Retailers estimate over $20 billion will be spent honoring mothers this year in the US alone, which translates into a lot of cards, flowers, jewelry, and personal services like spa trips and pedicures. On this special day, I honor my mother, Dorothy Anne Discher Craig (whom my father nicknamed “Dottie”), and two other amazing moms in my immediate circle: EA, my daughter, and Kara, my daughter-in-law.
This holiday, though, my reflections are mostly about my other mom – the woman I credit with raising me after Mama Dottie passed away when I was three years old. Elizabeth Lingo Elam, or Bess as she was always called, came to live with my family when my mother became ill, and she stayed until her death when I was a sophomore in college. She was termed an “old maid” in her day, as she never married. She always said she never thought she’d have children, and then God gave her my two brothers and me. I called her “Mama Bess” and I adored her.
Born in 1887, she was 72-years-old when she moved in with our family, though my parents had known her since their college days. She shared fascinating memories of a world I couldn’t imagine: driving her horse and buggy into town as a young girl, of the first cars in her area, of the introduction of electricity into her old homeplace, and of a talking parrot that greeted visitors during warm weather from its huge cage on the front porch.
I took Bess for granted as a child and teenager, but now I realize she was the glue for our busy, chaotic family. Her constant presence was the certainty I could always depend on. From the small flowered arm chair in her room (which I still have in its recovered form in my guest room) or the kitchen or TV room, she was a dependable anchor. She cooked supper every day and tracked my brothers and me in our comings and goings.
Bess loved me with a fierceness I didn’t understand then. I suspect now that she knew how deeply troubled I was, especially as a teen, and she would have done anything in the world to make me happy. From today’s vantage point, although she couldn’t make me happy, she did something much more important: She saved me. Just as she braided and coiled her waist length hair every morning, which I loved to watch, Bess circled me with an unwavering love.
She was never critical or sharp, as my grandmothers sometimes were in their efforts to train me to be more proper. Bess showered me with unfettered affection and with a persistent belief that I hung the moon and could accomplish anything in the world. I never felt like I had to perform or think or be a certain way with Bess; she simply loved me unconditionally.
Her acceptance extended to the hundreds of college students, mostly guys, who came and went from our home, some on a semi-permanent basis when they lived with us. She gently scolded and cooked and did their laundry like she did for the rest of us. Bess always encouraged, never judged, and always loved.
This holiday I think of all the other mothers who bless our lives. The teachers, church ladies, neighbors, coaches, friends’ moms, nurses and doctors, therapists, ministers, and so many other categories – I’m mindful of the myriad faces of women who pour themselves into other people’s children. Mothering is a verb as much as a mother is a noun, and mother-love doesn’t depend on a certain relationship based on birth, adoption, or marriage.
I’m grateful today for the incredible women in my private circle who mother each other with the passionate fierceness I experienced from Mama Bess. Even as an adult – a mother and grandmother – sometimes I still want a mom. I expect you might feel the same way.
Perhaps this retail spectacle that celebrates mothers can be your invitation to be a mom to those who need one and to celebrate all the moms who have graced your path. Better still, let that calling continue as a lifestyle beyond a single day. All of us need mothering no matter how old we are, and all of us can choose to mother.
Marnie C. Ferree