Our mother never met a stranger. You can imagine how often three boys would complain when they saw mom on mission She would drag us to the grocery store … or at least to the parking lot near the grocery store, where we were warned not to destroy either the car or each other. “I’ll be back soon.” We were certain that you could time her visits to the local grocery with a calendar. It took forever. After an agonizing day or so, one of us would be appointed to go into the store to “see what was taking so long.” That always ended well.
When found, she would be in deep conversation with someone. Sometimes it was someone she knew from church or school or a ball team. Most often, it was someone she didn’t know … yet.
While it may have irritated three impatient and moody sons, our mother demonstrated an amazing gift to care for others, to show interest in other people’s lives.
As the years passed, mom and dad would spend more time in the North Carolina mountains at their modest cabin near Jonas Ridge. Mom didn’t change her approach. Neighbors, local craftsmen, shop keepers, church folks where dad was the interim preacher … they all became friends.
One story to illustrate: The local handyman we hired was often at the cabin for projects. Mom got to know his wife. She was a war bride, a young German woman that an American GI met and married. After the war, they made their home in the NC mountains. The young wife was almost overwhelmed by the culture shock. Mom took her under wing and helped her with English and local customs.
One day, the younger woman invited mom to go upstairs. As they stood in the bedroom, she told my mom in almost a whisper, “I want to show you my pretties.” Bending down, she began to lift dusty boxes from under the bed. Inside the numerous boxes was exquisite, hand-painted blue china. She had received the dishes from her grandmother in Germany as a wedding gift. They had never been out of their boxes. She had been told by her husband that to display or use them would have been considered “uppity” around their small community. They stayed in the boxes.
When mom told us that story, there were always tears in her eyes. Her empathy for that young German woman was such that she wanted to confront the husband. He never knew how close he came to serious injury, but his wife had made my mom promise she wouldn’t talk to him.
What’s the point beyond my admiration for my mother? I wonder what some of us have hidden away that has never been on display or utilized. Perhaps someone has convinced us to keep those things tucked away … or perhaps we don’t have the self-confidence to show the world who we really are and what we can really do. I know what our mother would say. She always made it an object lesson for us to reach and risk, even if it took all day at the grocery store.