Running through the neighborhood this morning, I came upon a young mother playing roller hockey with her two sons at the end of their court. She wasn’t just going through the motions. She was committed, in all the way, and her kids were loving it.
My own mother was never a young mother. She was forty-five when I was born, forty-six when my father lost both of his hands in a farming accident. I had no siblings. My mother, then, was the one to play catch with me, hit grounders and fly balls to me, throw passes with the football. Basketball, I could play by myself. All I needed was a hoop and a ball. Baseball and football, though, were different matters. For those, I needed my mother, and she obliged.
I can’t say whether it gave her much joy. She was a woman of duty, and perhaps she considered those athletic games with me chores she had to get done the same way she had to gather eggs, feed hogs, milk cows, help my father work on machinery, teach school, clean house, cook meals, do laundry. Or maybe she found some pleasure in the release from such responsibilities those times when she threw a baseball back and forth with me, or tossed it up in the air and hit it with a bat, or threw a football to me as she’s about to do in this old photo. This was taken outside our apartment in Oak Forest, Illinois, sometime between 1964 and 1969. Maybe our “games” took her away from her own cares.
I really don’t know what to make of how my mother may or may not have felt about being pitcher, hitter, passer, nor can I say with any certainty why I’m worrying it around right now. Seeing that young mother playing roller hockey brought back all the memories of my mother, who would have been somewhere between fifty-four and fifty-nine when this photo was taken, and how in her dresses and sensible shoes, she’d hit fly baseballs and toss wobbly spirals, because there was no one else to do it.
If this has anything at all to do with writing, it’s the fact that she taught me how to put aside fears and insecurities and to wade into territory that I might not believe myself suited for. Writing takes a measure of courage and a trust that you can make the journey simply because you must. Writing also takes a good bit of selfless love. My mother had that in abundance. She wasn’t meant to pitch and hit and pass, but she did because I was her son, and she loved me, and in the process she taught me how to love, how to give something of myself with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Each day, when I sit down at my writing desk, I practice what she taught me. I make a mark on a page. I set out on a journey. I don’t know what to expect, so I expect nothing. I keep myself open to what might happen.
My holiday wish for all of you is that you have the sort of gifts my mother gave me, the gifts of courage, faith, sacrifice, and love. On the page and in your lives, I wish you these blessings and many, many more.
Peace and joy, my friends. Happy Holidays.