Dad wasn’t an affectionate man, while I know Mom craved his touch and sweet words. Dad always signed off on phone calls and letters by saying “We love you.” Mom always signed off saying “I love you.”
I should have mentioned this in Part 1, Dad’s story: His father was a cruel man not above humiliating his children in front of others. He once ridiculed Dad for calling mom Honey; Dad never called her anything but Margie after that. A lot of things about Dad fell into place when I learned this.
Mom suffered most at Dad’s hands. My two younger sisters and I witnessed this once and watched as our brother-in-law pulled Dad away from Mom. You wouldn’t know that from the photo above.
Mom told me a few years before she died in 1997 that the last time Dad slapped her she slapped him back and told him to never hit her again. And he never hit her again. Rock on, Mom!
I’ve not written about Mom as I have of Dad. Dad wasn’t always abusive. He just had his moments and – he was his father’s son. Dad’s impact on me was profound and affected how I saw myself for decades. Mom’s impact on me was like that of any other mom and son. I don’t recall her doting on me — not with four daughters clamoring for her attention too! Being sandwiched between two older and two younger sisters didn’t earn me any bonus points. Indeed, I enjoy telling folks I was picked on by the elder and blamed by the younger. That wouldn’t be too far off the mark, actually. I eventually became big brother to all four, though, a role I feel I earned by never taking sides and being a good listener.
I never heard Mom complain. She was a good Navy and Air Force wife. She raised five kids on junior enlisted man pay and made us all feel equally loved. She smoked until her thirties. I don’t know what made her stop, but it may have been when she started attending church while we were stationed in the Netherlands.
Her life changed when she accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. It was like turning a page and finding a completely changed character and you go back and forth to see if you missed something between page turns. She glowed from within. This glow never faded but became brighter and brighter as she grew in the Lord. My only complaint was that church-going interfered with watching The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday night.
With Mom a regular churchgoer, we kids attended church too. Most of my friends growing up were church friends. Overseas, Mom and Dad regularly hosted military friends from work and church (Dad rarely attended church). Mom and Dad always had single guys and couples from the Air Force base join us for outings and holiday meals. Mom did her best to “save them” without being fanatic about it.
Mom and Dad often hosted Coffees while we were stationed in Holland. TC Adams, helping Dad wash dishes, was my best bud.
Lynn and Connie, 3rd photo right, always gave me books for Christmas.
She did her best, too, to keep me on the straight and narrow. She always worried about my soul. There was a period in my teens right before I left for the Navy that Mom and I had a series of heart-to-heart conversations. I don’t remember any particular discussion, just that it was a very loving time in my — our lives — when Mom and I were alone and talked without reservation. I made her cry one night after our discussion ended and I headed off to bed. I left the kitchen table and was passing through the living room when I stopped, turned and called, “Mom?” “Yes, Willy.” “I love you.” “I love you too, Willy.” Did I see her tears? No. But I knew.
Mom was never satisfied just going to church, singing in the choir, and teaching Sunday School. She wanted more. She wanted more for my younger sisters and me too. She took a job driving a school bus so we could attend Christian school. I attended Christian school in Junior High, then transferred to Tampa Bay Tech for High School.
Left – Stationed in Turkey where I was born. Right — Stationed in the Netherlands.
After transferring to Tampa from Holland in 1967, we attended a Baptist Church about three blocks from home. It was a great little church and Dad became great friends with the Pastor, Brother Harnage. Dad even attended Bible College on the GI Bill. About four years later, Mom and a few of the other ladies at church felt their spiritual growth had stagnated and began visiting an evangelical Assembly of God, sort of a Pentecostal-lite church. We were soon asked to make a choice between churches. About five families left for Emmanuel Tabernacle. Feelings were hurt but no friends were lost; we remained friends with nearly everyone at Northeast Baptist Church.
Mom hit her stride at Emmanuel Tabernacle. The full Gospel washed over her and she lit up like a star. She was never comfortable at the old church when obligated to walk the neighborhood witnessing for Christ. At the new church, her light shone from within and her life became an example for others. She possessed a warmth, a glow, a sense of peace and contentment now and it showed. She was my inspiration and it hurt me to hurt her. I was still a teenager with all the baggage that usually entails; it’s just that I was hyper-aware of my failings.
Mom, and Dad supported my career and were happy when I did well, promoted in the enlisted ranks, then selected for commissioning as an officer. They often visited Jayne and I at our stateside duty stations.
One year, 1995, Mom and Aunt Charlene visited us in Lemoore, California while I was with an F/A-18 Hornet squadron. We had a great time — Aunt Charlene was my “fun” aunt, just a riot of laughs, off-color jokes, sexual innuendo, and borderline religious heresy. I think she was married 5 or 8 times. After Uncle Walt died in 1964, she kept looking for him. Alas.
After Aunt Charlene and Mom left, Jayne told me Mom had said she was “spotting,” bleeding. As it turned out Mom had cancer. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know if it was cervical or uterine. She would have been 65 then.
Jayne and I left Lemoore in October 1997, drove to Tampa for a week with mom, then drove to our new duty station at Force Warfare Naval Test Squadron, Patuxent River in Southern Maryland. Three weeks later, on November 18th, my sister, Linda, called to tell me Mom was fading fast and I needed to come home. We left for Tampa early on the 19th. We made it as far as Richmond, Virginia when my Jeep began smoking from under the hood. We found a repair shop and dropped the Jeep off, then went to a Holiday Inn. I was devastated thinking I might not get to see Mom again.
I called home as soon as I got to the room. Linda answered and told me it was a good thing I called, Mama was almost gone. In the background, Mama’s friends were praying over her, speaking in tongues, beseeching God to comfort her, laying hands on her, crying over her. There was more joy in her bedroom that she was going to meet her Maker than there was sadness.
Mom didn’t fear death. She had prepared herself to meet Jesus since 1964. She knew where she was going, she was ready, she was happy. She would see Johnny again (despite everything, she knew Dad was a believer, a born again Christian, and that they would be together again). She hoped and prayed every day that her children would meet her there someday, too. She didn’t preach at us, or harangue us. She told us she was praying for us. She lived her life as an example of Christ. It was as plain as day. People who didn’t know her would stop and tell her there was something about her that radiated from within.
Linda held the phone so Mom and I could speak. Mom’s voice was weak and soft, almost a squeak, no – exactly a squeak. I had the feeling God was pulling her away but she was resisting until she and I could speak one more time. Mom’s soul was already transitioning. It was that beautiful and so precious a moment that I can’t help shedding tears as I type this. After another “I love you, Mom,” she told me she loved me in oh such a faint squeak and then – she was gone.
From “Mom, I love you,” in 1976, to “Mom, I love you so much,” in 1997; from birth on December 8th 1959 to November 19th 1997, Mom had loved me, nursed me, cherished me, encouraged me, trusted me, believed in me. She had sacrificed to give her kids a better life, just as the generations of Tollefsons, Strands, and Gillards before her had done the same for their kids.
Her work was done. I had been given the privilege, the honor, the blessing to be with her in spirit and voice when Jesus took her hand in his. I always thought of Mom as an angel. Now she is.
“Well done, my good and faithful child. Welcome home”
The next day, I picked up my Jeep. There was nothing wrong with it except the transmission was a bit overserviced. I don’t believe in coincidence.
Thank you, Mom, for waiting for me. I love You so much.