Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.
- William Makepeace Thackeray
From an infants barely coherent Ma-ma to the main circuit board in a computer, few words have been put to greater use than mother.
A land of origin is called a Mother Country, a principle source or supply a mother lode. Nature personified becomes Mother Nature, while a nurturing person is a mother hen and native language is a mother tongue.
Necessity is the mother of invention, the unmarried head of a convent Mother Superior, and sometime before the first Gulf War, Iraqs former dictator coined the still-popular phrase, mother of all battles.
But some of us are real mothers, and all of us have (or had) a mother biologically or, because life isnt perfect, someone who assumed the maternal role on our behalf. Thus, for some of us, Mothers Day casts a wide net, crowding our memories with those who, because mothers arent always perfect, either, filled in the gaps which, otherwise, we might have blundered through alone.
Rachel Prescott had no children of her own, but she spent her life mothering at least two generations of first-graders. She taught my father, and she taught me. Im sure she taught me to read, add, and write, but what I remember most about Miss Prescott is that she taught me to keep my fingernails clean.
Miss Prescott didnt scold, or describe the diseases Id catch if I let those ugly germs live under my fingertips. Every morning she simply went around the classroom with a jar of Jergens hand lotion, and poured a dollop of that sweet-smelling liquid into every pair of hands that passed the fingernail test. It wasnt long before I had sweet-smelling hands, too, and an obsession to keep my fingernails clean ever since. To this day, Ill go all over town to get my hands on a jar of Jergens lotion.
By grade six, Miss Lovejoy thought I needed smiling lessons. Though the idea of the two of us standing in front of the cloakroom mirror wasnt nearly as appealing to me as Miss Prescotts hand lotion, I often think of that other concerned and childless woman who took time to raise the spirits of a shy child who didnt know she had so much to be happy about. (Teachers, never underestimate your extra-curricular role.)
My Sunday School teachers occupied high rungs on my mothering list, too. Like Miss Prescott, Laura Palmer also entered my life in the first grade - and stayed with the same class for the next three years. By the time we moved on to the next level, we knew just about every Bible story, the names of all 12 Apostles, loads of memory verses, some complete chapters, and I could recite the names of all 66 books of the Bible by heart.
But the most lasting memory I have of Mrs. Palmer is that she only had one ear. She had survived the train wreck that took her husbands life, and dedicated herself to teaching children about the God that still loved her - and us.
There were others, especially a grandmother who filled in more gaps than anyone else. A church organist and accomplished pianist, she fostered my interest in music and, through her daily journals and constant stories, planted the writers seed in the mind of a child who wanted to be just like Grandma.
I dont mean to take anything away from the celebration of real, authentic mothers on this, their special day. Its just that for those who have no children of their own, recall few or painful memories of their own mothers, or who wonder if their own mothering skills have left too many gaps in their childrens lives, take heart. Many someones value you, too. And for those who wonder whom to honor today, consider this mother of all stop-gaps from the Psalms:
If my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord - or his appointed stand-in - will take me up (Psalm 27:10).
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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