Ode to the powerful bond between mothers and sons | Hamer

As I’ve aged, I increasingly realize what a role model she was for me in so many ways.

A Congregational Church. A purple Iris flower. A Little Free Library full of books.

I walk by them almost every day, just a block or two from my house off Island Crest Way.

They always remind me of my mother. Why?

When I was growing up in Oregon, we lived a block away from the Congregational Church where my mother played the piano for the choir. We had purple Iris in our garden; it was Mom’s favorite flower. And she was a librarian, so books were always on her mind.

Those memories are especially strong in May. It was her birthday month and also Mother’s Day. So I’ve been thinking about Mom a lot. She was a big influence in my life, like all mothers.

I had a good father, too, but he was more the strong, silent type and traveled a lot in his job. Mom was a fairly typical 1950s housewife, who took good care of me and my sister. But the bond between mothers and sons is especially powerful.

She was always there, encouraging me at every step of the way, praising my successes and gently forgiving my failures and misbehaviors. I tried to be a good son – did well in school, got good grades, helped around the house, was (mostly) obedient.

As I’ve aged, I increasingly realize what a role model she was for me in so many ways:

• She was outgoing and gregarious, often engaging with strangers and making new friends easily.

• She loved reading, and always shared books she thought I might enjoy and learn from.

• She liked poetry and could recite many poems by memory – Frost, Dickinson, Blake, Browning, others. She became friends with William Stafford, who frequented the library.

• She enjoyed classical music and also jazz. Among her favorites were “Clair de Lune” by Debussy and anything by Louis Armstrong.

• She wanted me to play the French Horn or maybe the trumpet. I demurred, and played bongo drums instead.

• She loved to cook and make traditional comfort-food favorites. But she also took a series of cooking classes and learned several international cuisines. She once met James Beard. When she baked bread, I would sit in the kitchen waiting for a warm slice slathered with butter.

• She was active in our church, helped with potluck dinners of the congregation, and took me to League of Women Voters meetings in the church basement.

• She loved to garden, growing many different flowers, plus raspberries, blueberries and gooseberries in our back yard to make jam.

• Although she was born in a small town in Arkansas, her family moved to Oregon when she was a young girl and she grew up on a farm, one of 7 siblings.

• She and her older sister were stars on the girls’ high-school basketball team and won the league championship. She was an early version of Caitlin Clark, a deadly outside shooter.

• Mom’s parents needed her help at home with the younger kids, so she never went to college. But she was smart as a whip and became secretary to U.S. Senator Wayne Morse when he was dean of the University of Oregon Law School.

• I no doubt disappointed her a few times, like when some buddies and I tried to put a live cow into the high school on the last week of our senior year. The principal called the police and we were chastised but allowed to graduate. Mom thought it was hilarious.

• The summer after I graduated, I decided to hitchhike alone across the United States and back. I didn’t tell them until I got to Utah. They were surprised but just warned me to be careful.

• She encouraged me to go to college and I won a full scholarship to an Ivy League school. I remember her tears, of both joy and sorrow, when I got on the plane to fly 3,000 miles away.

• My biggest mistake was my senior year of college, when I persuaded my parents to help me buy a Volkswagen Bug at Christmas to drive back to college. I got as far as Wyoming and had a head-on collision with a semi-truck carrying explosives bound for Vietnam. They didn’t explode, but I woke up in a hospital in Laramie with my parents beside me. They’d been told I probably wouldn’t survive, but I did. She could never talk about it again without tearing up.

• She liked to write and always encouraged me to do the same. I became an English major and eventually a journalist. Meanwhile, she kept every letter I wrote to my folks in college and later – and of course all of my columns after I began my newspaper career.

Mom died at 94, suffering from severe dementia in her final years. My father, bless his heart, fed her by hand and sang to her every night, even though she didn’t recognize him or me, although she often smiled and squeezed my hand in visits.

On her last day alive, with family around us, I recited Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” aloud from memory.

After all, we all have promises to keep. And miles to go before we sleep. So call your mother. Go visit her on Mother’s Day. Take her flowers. Promise?

John Hamer is a former editorial writer and columnist for The Seattle Times and co-founder of the Washington News Council. He has lived on Mercer Island for 25 years with his wife, the mother of his two stepsons. Contact jhamer46@gmail.com.