100: Joined at the Heart

100: Joined at the Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Joined at the Heart

Step Mom, you entered our family at my father’s side with wisdom and patience. Though of your flesh I was not conceived, you cared and filled an empty need.

~Author Unknown

I was eleven and she was twenty-two when she became my mom. I had loved her from the day, six months earlier, when Dad brought her home to meet me. She was pretty, with the most gorgeous red hair I’d ever seen, which she wore in a shiny, smooth pageboy. I loved her hair, her Southern accent, how she dressed, and the motherly hugs she gave me. There was nothing I didn’t love about her. I was thrilled that my dad had married her.

Soon after the wedding, Dad made it clear that there would be none of this stepmother business in our house. “She is your mom and you are to treat her as such,” he said. Then he added one of his favorite proclamations, “And that’s all there are to it!” I didn’t need any coaching. I’d made up my mind the first time Dad brought her to meet me that she was the one for me. My brother and I had a difficult couple of years after we lost our mother. I was at the age where a girl needed a mother. Our new mom brought joy and laughter back into our lives.

Among the many things she taught me was to always look for the best in people, to respect others, and to be self-confident. I found this difficult to do when I encountered a group of bullies in the new school I was attending when we moved to the Deep South. It started the first day of school when a boy asked what side my ancestors fought on in the Civil War. I laughed because I though he was being funny. When I said that I didn’t know, the hurtful remarks began. “Hey, Damn Yankee you talk funny! Don’t they teach you how to talk right up north? What do they feed you in Yankee land to make you grow so tall?”

One day a girl grabbed my long straight hair and taunted me about not having curls as the other girls did. When I got home, I stormed into the house, slammed my books on the table and announced that I was not going back to school. It didn’t take Mom long to get me to tell her what was going on and to come up with a plan of action. She told me that first of all I wasn’t to let them know that what they said bothered me. Then she came up with snappy responses for me to use.

“Now we practice,” she said. “Stand up tall. Look the taunter in the eye. Give him a haughty look, stick your nose up in the air and respond with one of the replies I taught you.” Then she made me practice until she thought I had it right.

I had the opportunity the next day when one of the boys said, “I bet you even have a blue belly.”

I snapped back at him, “That is something you’ll never find out!” He blushed and walked away. A few more of Mom’s catchy phrases and the teasing stopped.

Though always supportive, she could be strict too, and she had high expectations for my brother and me. Her words, “Once you start something, no matter how difficult it is, you have to finish it,” still echo in my memory. Any time I tried to give up, she reminded me not to be a quitter. Her words were so ingrained in my mind that I still live by them as an adult.

Our first spring together, when my brother and I tried to teach her to ride a bicycle, we discovered these weren’t just words she expected us to live by. She practiced what she preached. None of us knew what we were getting ourselves into as we started the lessons. For days we held onto the back of the bicycle as she wobbled down the street, only to see her fall over if we let go. One night I overheard my dad suggest she give up and she vehemently replied, “I can’t! What would that teach the children if I did?”

Though she suffered some scrapes and bruises and our arms almost gave out, one day, to our surprise, when we let go she kept on pedaling. She had mastered the art of riding a bicycle and had taught us a valuable lesson about not being a quitter.

Even after she and Dad had two boys of their own, nothing changed between Mom and me. I was still her daughter. As I grew up, married and had children of my own, she was not only my mom but my best friend. I found myself passing on the many lessons I’d learned from her to my children, who lovingly called her MawMaw.

For years after my father died she remained a strong independent woman, but as she grew older and her health failed, our roles reversed and I found myself caring for her as she’d cared for me.

Then one night, after a visit, as I started to leave her room in the nursing home, I got as far as the door, and before I could open it, a strong compulsion drew me back to her bedside to sit and stay a while. She was tired, but she wanted to talk. She said, “I’ve always loved you as a daughter. We are closer than blood.” She managed a weak smile before she added, “and we’ve always been joined at the heart.” I held her in my arms and told her I loved her and how much having her as my mom meant to me.

That night, a couple of hours past midnight, I got the dreaded call that she had died peacefully in her sleep. I am eternally grateful for that compulsion, or as I’ve come to think of it, that gentle nudge from God that drew me back to her bedside.

~June Harman Betts

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