A Letter to My Mother

A Letter to My Mother

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

A Letter to My Mother

Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.
~Newt Gingrich

Dear Mom,

How does a son say thank you when his mother has been gone well over twenty years? I wonder, now that I’m in the twilight of my life, if you ever knew how much I appreciated all that you gave me even though many times I simply said, “Thanks Mom.” Those words sound so trite and shallow given the circumstances.

Growing up I thought nothing of the fact that you had only one arm and one leg, for you made everything look so easy. Missing those limbs seemed normal to me. As a small boy, I thought it was no big deal when you tied my shoes. I didn’t have an inkling of what it must have taken for you to learn that skill.

Nor did I give much thought to you as a little girl of three, being swept under a trolley car, those steel wheels severing your left leg. Or the horrible moment when the motorman panicked and put the car in reverse, backing over your left arm and taking it off below the elbow. I couldn’t comprehend the agony your mom and dad must have felt seeing you lying torn and broken in your hospital bed.

Later on, of course, I did appreciate all that you’d gone through. I cried when my grandmother told me the story of your uncle taking you swimming a year after your accident. You couldn’t wait to get to the public pool, but your enthusiasm was dashed when many of the adult bathers stared and the children pointed at you. And you were mortified when your uncle picked you up in his arms and said to the onlookers, “Have a good look!” You were too young to realize that he was trying to protect you, yet for a long time, you were so embarrassed that you wouldn’t go anywhere, not even answer the doorbell, without first strapping on your prosthetic arm.

Neither could I appreciate the joy they must have felt one visiting day as they approached the amputee ward and heard your voice singing loudly, “When It’s Apple Blossom Time in Normandy.” Right then they must have known you were a fighter, that your sunny disposition would infuse your entire life and shine on those fortunate enough to know you.

Of course, being just a kid, I didn’t relate to the little girl who danced professionally with her sisters on the stage of the Curran Theater. I didn’t see you as the accomplished musician who, at the age of sixteen, became a member of the San Francisco all girl symphony orchestra. Nor did I see the teenager who learned to drive a stick shift on the hilly streets of San Francisco.

Thank you for teaching me how to live life by your example. You taught me that nothing is impossible if you want it badly enough and go after it hard enough. I’m reading your sentiments now as I look at the article and photo in the San Francisco Examiner. It quotes a sixteen-year-old girl holding her trumpet in her right hand while smiling at the camera and speaking those words. Words I’ve remembered and put to use as I’ve gone through life. Words I’ve tried to instill in my own children.

As a child, I had a rebellious nature. You may not know it, but Grandma always said I took after you in that respect. She told me when you were a little girl you’d come in with blood dried stiff on your pants from falling down as you tried to roller skate wearing your artificial leg. But you never cried for fear those skates would be taken away. Instead you gritted your teeth as she bathed the abrasions on your knees. Then you’d go right back out, put those skates on, and try again. Nothing was going to stop you!

On your twelfth birthday, when Grandpa gave you your first trumpet, you had no way of knowing that you would instill in your son an intense love of music and of the piano. You always told me that if only the motorman hadn’t put that streetcar in reverse, you would have been a pianist. But you didn’t tell me until I was in my teens and had been taking lessons for four years. I guess you didn’t want to influence me in any way. But once I decided I wanted to learn to play, you wouldn’t let me quit when I got discouraged. Instead, you sat on a chair next to me correcting my mistakes in rhythm and phrasing and, most times, making it seem fun. But quitting wasn’t an option. You never quit anything in your life and weren’t about to allow your son to do so. You told me that being able to play piano would always be something I’d be able to fall back on when times were tough. I relied on that talent many times in my life in those early years when money was tight. The piano even played a part in courting my wife. For that, Mom, I thank you once again.

You might not have realized it, but when things I tried to accomplish seemed very difficult, I always thought of the myriad hardships you turned into triumphs. The times when I complained of those difficulties, I felt foolish.

When I joined the Army Special Forces, the training was rigorous and exhausting and many times I was tempted to quit. But then I’d recall the photo of that sixteen-year-old girl holding her trumpet and remember what you told that reporter so many years ago. “Nothing is impossible if you want it bad enough and go after it hard enough.”

Mom, I fervently hope, for the time God granted us together, you realized how much you meant to me, how grateful I am for your guidance, and how much I love you for being my mother.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Your son.

~Gary B. Luerding

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