While I’ve mentioned my mom in some of my other columns, I thought, given the Mother’s Day holiday, I’d share more about her and who she was.
Natalie Rogers was a four-foot, ten-inch woman who stood eight feet tall and earned the respect of everyone she encountered. I can’t begin to accurately paint of a portrait of the person she was or to adequately describe how her words and actions still influence me and my two brothers. I’m sure her three daughters-in-law, eight grandchildren, and countless nieces and nephews would say the same. However, to honor her memory, I’m going to try.
Let’s begin with the foundation. With my mom, family trumped everything. She was unfailingly committed to my father, her children, their families, and the larger extended family scattered across the North Shore of Massachusetts. She cherished any time all of us were gathered for a holiday or celebration. After my wife and I moved to Virginia, she wrote long letters describing family events, explaining what happened in detail, making sure I didn’t miss out on what was going on. As my own family grew, she never hesitated to hold me accountable as a husband and father. If I was spending too much time at work, I’d get an earful about making sure I took care to smell the roses and spend time with my wife. Once when I objected, she told me “it’s only a job.” At the time I thought she was crazy. Looking back, I’m glad she made the effort to curb my ambition.
Her devotion extended far beyond day-to-day living. Watching my mother on the occasions my dad was hospitalized with heart problems or those last months of his life when he was confined to a nursing home, she taught me how to completely honor a relationship. She rarely left his side and fought like a lion to make sure he received proper care. This dedication extended to her children. For example, in 1996 when my wife was carrying our third child, the doctor put her on bed rest for the final four months of the pregnancy. My mom (and dad) hopped in their car, drove from Massachusetts to Virginia, and moved in until the baby was born. Without their help, I’m not sure how we would have managed my job and the care of our two other young children. Eight years later, in 2004, I had major back surgery. My mom, still grieving the recent death of my father, once again traveled to Virginia to help with the recovery. When she arrived, I asked how long she planned on staying. Her response was, “until I feel like going back.” She was with us for four months.
Aside from family, Mom was adamant about treating those in our orbit with dignity. She always made sure everyone in a group was introduced to everyone else. If someone was down on his/her luck, she insisted that person be included in any conversation or gathering. More often than not, she’d seat the person next to her at the table. If we were out somewhere, she’d figure out a way to pay for his or her meal without anyone knowing.
For mom, hospitality was everything. As my wife puts it, “Your mother was always ready with a meal.” This was true with friends, neighbors, and new acquaintances. To my mother, her house was your home. My favorite example of this were the times we’d have a last-minute add-on guest for Christmas dinner. Somehow, my mother would always have a small gift wrapped and ready to go.
Mom taught us to respect authority. I can illustrate this point with one story. My older brother played basketball in high school and one day the coach referred to him as a piece of, shall we say, excrement. My brother, a person who tends to stand up for himself, provided a concise, two-word response that, in his words, was not “Merry Christmas.” The coach, livid with my brother, pushed to have him suspended. Our mother called the coach directly and asked him if he’d like the school to know exactly why my brother had used the words he used. After the conversation, the coach backed off. My brother, feeling victorious, started to thank mom for her support. She turned on him angrily, told him to never talk to an adult like that again, and promptly grounded him. While I never got into the same type of confrontation, the message to honor those in charge was delivered to me very effectively.
My mother was a woman of uncommon courage. Due to untreated scoliosis and severe arthritis, she spent years in severe, often debilitating pain. Most people never knew. She’d cope with her conditions and fully participate in almost every gathering, event, and celebration. She would have made a great hockey player. My father once told me about standing next to mom at his own mother’s funeral. A bee landed on my mother’s hand and, rather than disrupt the proceedings with any sort of sudden movement, she let the thing sting her and fly away. After telling me the story, my father relayed that he’d been scared of her ever since.
Before you conclude my mom was all taskmaster and stern lessons, I want to make sure you know she was more likely to be having fun and enjoying herself than scolding or teaching. She’d read books to her grandkids for as long as they wanted and rub my shoulders for hours while we watched TV. I think her perfect Saturday would be cruising flea markets or outlet malls, buying clothes, toys, and knickknacks for everyone she knew. She loved to play cards and was a fierce competitor. However, if she lost, that was that. She’d done her best and was ready to move onto the next game. Mom loved casinos too. Once while visiting Vegas, she outlasted my brother (although not my sister-in-law) and played blackjack all night long.
Most importantly, and this part of mom deserves a its own paragraph, there was never a bad time for ice cream.
To this day, my mother’s voice and actions still guide me in almost everything I do. Allow me to provide two examples. First, a few years ago I was coming out of a restaurant onto a busy street. To my right I heard a voice asking for help. When I turned, I noticed a blind woman. She asked if I would guide her to a meeting with her nephew. I told her to take my arm and we walked four blocks to a grocery store where the nephew was waiting. On the way, the woman thanked me and wondered if I needed to be somewhere else. I responded immediately and without thinking. “Please don’t worry. If I wasn’t doing this, my mother would sit up in her grave and yell at me.” Secondly, when I started writing full time, I went through the discovery process, trying to determine what kind of author I wanted to be. As I’m sure you are aware, stories can range from Hallmark Channel wholesome to “skin someone alive” gruesome. Language choices can be harsh and descriptions of human intimacy graphic. As I experimented, I decided on a simple guardrail. I concluded that I’d never write anything I’d be embarrassed for Mom to read.
My mother was a great person. While I’m sure she had her selfish moments, I never saw them. Instead, I can only recall her giving and giving and giving. I’m sitting here, staring at my screen, knowing I haven’t captured what she meant to me, my brothers, and everyone around her. Maybe I’m thinking too much. Perhaps a simple sentence can illustrate the legacy she left behind.
Quite simply, she taught me how to love.
Steven Rogers faith-based novel “Into the Room” will be published by Elk Lake Publishing in May of 2021. You can visit his author page at https://elklakepublishinginc.com/steven-rogers/