With Mothers Day still fragrant from all the vases of flowers and all the leftovers from dinners out, I started thinking about the stories volunteers have told me about their mothers. I have a friend who laughingly tells me that people volunteer because they were wild in their youth and are now making up for it, and for a few volunteers I know that’s true because they have said it. But most stories the volunteers tell are great yarns, the kind of stories that feel like they are coming from a huge book, read while you sit on the floor, hands propping up your chin.
Annabel told me that her mom was so old-fashioned that when she met her husband to be, Ben, her mother gave her firm, ‘not to be ignored’ instructions. See Annabel, an only child was 14 and Ben, a mature 17 fell in love at a country picnic. He began to court her by showing up at her house, hat in hand, a polite “yes ma’am” on his lips. Her mother and father looked Ben over, decided to give him the chance to prove his worth and they let the two young people get to know each other. “And my mother,” Annabel said, “Oh my mother gave me lots of advice. She told me what to wear, how to act and what to say to be a nice girl, a good catch for this gangly almost grown man who I was head over heels in love with. But she also had stern rules for me too. I could only kiss Ben five times on a date. When I told him that rule, he laughed, but he obeyed out of respect for my mother. We were married when I was 16 and we’ve been married 65 years now and we often talk about my mother and how much she loved both of us. Mother was a strong woman, fair and loving. Ben and I could not have children so we adopted four. My mother was a wonderful grandmother to them. It was because of her that I adopted children and now want to help others.”
Corine came to volunteer two years after her mother died. Corine, a divorced woman with no children, lived with her mother until her mother’s death two years before. She often speaks of her mother who was her best friend, citing the sacrifices her mother made for the family. “My mother was raised in an orphanage and did not ever know her real family. She put herself through business school and raised myself and my sister. We never wanted for anything and although I know my mother struggled, we never ever knew that. My mother helped anyone and everyone, from our neighbors, to down on their luck strangers who she gave probably her only spending money to. I lived with her for 20 years until her death. She was my best friend, my confidant and although I miss her every day, she was the one that told me I must go on living. Because she was such a good person, I want to be that good person too.”
Grace speaks of her mother wistfully. “My mom was dealt a blow no mom should ever suffer. My brother Jay was killed in Vietnam at the age of 19. I was only 14 at the time and I still remember the funeral. How my mother and father cried. My mother grieved her whole life but she never let it affect the rest of us kids. She never let his memory hold us in the past. Rather, we kept his memory with us, as we moved forward and my mother lived for us and for him. On his birthday and on holidays my mother would slip away for a bit and sit in Jay’s room and cry. She cried her tears of pain and then powdered her face and joined the family. My mother was strong and loving and she taught me that heartache could not diminish love nor spirit. After my husband died, I was devastated, but I picked myself back up and decided to live. I volunteer in honor of her.”
Greg told me that he and his brothers and sisters grew up in the hills of Tennessee. “Early in their marriage, my father had an accident at work and was disabled so that meant my mother had to be the sole provider for our family. I can remember the hard times, when we would take a walk up to the store and buy a pound of flour and a pound of sugar so that we could make flapjacks and homemade syrup for dinner. Mom worked, sewed our clothes, made our food, helped us with our homework and cared for Dad. She never complained. She died at the age of 54 and I think she lived two lifetimes of work and responsibility in her 54 years. I remember though, laying in bed and Mom singing us to sleep. Her voice calmed my fears and told me that, although times were hard, I was loved and safe. I want others to feel that way.”
In our profession, we have this wonderful opportunity to engage with our volunteers. The vast majority of them are amazing human beings and getting to know them is a glimpse into the stories that shape them. Listening to them speak of their mothers is like hearing the singing of a tale or the recitation of an epic poem. These stories are enlightening and inspiring. I wish I could meet those mothers.
If I could meet them I would tell them thank you for shaping our volunteers minds and hearts. I would say to them, “I wish you could see the wonderful person your child has become. I know you would be proud.”