Our walk today is a sermon about my mother from some years back.
Of Praise and Discipline, Sympathy and Tears
My mother was a very short woman, not even five feet tall. Now I have teased Dale and Carol Vinniti about their being vertically challenged, or that they are a couple of shrimps, or that I could eat beans off their heads. That’s a very old and ancient saying. I never dared say that to my mother. I might put my arm around her shoulder and look down at her and make myself look tall, but I never teased her about her height. I did not dare for my mother would have threatened to make me sit in the little red chair facing the corner of the room, even though I was in high school. I’ve also told you before that she was a very heavy woman.
My mother never made any comment about her height, but she was always self-conscious about her weight. She never wished her picture to be taken; therefore, her children have hardly any pictures of her at all. Frankly, I liked my mother just the way she was – short and overweight. When my mother hugged you, it was a hug that just made you know you were hugged. When we went sledding on a frosty night after a snowstorm before the trucks came to sand the road, we would laugh and smile as my mother rode on the sled belly bumps. Her laughter when she rolled off the sled and into a snow banking would overcome us all. When my mother laughed, it was infectious. All of us would start to laugh with her until our sides ached, and we could hardly breathe.
When I remember my mother and think of her being overweight, I cannot help but recall a happening when I was in the sixth grade in the Franklin School. There was a kid at school I nicknamed Jogo. I was asked by Miss Miller, my teacher, to do some kind of an errand, and I passed by a classroom where Jogo was sitting alone. I went into the room to leave a note for his teacher, and he looked up at me and said, “Jeeze but you have a fat mother!” That did it. I had no knowledge I would be a pastor back then, so I ripped Jogo out of his seat and grabbed him twisting his arm and telling him if I ever saw him outside of school his days were numbered. For some reason, I never did see him again. I do not think he ever wished to meet me again.
So, my mother and her teachings live inside of me. Inside of me, I can hear her speak and reach out into my heart. My mother, whose name was Etta Irene Boyle, was a mixture of three things – Praise, Discipline, and Sympathy and Tears. She had a wonderful way of knowing, most of the time, what her seven children needed most.
My mother was wonderful with abundant “praise.” When you did something for my mother that was good and helpful, you would hear about it and so would our father when he came home. This may sound a little strange, but I loved to do things for my mother. She never asked too much from me. If I cleaned my room, she would come up three flights of stairs (even with arthritis in her knees) to see it and tell me how wonderful it looked. When I stained the woodwork in my bedroom with a cherry stain, my mom thought it was just perfect and beautiful. If one of us cut the lawn and trimmed it, she would come out and inspect it. If it needed a few places trimmed better, she would praise you first and then tell you it could even look more beautiful if you just did this and this. That was said with a diplomacy that you never considered criticism. When you trimmed where it needed to be trimmed, she would come back out and give you a hug and tell you it was never looking better. And the praise went on, not just for a few moments, but for a few days afterward. She would mention the things that had pleased her many times, and you could smile each time with a pride inside yourself. To this pastor, a good mother praises her children, her family, often. It makes the family wish to do more and more to help their mother. But there was another side to my mother – my mother could be hurt and angry and turn on the most sorrowful crying you ever heard. When my mother cried, it was heart wrenching.
This pastor has a letter from my mother when I was at Hebron Academy in Maine. We had an account that our parents had to fill with funds when it was running low. Your pastor had a desire for some ice cream every day, and there came a day when my mother felt I had spent enough money. When I went down to my post office box, there was smoke coming out of it. It was a letter telling me how much the family was sacrificing for me to go to a private school. It looked like it was stained with tears. Maybe my mother even sprinkled water on it, but I knew I had hurt my mother, and I was ashamed.
Sometimes her anger or disappointment in you did not come with tears, but with action. If you ever wonder why your pastor lets his hair grow over a receding hairline, it is my mother’s fault. You see one day I evidently was teasing my younger brother Joe. I did that every once and a while. Joe had run to my mother crying, and my mother called me to come to her. You can be sure she called Kenneth and not Kenny. Up the stairs, I went until my mother who was on the top landing was standing over me. She reached out and grabbed me by the hair and shook my head back and forth. Do you know how badly that hurt? Let me tell you, it was a long while before I teased my little brother again.
If I came home late from a date or stayed out too late with my friends, I could provoke tears from my mother. How clearly, I hear her words, “I never treated my mother that way.” She had so many sayings. “You must look up in this life, you do not look down.” She never tolerated bad language or laughed when you had misbehaved. You knew with Etta there were limits to what she would accept as behavior from her children. You did not wish to confront her when you had taken an unacceptable action.
Helping her one-day making beds, I felt like her buddy. We went into my brother’s room, and I made a terrible mistake – my brother’s room was a total disaster. “Oh my”, I said to my mother, “this room is a hell of a mess.” I was no longer my mother’s friend and buddy. “Don’t you ever use that word in front of me again.” I could not believe it. I bowed my head down and helped her change the bed. She did not lower her standards just because she loved you.
So, there you have two wonderful things about my mother. One, she was a woman filled with praise when you had accomplished something good and worthwhile, and two, she was a disciplinarian when you needed to be disciplined. Just because she loved you did not mean you would not be punished by tears or sitting in a chair in a corner or being ashamed when you were older of your heinous action.
Thirdly, my mother was filled with sympathy for you when you were ill, or you were hurt or injured by some event in your life. Because my mother was a stay at home mom (as were most moms at this time), when I was a boy and ill, in the morning she would come upstairs to my room, have me sit in a chair with a blanket around me as she remade or changed the bed, opened the windows to air out the room and then tuck me back into bed with a kiss and a look that told me she was concerned about me and how much she loved me. She did this for all of her children. Her concern was always with you from the time you were born until the time she passed away.
When my family was young (I had six children and had so many responsibilities in the church) and I went to see my mother, I saw the kindest most thoughtful person in the world. Knowing finances were difficult my mother would bring care passages to my home. There would be boxes of different cereals for my children for sometimes I could not afford the Fruit Loops and Count Chocolata and Lucky Charms that my children wanted. The children would run to the car when my parents arrived to carry in the packages they had brought. I wonder if children today could be joyful over cereal – I hope there are still some homes where to have something simple and special is important in life? And in those packages would be a wonderful steak and a box of Hydrox cookies, my favorite. Not knowing what we know today, my mother would have also brought me a carton of cigarettes. Those I could little afford.
There were times when I was upset by the action of some church members, and I would ride to see my mom and have a cup of coffee. She would give me all the sympathy I needed and then would encourage me to forget what had hurt me and to continue on to be the best possible pastor I could be. We need that sympathy that offers a solution sometimes in our lives.
Three things are important this morning in relationship to a mother, at least for me – that a mother be a woman of praise rather than punishment, that a mother be truthful with her child, and when her child has done something unacceptable, the mother speaks up and disciplines the child she loves. Finally, a mother gives deserved sympathy when one of her children is disheartened and needs encouragement.
When my mother had tears of joy or unhappiness, my mother always had a handkerchief nearby. My mother loved her handkerchiefs and had beautiful ones. When I was twelve years old, I made my mother a handkerchief box to hold them for her. When she passed away, I asked my dad if I could have it back as a memory of my mother. Some of her handkerchiefs were in that box while others had been given to my siblings. We all remembered her handkerchiefs. If we were out in a store or if we were heading to church and my mother spotted some dirt behind our ears or on our foreheads, she would take out her handkerchief and have us spit on it (that is right – moisten it with saliva – that sounds better), and then she would scour that dirt away from behind our ears or on our necks or where ever.
In that handkerchief box when my father gave it to me was a note from me to my mother. It was this time of year, and I had bought her some daffodils and left them for her to brighten her day. O how I wish I had done that more often.
I would like you to imagine that what I hold in my hand is one of my mother’s handkerchiefs. Perhaps this very one was in her hand when she praised me for painting that ceiling at the farm and a tear was shed in gratitude, or perhaps it was this handkerchief she held to her eyes when I had disappointed her. It may have been this handkerchief that she dabbed her eyes with in sympathy for a son who needed her encouragement. My mother – her praise – her discipline – her sympathy – oh my, how much I loved my mother and how much I still do. May God have granted you a mother as loving and wonderful as mine.
Hope you will walk with me next week.
“And now may the Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from the other.”