Whenever I think of modern culture, the word that comes immediately to mind is: Decadence. Whenever I think of my mother, the word that comes immediately to mind is: Decency. Two things could not be more unlike.
My mother never enjoyed a moment of fame, fortune, or glamour. She lived quietly by the untrendy, unglamorous virtues of self-discipline, self-restraint, hard work, responsibility, and loyalty to her family, home, and friends. Neglect, evasion, excuses – no such things ever existed in her character or her vocabulary. She did her job in life. She minded her own business and never tried to mind anyone else’s. She knew that the simple pleasures are the best. She found her greatest happiness in her family, in taking pictures of beautiful things and places and sharing them with friends and family, and in the glorious color and splendor of operettas and Hollywood musical films from the 1930s-1950s.
My mother was a Traditionalist. She could never have been, or wanted to be, a Modernist. She hated pretentiousness of any kind. She loved children. She had an intuitive understanding of fair play, good manners, and proper dress. Even at age 78, she made a point of dressing conservatively and attractively to walk one block to a meeting of a social club at her Catholic church.
In her eyes, there was no mystery about how to live or behave. She learned those things from Catholic nuns in the 1920s-‘30s and never forgot the wisdom in what they taught.
I cherish the memory of nights in our darkened living room more than half a century ago when she introduced me to the wonderful 1940s’motion pictures “Going My Way” and “The Bells of St. Mary’s” on late-night television.
She was not perfect, anymore than I was. There were occasional arguments between us, and then unhappiness, frustration, or heartaches for her and for me. But she was right far more often than not.
I was too young in those years to understand what I owed her. But later I found out: I owed her my eternal gratitude for every moment of happiness or contentment I ever knew.
“A man never sees all that his mother has been to him till it is too late to let her know that he sees it,” wrote William Dean Howells. I could testify to the truth in his words.
“And she will never read what has been written here about her,” Charles Lindbergh’s daughter Reeve wrote about her mother. (Reeve Lindbergh, No More Words: A Journal of My Mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, , p. 12) The same is true for me. What Reeve Lindbergh and I had in common was the terrible fate that befell her mother and mine: Strokes late in life, followed by years of memory loss and disorientation.
My mother never handed me a bill for all her labor and services on my behalf. But if she had, she would have added them all up to: No Charge. And if this doesn’t ring a bell for you or your readers, then may I suggest: Listen to Melba Montgomery’s classic 1974 song “No Charge” and pay close attention to the lyrics.