When I was in college, my mom from time to time would send me feature articles about the dangers of drinking.
I’d open my mailbox in the dorm lobby or the front porch of my rented apartment and find an envelope stuffed with feature stories and medical articles about alcoholism. The clippings had ragged edges. My mom didn’t take time to rustle up a pair of scissors. She’d see an article on the subject of drinking in Reader's Digest, or Time or Look magazine or an inside column of The Daily Republic, and RIP, out it would come and into an envelope it would go. Some clips were horror stories, tales of life ruined, jobs lost and families torn apart. Others were hopeful, tales of recovery and renewal and the promise of better days.
Maybe every guy’s mom did that sort of thing. I don’t know. If my friends got such mail, they didn’t admit it when I showed them the latest from my mom. She didn’t comment directly on the clips. She just mailed them, along with a half a sheet of lined paper torn from a writing tablet. She’d dash off a couple of sentences about happenings at home and she’d sign off.
I’m sure she hoped her non-threatening approach would turn my heart and my habits. If so, I guess it didn’t work. I wound up in a treatment center a dozen years after my college graduation. Those dozen years weren’t on my mom. They were my own doing. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m always moved by that Merle Haggard song, “Mamma Tried,” with the lyrics “Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleadings I denied. That leaves only me to blame, ’cause Mama tried.”
I know this is a peculiar start to a Mother’s Day column, and I hope I’m not offending anyone. My mom has been gone for the past 16 years and one of my enduring memories of her is of those envelopes packed with information on the dangers of drinking. I pretended to be embarrassed when I received them. Maybe I was. But I never doubted my mom loved me and cared about my life, even if she went and filled it with such downer information.
If she were alive today, I’m confident she’d have mastered technology if that’s what it took to send a message of care to a child in college. I can imagine opening my email to find a message from Mom filled with links or attachments to information about booze and binge drinking. The thought of such an email from my mom makes me smile. She was in her later years when personal computers took over the world. She didn’t have much patience for that modern nonsense. She’d have learned it, though, if it meant she could communicate with her child about things that mattered. Who knows? She might have gotten her own phone.
Looking back, it’s not surprising that my mom worried about me in my college years. She worried about me, and about her four other kids, her whole life — and ours. Most moms worry about their kids to one degree or another. My mom’s worry about us stretched to infinity, and so did her love. She sat up all night when we had measles or mumps or a bad cough or an earache. When I tore ligaments in my ankle in a sophomore basketball game, every time I woke up in the night, she was puttering around. And I was nearly 16, for heaven’s sake. Years and years later, married with children, I’d be looking out the kitchen window at damage from a wind storm when the phone would ring and my mom would wonder, “if you guys got hit, too, and if you’re all right.”
That’s probably why even though I did nothing about it for years, I didn’t object to those envelopes full of clips about alcohol. It was one of my mom's ways of saying she cared.
If I had the chance this weekend, I’d like to tell her something attributed to novelist and poet Hermann Hesse: “If I know what love is, it is because of you.”