The main purpose for my recent visit to Indiana was to visit with my parents. Both in their eighth decade, they are retired school teachers and farmers. During my childhood, my mother was a captive of the farm – that is she did not have her driver’s license. Once a week, my father would take my mother to the thriving metropolis of Hope, Indiana (population – 1500) to go get her groceries. Most times two or three of us kids got to go along for numerous reasons, the primary one being to keep us out of trouble. My Mom was the chief cook and bottle washer for the household and there were many more than my siblings sitting around the large pedestal oak table. We all lived on a farm where tomatoes were raised for wholesale and retail market sales and to the canning factory. We also owned and operated an outdoor fruit and vegetable market selling our own homegrown products as well as that of our neighbours. Mom was in charge of the tomato shining/tomato packing shed. We really didn’t wash the tomato but if there was some dirt on it, we’d spit on the tomato a little and rub it off with a rag. We were certainly not HAACP approved!
In order to keep up with the orders, we usually had an extra 7 labourers on the farm. These young men were friends of my older brothers who needed something to do to keep them out of trouble (Lots of trouble in Hope, Indiana!). Early in the season their day would consist of planting tomato plants, hoeing tomato plants, staking tomato plants, etc. As the season progressed, manual harvest and packing of the tomatoes began and there was usually never a day without a vigorous tomato fight with any of the less-than-perfect tomatoes being hurled through the hot, humid air at one another. White t-shirts soon became red and someone’s ear usually had tomato seeds stuck to it by the end of the day. My Mom supervised all of these hoodlums, kept them fed and was one of the best cooks in the area. She never got to use the premium produce as that was the way that we made a summer’s wage for my older siblings. She got to use the seconds, thirds and sometimes the fourths! Those fourths really should have been discarded but there was never any waste in Mom’s kitchen – especially since she was feeding 15.
In 1974, Mom finally got her driver’s license. She has had only two accidents that I can remember. One was when she side-swiped a car as she drove around the corner. I was a passenger in the front seat of the car at the time and my door suddenly opened as we went around the corner and of course, I wasn’t wearing a seat belt – it was 1974! She reached over to keep me from falling out of the car and managed to avoid the car waiting in the intersection and barely scratched the side of the car – Jeff Gordon would have been proud!
In 1978, my Mom played nursemaid to me when I had a back operation to correct scoliosis. For six months, she brought me a bed-pan numerous times, each and every day, wiping my back side accordingly. She washed my hair while I lay in bed, unable to even sit up. She fetched my school textbooks and anything else that I needed, whenever I needed them. And we both learned the side effects of sugarless candy, the hard way. Who needs laxatives when there’s sucralose in your diet!?
My Mom raised six rambunctious, red-neck children, taught us academic and practical skills, and was a public school teacher, a farmer and a business owner/operator. She catered dinners and receptions at our family restaurant. She has been an exemplary role model for me and for many others in my community and has positively touched many, many lives.
It has become apparent that my Mom’s days are numbered and she’s getting “her ducks in a row” as she prepares for her transformation from this life into the next. My gratitude goes to her for the many lessons that she gave me, whether she knew it or not. Thanks for teaching me that it’s never too late to learn something new. I thank her for teaching me that’s it’s okay to keep my kids safe from falling out of a moving car but that you need to let them fall at other times. I’ll also remember that it’s never too late to help someone in need, whether it’s wiping their nose or their backside. Thanks also for teaching me that sometimes all it takes to bring out the best in something or someone can be simple – as simple as spitting on it! I love you Mom. You’re the best