by Brian Arbenz
Today, Nov. 20, 2017, is disorienting for me. I reach exactly the age, to the day, at which my mother died in 1983.
Yes, a person would have to be an obsessive number cruncher to know that today is the precise number of days since my 59th birthday last summer that Mom lived past her 59th. And a person would have to be just a little insecure and into the mystical to be preoccupied with this fact.
It’s not a health concern that’s on my mind. I fully expect to be as fine tonight when I drop off to sleep as I am typing this – spry, mobile, and with a nearly ideal body weight since losing 90 pounds nine years ago and keeping it off since.
But something just isn’t right – I will be older than Mom ever got to be.
Older than Mom. No way. Can’t be.
I am not ready to be senior to my source of wisdom and nurturing. Mom will always be older and savvier than I am.
Millie Morrison raised my older sister and myself as a single parent, starting when that was too new even to be a phenomenon.
I will still look to Mom in my memories and in my modern day conception of her for a more mature perspective on things.
Of much more importance than the fact that Mom was our sole financial provider during 15 years when no child support arrived, she was our moral and intellectual guide. A high school English and Humanities teacher, Mom made sure we would love learning as we grew up by incorporating it into what we enjoyed.
When she saw I was fascinated by maps at age five, Mom introduced me to reading by going over the Indiana page in an atlas and teaching me to read our state’s city names. (I’m not sure if it was state loyalty or an abundance of short words; Gary, South Bend and Fort Wayne were great starter outers.)
In a few years I was a sports lover, helped along by the NBC Baseball Game of the Week, so Mom brought home sports themed fiction and non-fiction books she bought through her school to keep me developing my reading skills while liking the experience.
Mom earned her master’s degree, taking classes at a downtown Louisville college while our grandmother and other adults came over to child sit. Mom also enrolled in a non-credit institute to study the culture and politics of India.
She rose at 5 every morning, fed the beloved cats who owned us, then worked the crossword puzzle with coffee in hand — all before taking her son and daughter to school, then driving on to her job to teach other people’s children.
We didn’t think of Mom as extraordinarily disciplined as such, because we had no comparison. But in retrospect, oh my, how she epitomized efficiency and focus, while maintaining an easy, approachable manner (despite a son who tested her patience).
We did appreciate Mom serving as a fountain of information. Friends, students and even a television news anchorman at a station where my father had worked decades earlier would sometimes call asking her to resolve a grammatical matter, which Mom would do in seconds, then go back to cooking supper.
Books by Hermann Hesse, D.H. Lawrence and Alvin Toffler shared space on her shelves with parenting guides and her college yearbooks – and Mom’s issues of The Atlantic.
Their pages each month represented the eclectic spheres Mom would have seen more of in person, but for tight finances and her firm belief that her children came first.
Besides, Mom was happy sharing minds and hearts with the educated friends she had, in our area and other nearby places.
Of course, she gave us needed advice in a rapidly changing world. And today, as I reluctantly walk past that chronological point where fate took her from us, becoming – as impossible as it is to behold this – older than Mom ever was, she gives me the same advice on my number fixation about today’s date that she often did when I’d overthink and anguish about the shallowness and incongruity of the world:
“Tune that out. Enjoy life.”
Thanks, Mom. I’m ready to go on now.