The finest woman I ever knew
by Jack Corbett

 

Sure, sure, they are going to say.  She was your mother and most men look toward their mother as the model other significant women must measure up to when they meet later in life. Fact is many psychologists agree that most men are attracted to women embodying the same virtues and faults that their mother exhibited as they were growing up. I wasn't. And the reason was because I wanted a wide assortment of women to choose from and there just wasn't going to be many who could live up to her. Come to think about it, I can't name one. And if anyone reading this thinks I am prejudiced, just read on.

She always was an A student. At least she was as a graduate student getting her Masters in English after having me and my three sisters. It wasn't long afterwards that she landed a teaching position at Lindenwood College in St Charles, Missouri.

I don't remember her getting underneath cars and playing auto mechanic, but she was very good at practically everything she tried. When I was in high school studying Latin she would help me prepare for my first Latin grammar tests. As my first year of college approached she taught me the rudiments of using quotations for term papers. When you look at what kind of man her father was you can see why she had so many talents.

He was blind. Couldn't see a thing. Yet he built a bathroom in his house and wooden staircase down to the basement. He could play the piano by ear and was quite a reader, doing his reading by Braille or talking books (records). He was president of the Jacksonville Lions Club. Ad until he retired he was always fully employed.....teaching at the Jacksonville School for the Blind. He paid his own way through life and taught the rest of us as much. Above all, he was kind. Still, there were no excuses--at least not for him, and he never came down on the others around him who didn't measure up. He would go with me to Chicago and show me around. I had the eyes but he knew where each street was and had that sixth sense of always knowing exactly where we were. The first time we went together I was only eight, a child lost in the big city but I wasn't lost, for I had him to guide me. Handicapped? He didn't know the meaning of the word. He was my mother's dad and he was really something.

It should be no surprise then that Mother was always a leader. She was president of her bridge club. After the family moved to St Louis, Washington University started a program targeted at providing its foreign students with a better grasp of the English language. She headed the program although she was not on the university's staff. Her many accomplishments and unassailable value system still do not give one a full sense of what she was all about. A lot of people think I have this wacky sense of humor and simply cannot stand it. I can't help it. I got it from her and my grandfather.

I think that they both knew that they were on this earth for a very short time and fully realized it. Most people don't, or if they do it simply doesn't sink in. So why not have a little fun? After all, life is full of so much pain and it comes to an end so quickly. I remember after I moved to the farm Dad sleeping in and Mother and I getting up early, then trying to sneak off to the local coffee shop, leaving him behind so we could joke around together with no one in tow to bring us back to earth. But he usually heard us moving around the house before we could get out the door, and not being able to stand being left out, cut himself in.

There were some real characters living near the farm in those days...so mother and I decided to have fun with them...behind their backs, of course. We'd watch these old Western movies, none of them Academy Award winners. Not even close. The ones with Jack Palance in them or Richard Widmark and a few other old time actors from the 1950's. Usually there was a bad guy and a good guy and lots of gun play. Mother and I would simply cut up and talk about who we would cast in those movies from the farm area. I would tell her..."That guy who just gunned down those six innocent Mexicans and that priest who's not so innocent...well, we could have so and so play them." She'd think a moment, then respond with, "And the good guy, the one who's always wearing the white hat, we could have Joe play him." Then there were the guys in the saloon who would always duck under the tables at the first hint of a fight or gun play. We'd think of quite a few who could play those parts.

At such times we didn't even want Dad around since he'd think we were both crazy. You just didn't do that....wasting one's time imagining who would be in a movie that would never be produced. And by this time I had already gotten my Masters Degree in Business at St Louis University. So here's the mother and her son, both with masters degrees, laughing their heads off about the locals playing parts in a Western movie.

She got cancer. At first she became very ill. Then, after finishing her chemotherapy, she started to get better. She insisted on helping me weed my bean fields, which meant both of us walking mile after mile, weed hooks in hand, going to the end of the field and then turning around and walking to where we had started from. She knew she was going to die yet she still joked...."One of these times you are going to leave me here: you are so fast and I cannot keep up, so you will just walk on and not even notice me falling dead between those rows." Which is exactly what I ended up doing although I never forgot her.

A year later she was dying and it was her last night alive. She had been in a lot of pain, yet she never screamed out, and tried to hide from Dad and me that she was suffering. She never felt sorry for herself. She motioned me over to her, wanting me to come closer to her. When I came up close, she took me by my hand and looked into my eyes and said, "Promise me that you will take my ashes and put them on that field of soybeans you and I used to weed together."

I don't break promises. Months later her ashes were still lying in a little box in a funeral home I had never seen before. Dad just never seemed to be able to bring himself to do it. The last I saw of her were her ashes fluttering downward over the field from that plane I rented as the pilot looked straight ahead. Only it wasn't her. She had moved on.

 

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