Louise Effie LaRue, my mother, was born on October 5, 1924. If she was still living, she would have been 87 years old today. Unfortunately, she died at the age of 72, one month short of her 73rd birthday. She was as only child, due in part to the dangerous jobs my grandfather had in the Chicago prosecutor’s office during the 1920’s. My grandparents thought it may be better to only have one child; and not be subject to some of the difficulties associated with keeping multiple children safe.
Also, especially after the crash of the market in the late 20’s, it was too expensive to raise a family and as it was, my grandparents had to buy their home back from the bank three times during the Depression. It was nip and tuck for quite a number of years. I don’t think my grandparents ever forgot that.
I was the oldest of three boys born to my mother and father. They met at Northwestern University where my mother attended school, after studying her first year at the University of Chicago. Dad finished his tour in the army and enrolled as a junior at Northwestern. The rest, as they say, is history. Mom was a theatre major and had many famous classmates. She worked in lighting and things behind the scenes, but she went to school with a number of very gifted people. Charleton Heston, Cloris Leachman, McLean Stevenson, Paul Lynde, Patricia Neal and a host of other classmates all went on to fame and fortune. Mom decided to get married and raise a family.
My maternal grandfather was one of the biggest influences on my life. He had a rather tough life growing up. His mother was one of the first Christian Scientists in the Chicago area; having come from Boston and working with Mary Baker Eddy. She came down with tuberculosis and died when Grandpa was thirteen. His father, an engineer on the Pennsylvania Railroad, eventually got married again and with all the children, at least twelve, from the blended family, Grandpa went out on his own and put himself through school. Times were very tough, and I even remember Grandma telling me that Grandpa stopped at the drugstore on their wedding day to buy another bow tie, for 10 cents, because the tie he had on got ruined in the rain on the way to the church.
Although he rarely talked about it, Grandpa also lost a two year old sister to tuberculosis in the early 1900’s – during the first several years of the century. All of this caused him to put a special value on the importance of women in the family – and believe me, that included his one and only daughter – Mom.
I say this because it impacted the way we were raised. Grandpa used to say, “You only get one mother to a lifetime – take care of her.” And he was dead serious. If Doug, Ken or I ever gave Mom a hard time, Grandpa had something to say about it. We were trained from the earliest days to respect both our parents – but especially our mother. I’m sure that this was a result of his missing the influence of his own mother during the teenage years, and beyond, of his life.
Grandpa really was against women’s liberation – he didn’t believe that women should ever be reduced to the roles of men. And Mom was raised that way. Sometimes, Mom spent more than Dad could ever have earned. And, of course, when we acted up, Mom would usually threaten us about what would happen when Dad came home. And in my heart of hearts, I absolutely believe that my mother loved my brother Doug more than she loved me; but I love her for trying to do the best job she could with raising me. I always wanted to be loved by her – and for years I wrestled with not really knowing what I had to do to earn her respect; and her love.
Please don’t get me wrong – I have great memories of Mom. The trips to Marshall Field’s in downtown Chicago to eat under the tree during the Christmas season….. Following her around town and shopping at her favorite haunts….. Hearing stories about her classmates at Northwestern… But notice that most of those memories were things she wanted to do – not necessarily things that I wanted to do. And, I am sad to say, that same mentality made its way down to me; and I am guilty of some of the same stuff in raising our kids.
One of the things I really loved about Mom were the times we cooked together in the kitchen – this was when I felt the most special – like when we made cranberry bread during the holidays. I don’t cook much anymore – but she is the one who really taught me how it was done. After all, she really was a world class cook and had been taught at the finest schools – including the Pope School of Cooking. She had every kitchen gadget you could think of – including obscure things like strawberry stem pickers! I still have many of her spoons and other utensils.
Her later years were more difficult as geriatric multiple sclerosis took over her life. Finally, that woman who could almost fly through the stores on State Street could barely get around; and she became much more fragile. My brother Doug did a great job taking care of her during her last years. And finally, it all came to an end for Mom – on Sept. 14, 1997. Several days before her death, Doug, Ken and I were all together in her apartment. it was the first time we had gathered together in years – and it was good.
So, tonight, I am remembering all that was, and all that might have been. I miss the calls she made to me each Sunday evening at 9:42 pm – and so many things that I would have liked from a Mom.
Tonight’s verse is from Proverbs 23:25, “Let your father and your mother be glad, And let her rejoice who gave birth to you.” As I reflect on a life cut short, I do hope that I have done my mother, and my father, proud. I wish that I had more years with Mom and Dad. But God had other plans. My encouragement is to let you know that it is never too late to try and build a better relationship with a parent. And my prayer is that God is always there to listen to the yearnings of your heart and to help guide you to being a better child, and even more importantly, a better parent. Because all our children need great parents… Happy birthday, Mom…..