Once, when he was very little, my brother asked my mother if the iron she was using to press my dad’s shirts was hot.
“Why don’t you touch it and find out?” my mother told him.
He did just that, burning his finger.
Since it was my older brother who did this, I wasn’t there for this oft-recounted family tale. Years later, I would asked my mother, “Why did you let him burn himself? Couldn’t you have just told him it was hot?”
She laughed and replied, “Well, he never touched an iron again, did he?”
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I once mentioned to my mother that Michelle had started taking her pre-natal vitamins.
“I remember those,” my mom told me. “They tasted terrible. I threw mine away.”
I laughed and thanked her profusely for her willingness to take care of us in the womb.
“Well, you turned out alright, didn’t you?” she said.
As you might imagine, my childhood wasn’t much like any of my friends’ childhood. She wasn’t big on baking cookies, but boy did she leave us with a lifetime of stories we can tell about her.
Looking back, I guess it’s safe to say my mother wasn’t a conventional mother. Her language was often salty and her disposition wasn’t always particularly sweet. She had a very strong set of standards and beliefs — her biggest belief was the one she had in herself — and she wasn’t ever going to let society dictate how she was going to act.
I learned so many things from my mother, but by far the biggest one I ever learned was to always walk into a room like I owned it, with my head held high, and to have courage in my convictions, to do what I know in my heart is right, even when everyone else is trying to tell me something different. My mother was a strong woman. She was a kind woman. She was a compassionate woman. She is one of the best people I’ve ever known.
God, do I miss her.
My mom passed away on Feb. 1 in a manner that, I’m quite sure, would have been exactly how she wanted to leave this Earth. I was picking her up to go to one of my daughter’s indoor track meets — my mom was an avid sports fan and loved nothing more than watching her children and grandchildren compete — when she suddenly sat down in a chair, said, “I’m so tired of this stuff (only she didn’t say “stuff” … she said something not suitable for print in this family publication),” and then she closed her eyes and was gone.
As you might imagine, I’ve been thinking about that moment pretty much non-stop the past few months. Why did she have to die right before my eyes? Why did she choose me? Could I have done anything different to save her?
I’ve been able to come to this conclusion. My mom had so many stories to tell; there is not a moment that goes by during the course of my day when something doesn’t happen that reminds me of my mom. Some of the crazy things she did throughout a life lived in full have become the stuff of legend among my siblings and extended family.
I am a story teller. It’s what I’ve been doing my entire adult life. The way she left this planet — swearing all the way to the Pearly Gates — makes for a pretty good story. It’s one I’ve told dozens of times since she passed away — and every time I tell it, anyone who knows her smiles, shakes their head and says, “Yep, that was definitely Jean.”
My mom had one final story to tell before she left and she wanted to make sure I was there to be able to document it and be able to tell it for many years to come. It was her final gift to me. It was the greatest gift she’s ever given to me. It’s an honor I don’t take lightly.
Today, on Mother’s Day, I’m going to be thinking of my mom and all her stories all day. It’s the best possible way to honor one of the best people I’ve ever known.
Happy Mother’s Day, mom. I miss you with all my heart, but I know you are in a better place and you are watching. I hope one day they tell stories about me the way we’ll forever tell them about you.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears weekly in the Miami Valley Sunday News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong
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