As I See It
She was born on February 12, 1883. It was a joke among her friends, and one she alwavs enjoyed, that her birthday cakes often carried the greeting, - -Happy Birthday, to You And Abe too."
She almost made it to her 84th birthday, lacking two days, in 1967. and on St. Valentine's Day was buried in the family plot across the road from the church of her childhood and a mile or so from the house where she was born. But her life was not lived out in that place. She never stood still. In those 84 years she lived and worked in Chautauqua County. New York, in Pennsylvania. New York City, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and finally in Seaford - teaching. always loving and teaching children, until she was 82. full of life and joy in the daily adventure of learning.
In Januarv, 1965. she said goodbye to her last group of homebound children whose homes she had visited regularly in Wantagh. Bellmore and West Hempstead. She sent her driver's license to the commissioner of Motor Vehicles with a note. "I have driven for 50 years. Over a period of 13 vears I transported hundreds of children to my private nursery school. For the past 10 years I have done home teaching for handicapped children. driving to their homes. in all that time I never had an accident in which a child was hurt. I want to stop while my record is good, so here is my driver's license." In reply. she received a letter of commendation and congratulations from the Commissioner.
A year later she was old. Old for the first time. at 83. She had lost her sense of purpose.
Her name is Elma. She is buried in Busti. New York. She is my mother.
It is all fresh in my memory because this is the tenth anniversary of that final physical event burial. which for her was appropriately on St. Valentine's Day. 'The mourning. the memorial service, the viewing, the funeral and the burial ceremony were for us the living - not for her. For our love unexpressed, guilt for omissions and insensitivity, for tenderness turned to anger and impatience by the burden of our own needs of which we weren't aware; for matter-of-fact acceptance of her remarkable gallantry, for just plain taking her for granted rather than taking her as the strong, lovable. -tempered. creative, compassionate. wonderful woman she was, who sometimes needed to be a little girl herself, just for a while.
We who mourn a mother, a friend, a lover. a father. a child, are mourning for missed cues, when time has run out.
Why am I sharing this with you? Does it not seem presumptuous? And why do I say she is my mother, which seems a denial of death?
I am still learning from her. I am learning that I can't afford to miss cues given me every day by people I meet and appreciate, care about and love.
I am learning that the time is now to hear what they want to say: "I am lonely". "I have given and nowI need to know you care"; "I have visited you because I care about you. Now I need to see you"; "I need an hour of your time. which is part of you"; :'I want to do what I no longer can, so please come to me. If you like me or love me or me I need to hear you say it". So much hunger of the spirit!
Not long ago, a dear friend said to , "I haven't been well and I can't t get out as I usually do. But no one comes to spend a few minutes with me or calls to ask how I am." There were tears in her eyes. A man who as done much for our community said it this way,, "I have done and given for the community because I wanted to. But no one seems to care or to let me know it matters to them - or to say. 'Hey, can I help?' " My mother, as long as she could. called on and read with those unable to get about and do things. That was her answer to feeling neglected those last two years.
So in celebration of St. Valentine's Week. I propose that each of us in the community go out of our way to visit a friend. make a long distance call, write a note that has been put off because of excessive busyness and dare to say, "I care, I love you, " "I think what you are doing is terrific!" "I forgot your birthday but I now remember...... I'm stopping by to take you for a ride because I want to share this beautiful day with you...... Here's a (little thing) I thought you'd like. See you soon!" "Haven't seen you lately. How are you?"
A few thousand persons doing just that much. What a sense of COMMUNITY! And. my recipe says. "repeat 52 times a year." Well, at least 50. And watch for most magical. unexpected results.
Thank you, E.M.C. For teaching me.