn the money so I took over her Amway route for a week. She told me to make sure I told my customers why I was trying to earn money. It worked. I earned enough money for the calculator in one day.
11. Support should be felt, not just heard. Even though I was chubby most of my life, my mother never made me feel bad about it. She would point out healthy choices on the menu at restaurants and taught me to eat as healthy as possible in the South, but she never shamed me.
12. Be proud of yourself. No matter our financial situation, our house was always well-decorated and spotless. She taught us “You are who you are, regardless of your circumstances. Always be proud.”
13. Don’t be late. The only time you shouldn’t arrive early is to a dinner party, unless you are assisting the hostess. And she usually was assisting.
14. Take time for God. She started each morning with a cup of coffee and her Bible. She knew she needed God every day.
15. Those who can should. She taught me to pay it forward and help those you can with whatever you have. That’s why I started the Thompson Scholarship for Student Leaders at Southwest Mississippi Community College in her honor. If anyone would like to donate, please contact the Office of Institutional Advancement, 1100 College Drive, Summit, MS 39666.
My mother was a fierce protector, prayer warrior, child advocate, creator of macramé things and lover of God, books, coffee and chocolate, in that order. Every time I watch ‘Steel Magnolias’ Sally Field’s character reminds me of my mother, Catherine Waynette Thornton Thompson. Sometimes it makes me smile and laugh, sometimes it hurts my heart but it always make me miss her and gives me the hope to carry on her legacy, often with mixed results. But every day I try because if you’re still here, you’ve still got work. Can I get an amen?