Mother's Day dilemma

By Daniel Dunkle | May 14, 2017

How do you appreciate a mother?

When I was a kid, I would wake up on Mother's Day and ride my bike up to the little shopping center next to Hampden Academy and buy a card or candle or some other lame item at the drug store or the hardware store next to it.

There was always a sweaty desperation to this endeavor. I hated these little holidays that I could never seem to plan ahead for, denounced them as commercial nonsense, a chance to sell greeting cards.

Anna Jarvis, who worked to make Mother's Day a national holiday at the beginning of the 20th century, later denounced the commercialism that had taken over, so I suppose I wasn't alone. However, before she soured on the event, she had made some good points, wanting to celebrate the contributions of mothers and arguing female achievements should be recognized on the national calendar.

Mom always accepted my lame gifts just as mothers accept their May holiday each year. The arguments that we don't need a specific day probably don't hold water, since most of us would never get around to appreciating and honoring our mothers if it weren't mandatory. There is a purpose to community, after all.

The bind we all find ourselves in is that you can't really do anything for your mother that compares to what she has done for you. In my own household, this is illustrated. Wesley was born two months premature and had to be in the hospital after he was born for about a month. His mother, Christine, informed me as the catheter went in at the hospital that I owed her. This is a debt that has not been paid. She was in a hospital bed, unable to eat or shower, for days, loaded up with medications that made it feel like they were heating up her blood. She couldn't even hold her baby at first, because she was stuck in one bed and Wesley, at 4 pounds, 6 ounces, was in a plastic box down the hall.

Wesley is now 16 and dangerously close to my height. When he gives his mother guff about something she has asked him to do, I like to bring up what she went through in bringing him into this world. This usually earns us an eye-roll.

But in the end, what is he ever going to do that compares with what his mother has sacrificed for him, not just back then, but every day since? It's like when we think about doing spring cleaning, realize how overwhelming the workload is, and then decide not to.

I've been fortunate to have several mother figures in my life. There is my own mother, who also had to endure a lengthy hospital ordeal at my arrival. She was tough and always pushed me to take the next step toward independence. Her training in typing, list-making and organization may also have doomed me to a life of responsibility, both at home and in the workplace. She prays for me every day, and I take some comfort in that.

I have also been fortunate to have two grandmothers and my mother-in-law, Sue, who is actually pretty similar to Mom.

I had a chance to really get to know my grandmother on Mom's side, Nana. She lived with us for a while after my grandfather died, and we used to go on road trips together, which were always hilarious, because Nana is a notoriously dangerous driver. She also used to give me coffee when I was a kid, so I could make a big deal out of acting like a grownup.

My mind today is on my grandmother on my Dad's side, Esther Dunkle, or Grammie, if you will, who died April 13 at the age of 87.

When Grammie was 7 years old, she found a dynamite cap outside and brought it home. This was in the coal mining region of Pennsylvania. Her father, not knowing what kind of trash she was playing with, told her to throw it into the woodstove. The resulting explosion took one arm from just below the elbow down. She had the use of the elbow and was able to do a lot with just that movement.

One of my memories as a child is chasing my cousins around her house with her plastic arm, which she never wore.

Grammie was married after my grandfather returned from World War II. He had served as a medic in the Philippines.

She had six children, worked in a shoe factory, crocheted like nobody's business, and famously drove stick. She probably wouldn't let you get away with saying she had a disability and she never let it stop her from doing anything.

I grew up with an expression from my dad, which was "Can't never tried." I just wasn't allowed to say "I can't do that." I figure that came to him from her.

But the loss of her arm did bother her. It's not nothing, it's not just meaningless. She would always stand a certain way so it wouldn't show in photos.

When she was raising her children, she took time every day to teach them what was right, to work hard, to believe in themselves.

So it comes back to the question we started with: How do you appreciate a mother like that?

You do it however you can, in your own way. Maybe it's flowers and a card or just a simple phone call. You do the best you can and she will appreciate the effort, any effort.

That's what she does. She's your mom.

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