Catherine Louise McReynolds was born on July 28, 1944. Her mother was, typical to the era, the stay-at-home sort. Her dad was in the steel business. He made a nice living. They lived in Alton, Illinois. She had an older sister and an older brother.
Cathy grew up in an almost idyllic way. Post World War II America was booming. It was the 50s. All her needs were provided for. Life was pleasant. Aside from being teased because of her height, she doesn’t share many negative memories.
Her first baby came when she was only 17 years old. Soon after came her first marriage, one that ended in tragedy. Her husband died in a car accident. She would remarry and have 3 more children. Tragedy struck again when her second husband died in an accident at work.
Cathy’s idyllic upbringing was very much in the rearview mirror. She had four kids. She was widowed twice. She was barely 30 years old.
When Cathy met Jim they were at first just friends. Then they were more. She wasn’t looking for a new mate. In fact, she feared that any man she might be involved with would die. She refused to marry. Was she a black widow? But Jim was 10 years younger and wanted to start a family. Eventually the couple had two children. The first, a girl, they named “Nicoya.” It was Aztec for “New Beginning.” The second, a son, they named Titus.
My sister and I grew up (for a few short years) in Alton Illinois before our parents moved us to a tiny town in southern Missouri. My mother’s father had passed away before my birth. My mother’s mother passed away when I was very young. My mom had never lived in the country. They packed up everything and left everything that was familiar and took our family to Bland, Missouri, where my dad would keep up a 300 acre farm for a business man from the city. A year later, I attended my parents wedding.
Replaying my childhood, there are very few moments I can summon that don’t include my mother. She is in the kitchen and in the yard and on the porch and in the stands and in the car and in the garden and everywhere mothers are. She was putting ear drops in my ear and patting my back while I barfed and standing at the sink doing the dishes. When I was born she was a month shy of her 37th birthday. She already had two grandchildren. When we landed in Bland, she was nearly 40. My story was just beginning. Hers had just taken another twist.
- How is someone widowed twice and still able to get out of bed in the morning?
- How does someone leave everything familiar to them to start a new life (with very few guarantees) in a strange new place?
- How can a woman continue to press on–through poverty, setbacks, tragedy, and difficulty–and not give up?
There are complicated answers to those questions. But there’s also an easy answer:
She’s my mom.
If you knew her you’d say, “Well…yeah, that’s Cathy.” Not too easily rattled. A strength that has been forged through plenty of fires. An outlook on life that is both realistic and upbeat simultaneously. She’s the kind of woman that doesn’t flinch too often. She does what she has to do. Always has. Slow and steady wins the race. She is sturdy, too. It takes a lot to shake her resolve.
She worked hard not just at home, but away from the home to help make ends meet. She drove a school bus, worked in a library, served as an aide to handicapped students in a school. For a time she worked at a gas station/convenience store. I’ll never forget the day she drove away to work after we opened up Christmas gifts. I watched from the gravel driveway as her car accelerated down the street. Hot tears warmed my face. I loved my mom.
I love my mom.
My mother is one of the most intelligent people I’ve encountered. She is the kind of person you never want to watch Jeopardy with–it just gets annoying how much she knows. From her I got my love of trivia, my love for the St. Louis Cardinals, and my love for people. She once confided in me (when I may have been a smidgen too young to hear it, perhaps), that I was like her. People would lean on me and lean on me and lean on me. Eventually I’ll get tired, I’d throw up my hands and wonder if there was anyone I could lean on.
Her prophecy has come true, except for one thing. When my life gets really hard; when being a husband and a dad and a pastor and all the other things I am gets too burdensome, I don’t throw up my hands.
I call my mom.
In my mind, I have images of my mother–hanging up clothes on the clothesline, preparing meals by the stove, laying out reading a book during summer break, driving my school bus. I can hear her laugh and feel her wrapping me up in a hug. I can see her stern face when I’d gone too far. She was loving in every way, and fully competent to remind me of my place.
I have known a lot of old church ladies, but there’s no match for my mother’s peanut butter cookies. Try as she might, my wife cannot top my mother’s tacos. And no matter where I go or who I meet, no one will ever feed me a better piece of toast than my mother: bread pre-toasted, peanut butter thickly applied, sugar and cinnamon sprinkled to perfection, and a couple slices of banana on top, thrown under the broiler for a minute or two.
My mother will turn 70 this year. She has 6 children, 13 grandchildren, and a growing supply of great-grand children. Turns out she’s not a black widow after all–she and my dad have been together more than 35 years. She still reads a ton. She still roots for the Cardinals. She still jumps on the back of their Harley Davidson every chance she gets.
Someday, she’s going to die. When she does, they’ll be no more peanut butter cookies. No one to fetch my dad a glass of Coke or pull off his boots or iron his clothes. No one to broil up some banana toast for the grandkids. She will have lived three or four lives in one, and head to the next life with very few regrets. My mother had great internal strength which I can only assume was passed down from her own mother. But she also lived out great faith, knowing that God was in control and everything would turn out like He saw fit. When I get a little overzealous with my plans, she doesn’t hesitate to remind me of this.
Another enduring image in my mind is of my mother, soaking wet, coming up out of a baptistry. It was New Year’s Eve, 2000. This was just another of many new beginnings in her life. She’d lived and died inside a half a dozen times already. And, like all moms, she had lived and died on behalf of others hundreds more times still. But she was and is and will always be ever alive.
She never learned what the word “quit” meant. She never knew death. Because of Jesus, she never really will. While her legacy lives on in this life, she will live on in the next.
For this and a hundred other reasons I’m proud of my mom.
But mostly, I’m just glad she is my mom.