Sunday, May 16, 2004

My Mother Was Singing to Me

My friends call my mother St. Marge. I suppose she is a saint in many ways. She has survived an awful lot of heart ache that few human beings will ever know. Her mother died when she was 10, her father fell down the neck of a whiskey bottle for about 10 years as a result and she and her four siblings ended up being farmed out to relatives in West Virginia. No doubt that was a radical change from the tropical warmth (and killer hurricanes) of Homestead, Florida, where she had lived. Prior to my birth, Mom almost died from a tubular pregnancy which resulted in a partial Fallopian tube removal. Yet, a year later, I was the first of three children to arrive, the last the only girl who was born the year my Mother turned 40.

St. Marge has also had to put up with a lot from the four of us. My Dad, brother and sister and I have always been strong-willed people. We are a fairly intelligent lot and well educated. My Mother managed an Associate of Arts degree before leaving the University of Florida with my father and then returning with him and me (I was a Baby Gator at the University of Florida in 1953, its centennial year) to help him obtain his Masters thesis. Thereafter, she was a working mother, raising two lively little boys and one pistol ball of a daughter - all of whom would go on to obtain bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees - while working full-time for the Farmer's Home Administration in our little town in Central Florida.

My Mother is the face on the issue of the glass ceiling, the clerk running the local office, the one spending hours every weekend and many weeknights to keep the place together, yet unable to advance without moving to another location - the choice being family and home versus advancement, a choice no male employee in that office ever had to make.

My Mother's example to me has been one of tenacity in the face of hardship. The runt of her litter of five, she has always been delicate boned and rarely above 105 pounds soaking wet. She's survived pancreatitis, breast cancer and a small stroke and continues to be Mother, Grandmother and Wife. But it is her example of compassion that has most marked my life, her attentiveness to the poor of our community which has marked my own sense of vocation, her insistence that human dignity be afforded all human beings regardless of their circumstances in life that has served as my ongoing aim. If I can be even half as loving and accepting as my saintly mother has been, I will indeed have been a decent human being.

Last week I accompanied my Mother to her consultation at the Moffit Cancer Center at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Her CAT scans were good and her bone scan had indicated only a tiny group of cells in a vertebrae that would respond to a short dose of radiation, her doctor said. When my Mother said how relieved she was to hear it, her cute young German woman with a thick accent - in particular - "Of course we're going
to keep you around for a few more years. I love you too much to let you go." You don't hear that from doctors too often. All in all, it was a good prognosis and we came away much relieved. St. Marge will be around for awhile yet.

On the way home, I was so exhausted I dozed off in the front passenger seat as my Father drove the hour's trip back up I-75 from Tampa. I dreamed I was a little boy and my Momma was rocking me to sleep, singing to me as she always did. Suddenly the car hit a bump and I awoke with a start, only to realize that my Momma was singing to me, from the back seat, singing along with the radio tuned to the station which plays the hits of the 40s, 50s and 60s. Suddenly, I realized how lucky a human being I am. Very few people have had saints for mothers. And I cannot tell you how happy I am St. Marge will be around to sing to her oldest child for awhile longer.

Happy Mother's Day, St. Marge. I love you.


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
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