If I could talk to Mom about this, the first thing she would do would be to assert, quietly but firmly, that she’s not a heroine.
(Actually, the first thing she’d do is listen to me carefully, and wait patiently until I got to a good stopping place. Then she’d stop and think before she spoke. And if she could look over my shoulder now, she might compliment my changing “protest” to “assert,” then wonder aloud whether there might be an even more precise verb.)
And I’d explain — both of us knowing it’s a lame excuse — that, well, that’s the series. The assignment. “My faith heroine.”
Then she’d nod, affirming that it was, in the end, my decision. And she’d say, with that powder-dry wit that even her intimates could mistake as seriousness, that if she had to be one, she might just as well be a hero.
Mom died nearly 26 years ago, nearly half my life ago. There’s a danger of mythologizing the long gone; I think this is especially true for anyone who lost a parent too young. What I know of her is partly memory, partly what I’ve learned over the years, from my brother, our father, her best friend, and other people back home who still, when I see them, give me the gift of anecdotes I hadn’t heard before.
Some memories have been replayed many times, the images like a split screen — on one side, how it felt and seemed at the time; on the other, the more complex understanding and reframing (and, sometimes, greater unknowableness) that come with the perspectives of middle age.
I never heard Mom pray. But I know she did. She wasn’t one to announce she was praying for someone. She just did it, quietly, and I imagine fervently. Sometimes she let me know, usually gently, when she thought I was making poor choices. But she didn’t visibly fret or let her mother-worry herd me like a border collie. I believe she trusted in God’s patience, in the work of the Holy Spirit, in the loving pursuit of the hound of heaven.
I seldom saw her reading her Bible. But I know that she did. It’s worn, with a cracked and taped spine, and notes throughout in her small, neat script.
The summer I was 11, she sent me to church camp. The family hadn’t been to church in a few years — she’d had two small children, Dad worked on Sundays, we just had the one car and she didn’t drive. So I went off for a week to the woods of western Pennsylvania, a shy kid, and had a great time, and made friends I wrote to throughout the year. I kept going back and was eventually baptized there. Then we returned to church.
I never, ever, doubted her love. My brother and I were secure in the knowledge that not only did she love us, she liked us.
When relatives were in need — the elderly, mentally challenged cousin who could no longer live in her farmhouse; the single niece with a new baby who needed a place to live for a while — she took care of them. She found the cousin assisted living a quarter mile from our house, and took in the niece.
When she was angry, she guarded her tongue.
To the friends who called her, and the people who worked with her and became her friends, she gave good counsel.
She saw the humor in things, and made people laugh. She was skilled at the loving tease, and knew when to stop.
I could go on. I could paint, in detail, some of the memories and stories coming to mind. But what they all add up to, and boil down to, is this: She had a deep, quiet, faithful relationship with the Lord. And because of that, as much as anyone I have ever known, she saw people through that lens of transforming love.
I am so very far from being the woman she was. I’m grateful for the ways, through memory and story (and through my brother, who bears her image in so many ways), she is still with me.
If I could talk to Mom about this, I’d thank her for her quiet example. She’d accept my thanks and then probably reflect back something good she saw in me. We’d hug. And I’d tell her I love her and I like her.
Laura Lynn Brown’s essay “Fifty Things About My Mother” was named a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2014. She is the author of Everything That Makes You Mom: A Bouquet of Memories, and the keeper of a new multi-author website, makesyoumom.com.
This post is part of the My Faith Heroine Series in conjunction with the release of 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith. Click here to read other posts in the #MyFaithHeroine series.