The Odessa Record -

Mom shared so much more than her singing voice with this kid

 

--Courtesy photo.

Lynn Stetson and her mother Evagene Keebaugh in a selfie taken in 2001, when Stetson was employed by the Enumclaw Courier-Herald newspaper.

I had just checked out of the school library a book of songs. I ran the seven blocks home from school to show it to Mom.

"Let's sing," I said.

We sat on the floor, squeezed into a little corner in the living room created by a chimney running up an inside wall. Maybe we liked the acoustics or thought if we hid, no one would hear our sorry warbling. My mom and I share a sad love. We love to sing, but we simply can't do it. It's not pretty. It can be downright ugly.

But Mom and I sat in the corner that day, singing our awful best and having a grand time. We didn't care if anyone heard.

I was in third or fourth grade then, but Mom and I still know how to have a grand time. We don't hide away and sing much these days, but we still have fun. We are blessed that it takes only simple things to please us.

We can while away the hours poring over old photos and trying to remember who the highly starched guy with mutton chop sideburns was. Or we can get lost all day in antique stores, lamenting, "Oh, I had one of those. Look how much they want for it now." And we love going for nice, long drives. We don't need a destination; we just like being lookie-loos.

But she is so much more than a grand time. I'm going into my 42nd year and when my head hurts or my feelings have been bruised, it's still Mom I call. It's her arms I want wrapped around me when I need comforting.

When I'm in her house, even though it's not a house I've ever lived in, I feel like I've returned to the womb. It's a warm and comfortable place and everything, no matter how awful it was the day before, is going to be all right when I'm there. I wonder if it hurts her feelings sometimes when I visit and fall asleep at the drop of a hat. But her home is the one place where I can instantly feel completely at peace and supremely cozy. I can cocoon there.

Maybe it's because she's always been there for me, no matter how many miles jobs or travels have put between us. A phone call is all it takes to settle a nerve or a case of the jitters. For most of my school-age years, Mom was waiting for me at home when the day ended. I could show her my homework and present her with my latest work of schoolhouse art-a soup can covered in shelf paper and ornately decorated with seashell pasta (you remember those).

She frequently was a single parent in my early years, as my dad, being a career Navy man, would be out to sea for weeks, if not months at a time. She could run a household single-handedly, managing all manner of emergencies in places far away from friends and family.

I probably was a bit of a disappointment, being more of a tomboy than a princess. She doesn't know it, but growing up, the biggest complement she ever game me came the day I was playing ball out back with a group of neighborhood kids and she said, "You don't throw like a girl." My heart soared.

These days, I proudly tell friends that she used to make many of my outfits when I was a kid, even though at the time, I protested that I must be the only person in the world who had to wear homemade clothes. I was put out only until my classmates marveled at her handiwork, and I felt so special for having such a talented mom.

She never lost her patience when my best buddy and I would spend hours on the phone, sometimes just reading the newspaper comics to each other when we lived only eight houses apart. In high school, when I was thoughtless and had a mouth on me that wasn't fit for anyone's company, she remembered her own teen years, and didn't lock me in the basement-although she would have been justified.

I've bounced around, following adventure with friends or on my own, and she's always stood firmly behind me, in spirit, if not in body. Not to catch me if I fell, but to be there to help me up and dust me off if I needed it.

With every move I've made, she's been there, helping me pack up on one end, and then pitching in on the other. She has washed and papered more cupboards than either of us care to count.

She's the strong one who comforts me when it should be the other way around. I marvel at her strength and wish I had inherited her easy way with people. No one is a stranger in her home. She can pick up and carry a conversation with anyone, from pauper to prince, and each will feel for a time that he or she is the most important person in the room.

But as I get older, I'm starting to feel the tables turning a little. Although she's still a rock, I find myself sometimes worrying, offering advice and nagging.

"You'll call me when you get there?"

"Have you gone to the doctor yet about that knee?"

I know she can take care of herself. But I'm selfish. My life has been so enriched by her that I don't want to ever imagine a world without her in it. She (and my dad) gave me life, gave me love and gave me the tools I needed to grow up and learn to give back what they've given to me. I have so much to be grateful for that just thinking about it all makes my heart swell up in my chest, my breath catch and my eyes start to water.

I can never, ever express just how grateful I am. I don't have words in me that are strong enough, soft enough or expressive enough. But I have the word that brings the quickest smile and the warmest feeling I can muster: Mom.

Originally published May 9, 2001 in the Enumclaw Courier-Herald's op-ed page.

 

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