Her name was Wilma, but I knew her as Elaine. She was a part of my life from almost the very beginning of it. She lived in our home, and raised me and my brother when our parents were at work or away.
One of my first memories of Elaine was of her taking me to the green stamp store for my birthday. Elaine had saved up green stamps, enough for almost any toy in the store. I picked out a stuffed mouse, which I brilliantly named “Mousey”. Mousey is the only stuffed animal that I still have from my childhood, although he is a bit ragged and long ago lost his tail. When my children were small, I brought him out when they were sick. They knew holding him was a special treat, and he somehow made them feel better.
I learned a lot from Elaine. I learned that anything fried is good. I learned that homemade peach cobbler is worth eating vegetables for. I learned to wash my hands…often. I learned to love soap operas. I learned how to treat a pet, since the first one I remember is Elaine’s prized poodle, Peppy. I remember holding $200 in my hands, riding to the bank in Elaine’s white Dodge Rambler. I thought Elaine was rich and couldn’t wait for the day when I could earn that much money. I learned how to take care of plants, though in reality, Elaine’s green thumb always made up for my lack of one. I learned about the Great Depression, being in the army, and what it was like to be swept up in a tornado.
Even though I sometimes drove Elaine crazy (often with an assist from my big brother), she loved me. She always told me how smart I was, and, more than that, she told me I could do anything I put my mind to. Thankfully, I received the same message from my parents. I think of how, when my kids were growing up, I always told them, “Good job.” I wonder if they’d be stronger people if I had just said, “I knew you could do it.”
Even after my brother and I grew up and Elaine moved away, I stayed connected to her. We talked often, and my family and I drove an hour to see her every Christmas when I visited my hometown.
Though Elaine’s body inevitably began to fail, she always had a positive attitude. Her mind stayed sharp throughout her life–sharper than mine will ever be. She remembered things about my life that I don’t even remember. She was quick with a laugh, and always had an opinion. She was my friend. More than that, she was my second mother.
Elaine passed away a few years ago. I am grateful that my frequent flyer account allowed me to jump on a plane and see her one more time at the end. She was ready to go, but even though she was in her nineties, I wasn’t ready. I cried like a child at her bedside in the hospital. I only wish I could have done more for her, to repay her for all that she did for me.
On this Mother’s Day, and every Mother’s Day, I will think first of my own wonderful mother, then of my second mother. What a lucky person I am to have had an extra mom, one who contributed to my self-esteem as a child, and later role modeled aging with determination and a sense of humor. What a gift to have another person to love and to teach me to love, in the way a “real” mom does. I can only hope to pass along the gift she gave me and face the second half of my life with such a spirit.
Along the way, Elaine will always be in my heart and in my head, telling me that I can do whatever I put my mind to. Happy Mother’s Day, Elaine, and I hope that there is lots of fried food in Heaven.