Toward the end of 1968, Clara Dye gave birth to her fifth child. He came before Christmas, even though he wasn’t supposed to be born until the first day of 1969. The early arrival messed up Christmas for the other 4 Dye children — but, hey, that’s what babies do.
Now, 48+ years later, my mom would still tell you that I’m her baby — though I am the tallest of her 5 kids. I’m sure when I was a teenager, I rolled my eyes at such comments. Now, I don’t. I’m glad to still be her baby.
With Mother’s Day coming, it seemed a good time to consider lessons this 48-year-old baby has learned from his mom — a woman who turns 84 next month, and then 2 months later celebrates her 63rd wedding anniversary.
Lesson #1: Keep your promises. When mom finished high school in Buffalo, NY, where she grew up, she decided to follow her brother to a small college in Illinois. One of mom’s sisters, meanwhile, went the opposite direction — heading to Eastern Christian College in New Jersey. Mom told her: If it’s a good school, I’ll join you there my sophomore year.
Well, as it turns out, Aunt Dorothy liked the school. She told mom that. But there was one problem. Mom had grown to like the school she was attending in Illinois. She wanted to stay. But she had made a promise, and so she joined her sister at Eastern. It was there she met my dad. They fairly quickly became an item, and on August 1, 1954 joined their lives together in marriage.
Needless to say, I’m glad mom was a woman of her word. I’m grateful she kept her promise. Not only did it give me life, it gave me an example of how to live, and speak.
Lesson #2: Be faithful. Mom didn’t grow up in a family that lived out its faith. It wasn’t until she was a teenager that faith, and God, became real to her. But when mom made a commitment to Christ, she took it seriously. For most of her adult life, mom has served alongside my dad in ministry. This has included untold acts of service that all ministry spouses undertake: teaching, cooking, cleaning, supporting, ministering, and facing the long hours and low pay that was their reality for all of my dad’s working years. But through it all, mom was faithful, serving with dad wherever God took them.
There was one exception, though: music. Mom avoided that, because, even though most minister’s wives of her day played the piano and led choirs, mom didn’t. Even there, even in what she didn’t do, mom is still teaching me this truth: a part of faithfulness is knowing what you can do, and what you can’t.
Lesson #3: Watch what you put in your head. When I was growing up, mom had very clear standards. Secular music was off-limits. Foul language was not tolerated (But mom, all I said was ‘fart’…). And TV was carefully monitored.
For as long as I can remember, mom has enjoyed watching the evening news. As a kid, we would watch the 10:00 news, and on the weekends, or when I got older, we’d leave it on to watch the show after the news. Oftentimes it was Leave it to Beaver. Other times it was MASH. Occasionally, it was Saturday Night Live.
For Leave it to Beaver, we never had to worry about what was said or shown (though mom definitely agreed with June that you had to watch out for that Eddie Haskell). But when we were watching MASH, I knew that there was a good chance we wouldn’t make it through the whole show. Klinger would say something over the line, or Hawkeye would do something that was out-of-bounds, and we’d change the channel. And Saturday Night Live? Well, I’m not sure why mom even let us start that show. I think it was just inertia; if we were watching the NBC local news, SNL automatically came on. But we knew it wouldn’t stay there long.
Mom has always had a strong sense of right and wrong. And she really believed that it matters what you fill your mind with. That’s a lesson that has stuck with me, and one I try to pass on to my kids (though, sadly, they have no appreciation for the humor and life lessons from the Beav).
Lesson #4: Good food brings a family together. Mom has always been a good cook. Whether it was the spaghetti recipe she picked up from our Italian neighbors in New Jersey, or her chicken pantalba that is layers of tasty goodness, or the Rigatoni a la Seventh Street whose taste is only surpassed by its fancy name, mom has always put lots of love and work into her kitchen creations. (And I haven’t even mentioned her killer pies….)
But for mom, food was about more than food. It was a part of what it meant to be family, to share life, to be together. For mom, dinner time was an essential part of family life; it was simply assumed that we would eat supper together. And in the eating, mom didn’t just show us love by lavishing delicious delights on us — she also gave us the opportunity to come together, to do the daily work of being family.
Thanks, mom, for teaching me lessons that matter. I only ask that you continue to be patient with me. Though I am 48, I’m still learning. After all, I am just the baby.