Some of my earliest memories are no doubt inspired by old black-and-white photos. In one, I'm in a baby buggy being jostled down some stairs. In another, I'm lifted into a sink filled with soothing warm water, and gentle, loving hands caress my slippery baby body.
On the first day of kindergarten, Mother walked me to school. Just as we were passing Schwarz's Grocery Store, my new, too-roomy panties dropped to my ankles. Without missing a beat, Mother produced a safety pin, hitched up my little flounced skirt and solved the problem. My 4-year-old self was mortified, but at the same time, I was comforted that she was by my side.
A few years later, I was skipping home, giddy with the anticipation of delivering my Mother's Day gift -- a clay ashtray, even though my mother did not smoke. I hit a crack and crashed to the sidewalk, the gift and all. Mother met my tear-stained self at the back door wondering what in the world had happened to me. Five minutes later, with a little Elmer's Glue, the problem was solved.
How could the next decade be such a blur? We had an "Ozzie and Harriet" family with peace and harmony. We camped, we hiked, we fished, we went on lots of family vacations. Weren't there thousands of times my mother and I shared wonderful moments? How could I forget?
Here is a memory that is not lost. My father has lung cancer. His surgery is scheduled at the University of Iowa, where I am a freshman. Mother and Daddy are upbeat about this and I can sense that they don't want to frighten me. I spent the day of his surgery with Mother, hoping to be of support to her. Of course, it didn't work out that way. At intervals, I dissolved into tears, and it was she who comforted me.
He thankfully recovered, years passed and when I came home from college, there were two occasions when Mother surprised me. The first involved my bedroom. I was shocked to discover that she had purchased a beautiful blue and white bedspread and matching cotton curtains. I was overwhelmed with love for her because, as a rule, she was not one to redecorate.
The second was a weekend when Daddy was out of town. In place of my usual favorites of Chinese food and tapioca pudding, Mother produced -- just for the two of us -- bacon-wrapped filets. This was unheard of without "company" and made me feel so special.
Flash forward a few years, and my father has died. Mother is just 62. As usual, she is our rock. "When I catch myself feeling blue, I realize that I'm not feeling sorry for Daddy, I'm feeling sorry for myself, and I will not allow that," she says.
For the next 20 years, I was glad to live just two hours from her. I could run down for a weekend together, or she could drive up to the farm. Shortly before her death, she said, "I'll always remember all those trips to Wheatland and how you would race out the door to greet me."
But then, I moved to Charleston, hating the fact that I would be so far away. Mother never hinted that she regretted my move. When we talked most every Saturday morning, for 28 years, she was always upbeat, sharing news about all her activities and she listened patiently as I shared mine.
She flew down every Christmas, plus a few times in the summer or fall. Even if flight delays caused her to arrive at midnight or later, she always bounced off the plane ready for action.
There is no one I have ever met who totally lived in the moment more than my mother. She savored whatever she was doing -- reading the morning paper, enjoying the most delicious BLT, watching a sunset or hugging me goodnight, thankful for the day we'd spent together.
My mother was my hero. Over the years, she became my best friend. And I miss her so.
Carolyn Witte lives on James Island and is enjoying retirement following a 30-year career in education and communications.