37: Hidden Treasure

37: Hidden Treasure

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

Hidden Treasure

All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.

~George Washington

Mom was selfless. She would stay up late into the night typing my term paper or hemming a new dress I wanted to wear. Then she’d fix me Cream of Wheat in a glass to drink as I got ready the next morning so I wouldn’t leave for high school on an empty stomach. We lived in the country, but Mom cheerfully drove me and my five siblings all over town.

She enrolled in college after she finished raising us, earning a master’s degree in special education. Then she continued pouring love, healing, and individualized instruction into a new generation of children.

Later in life, Mom developed Alzheimer’s disease. About that time, I published my first chapter book for kids. Excited, Mom pulled out a manuscript she’d written years before and asked if I would help her get it published. She had submitted it to publishers way back when, but she wasn’t willing to make the changes they suggested. Now she was ready.

We read the manuscript together — a mystery titled Hidden Treasure set in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains during the Great Depression. I laughed at her talking animals, but marveled at the descriptions of the settings. I felt like I was there. The plot was captivating and realistic. My mom was an incredible author!

She had to explain so many things to me… farm life in general, the Dustbowl, tramps roaming the countryside, one-room schoolhouses. She drew a map so I could picture the locations of the farm, the school, the cave, and the underground river.

Aside from a few visits, we worked long distance. I lived in Texas and she lived in Indiana. We would talk for hours on the phone as I drove to work and back. Like Mom, I was a teacher.

Mom’s world gradually darkened. She was no longer able to live on her own. Diabetes, crippling arthritis, and COPD added to her physical difficulties. She became depressed and slept most of her days away.

At times, when I called, she couldn’t even remember what she’d eaten for lunch. But when I brought up her book, she came alive.

I would read an edited scene to her, and she would argue that I had messed it up. One particular time, as we talked about an incident where the young girl in the story fell at school and hurt herself, Mom said, “You mentioned the wrong side. The bump was on the left side of my head.”

Ah. My first awareness that much of Mom’s story was true. No wonder she enjoyed reliving those scenes. No wonder she recalled vivid details of the setting and the clothing the characters wore. No wonder she was adamant about the dog being named Hector. We’re talking major ownership here!

In the end, complications from COPD took my mom’s life before Alzheimer’s completely stole her memory. I am thankful for that.

As I sat by her bed in her dying hours, we talked about her finished book. I promised her I would get it published someday and dedicate it to her grandchildren.

Day by day, she faded in and out. Her lucid moments grew less frequent. But she could pull it together when necessary. At one point, my eight-year-old nephew came to visit Mom. I was amazed when she opened her eyes wide and asked to be propped up in bed. She then carried on a complete conversation with him about school and how much she loved him. He didn’t stay long, and Mom immediately went back to sleep when he left.

When I saw how she was with my nephew, I yearned for the same kind of contact. I wanted to be young again — to run into my mother’s arms and hear her say she loved me. I sat on the edge of her bed and rested my head next to hers on the pillow. My eyes filled with tears as I shut them and tried to drink in the sound of Mom’s breathing and feel the heat of her body next to mine.

Then she touched my cheek and gently wiped away my tears. I opened my eyes to find hers filled with tears as well. “I love you,” she whispered weakly. “I love you so much.”

I crumbled and stretched myself across her body. And Mom, who hadn’t the strength to even lift her arms ten minutes earlier, wrapped her arms around my body and kissed my face.

She was Mom again. The mom I knew growing up. The mom I needed and depended on and had taken for granted. Selfless. Caring. Loving. “I love you,” I whispered, so grateful for the privilege of calling my hidden treasure “Mom.”

~Barbara E. Haley

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