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PAPERWORK: Hard to let go of anchor we called Mom

Lonny Cain
Lonny Cain

Mom was so predictable.

You could joke about it, I guess. And I did.

If you were looking for her, the first place to look would be the kitchen.

She put in hours there. Years … to be more accurate.

She even tended to stay there with a house full of family or company. I think somehow she felt she belonged there. Her headquarters. Central command.

After all, from there she could fulfill an important part of her mission. Feed the family. Clean up. Do it again.

You could count on it. And we did.


And there was the routine question that prompted her predictable answer.

“How ya doin’?”

“Oooh, I’m doin’.”

That was her usual comeback. She didn’t say it with a wink, like she had something clever planned.

It was simply a summary of her day … her approach to life.

And a fitting answer … on so many levels.

Blends well with her favorite gospel song, “One Day At A Time.”

“One day at a time sweet Jesus

“That's all I’m asking from you.

“Give me the strength

“To do everything, what I have to do.”

Mom had a long list of things she had to do. And they also were predictable.

It all revolved around her grip on the day-to-day, all those things that needed to be done to keep the family gears in mesh, moving along safely and in the right direction.

And when I say grip, I mean tight-fisted.

My wife appropriately described Mom as a tiny woman who was country strong.

She grew up with little of her own but built a sturdy nest that expanded with hard work and a steady focus on her rigid to-do list.

She made it her job to worry for the rest of us. One day at a time.

“Well, Jesus you know

“If you're looking below,

“That it’s worse now than then.

“Oooh, there's pushing and shoving

“And it’s crowding my mind.

“So Lord, for my sake, teach me to take

“One day at a time.”

She appreciated little things. Hugging babies, strawberry shakes and those chocolate-covered pecans called “Turtles.” Stuff like that.

But there was not much talk about any bucket list or dreams of things she always wanted. Such fancies did not fit into her mission.

She was more focused on what had to be done.

Now and then I was the designated driver for her weekly trip to the hairdresser — another one of those little pleasures she allowed.

On the drive there she talked a bit about how things had changed when Dad, her husband of 67 years, passed in 2014.

I was surprised when she said she thought she would do some things for herself. But she left it there. No details. Said no more.

Except, she added, “At least I kept the family together.”

Indeed, she did. One day at a time.

“Yesterday's gone sweet Jesus,

“And tomorrow may never be mine.

“Help me today, show me the way

“One day at a time.”

I saw this early on. Her quiet strength. The maternal muscle.

Doing the stuff that had to be done.

Growing up, Dad was center stage. That’s how Mom wanted it and she kept it that way.

She stayed in the shadows most of the time. The kitchen.

I remember, now and then as a teenager, wanting to do something special for her. So I rushed through the house cleaning up before she got home. I was most proud of the shine I put on the bathroom.

At least that is how I remember it. I did it to surprise her. I should have done it more.

Yeah, Mom was so predictable. And, looking back, that was a good thing.

Because that’s what you need from an anchor.

That rock that holds you steady. That grip that keeps you from floating away. That constant tug that shows you where you come from.

That person you come to count on. Always.

Which is why it is so hard … now … that she has gone.

I am left with a simple hope. That she is where she wanted to be. With Dad.

And with all the family and friends who went before.

I can imagine them greeting her.

Smiling and asking, “How ya doin’?”

And her predictable reply.

‘Oooh, I’m doin’.”

  • LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the former managing editor of The Times, now retired. Please email thoughts, comments or ideas to or mail care of The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.

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