Happy Mother's Day to my Fierce Defender!
She wasn't the perfect mother, and I wasn't the perfect daughter, but our negatives balanced each other out. Growing up, we were very poor, but that never stopped my mother from taking in cousins, and strangers, and a crippled cat, and a Great Dane, that needed a warm meal and a place to stay.
Proverbs asks, “Who can find a virtuous woman?"
Well, I found her. She grew up in Maine.
While living in Canaan, Maine, my mother worked her fingers to the bone and rarely complained. She cooked; cleaned; baked; canned vegetables; made jams; shoveled snow; scrubbed laundry by hand; hung wet clothes on the line to dry (even during the winter months); emptied piss-pots and slop-buckets; drew water for the house from the hand-pump in the side yard; sewed buttons and patches on our clothes; worked at the Dexter Shoe factory; and made Christmas wreathes in December to earn money for gifts.
In elementary school, my mother hand drew and colored Valentine cards for the kids in my class, and in 1982, she handmade me the most incredible E.T. costume for Halloween, but what I will always cherish is how she defended me when I needed it.
When I was eleven, there was an incident that happened after I told the police that my uncle had sexually abused me. My aunt, who lived next door, was angry that I confessed, and taunted me, intimidated me, and bullied me for it. Making it her duty to retaliate for her brother, who served twenty-days in jail for the admitted sexual abuse.
That recollection goes like this…
In the Evenings, the school bus dropped my sister’s, cousins, and I off at the foot of Aunt Mable’s driveway. As usual, I cut through Mable’s yard, leaping over her colorful bed of tulips.
“I’m gonna knock your block off if you tromp on my flowers again,” my aunt shouted, barreling toward me, like a sideways twister.
“I didn’t step on ‘em,” I said.
Aunt Mable’s hand shook at me, like she was a volunteer-bell-ringer collecting red kettle donations. “I don’t want my gal’s hangin’ out with you anymore. You’re a liar and a bad influence.”
"Why?" I whispered.
In a fitful rage, she held her breath and clenched her fists. Her face changed from red to blue to purple, and I wondered if she would pass out before she inhaled.
My stomach filled with knots.
She poked me with her finger, pushing me backward. “Face it, you little liar, you got what you deserved. You are as much to blame as Jerry—why can’t you just admit it?”
“I didn’t want it,” I said, trying to keep my composer.
“You’re a Floozy-Suzy—you were always flauntin’ yourself in front of Jerry, and sittin’ on his lap, and when he gave you want you wanted, you cried rape.”
I choked back tears and stared at the cords in her neck. They bulged and twitched. She bumped against me with her chest, and pushed me backward, before pressing her nose against mine. I could smell her spit that sprayed me—a chili dog with cheese.
I could taste the salty tears streaming down my face. “I’m not a Floozy-Suzy. I didn’t ask for it.”
Out of nowhere, Mother stormed out of the house with a mashed pony tail and creases on her cheek from where she was napping. “What’s all the ruckus?”
I shrugged, “I dunno’ what I did.” My body trembled like a Bumble Ball.
Aunt Mable stepped toward Mother. “Tell your daughter to stay outta’ my yard and away from my gal's. She’s a whore and the whole family knows it! Even her grandmother said so.”
“Go in the house, Francine,” Mother said, following behind me.
Mother marched down the hall to where Father was working on his stamp collection. “Babe, you need to do somethin’. Your sister called Francine a whore again.”
Father sat at his desk, and held a pair of tweezers and a magnifying glass. “Ayuh,” he said, without budging an inch.
My eyes watered again, as he continued matching the rare stamps to the empty spaces in the album.
“This isn't the first-time Mable’has attacked her. You’re gonna do somethin’, right?” Mother shouted, waiting for a response. “Well, ain’t you?” Mother asked, stomping her slipper on the bare plywood floor. “You’re just gonna sit there and let her get away with this?”
Father’s eyes remained fixed on his stamp collection.
Mother slammed the bedroom door and made a beeline past me to where Mable stood. I watched from inside as the fight ensued. Mable, who was 5’7”, towered over Mother, who was 4’11.”
My aunt poked my mother in the chest. “The apple don't fall far from the tree. The whole family knows she asked for it. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
“She’s a child, Mable. Stop bullyin’ her.”
“Francine,” Mable called to me through the living room window, “come out here, you little tramp, and face me.”
“Leave her alone! I’m warnin’ you…” Mother yelled, closing in on the space between them.
“What are you gonna do?” Mable said to Mother, as she called my name again to come outside. I ducked between the wall and the divan, fearing Mable would burst into the house and drag me out.
Relief came when the sound of Father's chain affixed to his dungarees began to rattle. His heavy boot steps clunked down the hallway and to the rickety front stoop. “That’s enough, Mable!” he bellowed... (a small excerpt from my memoir titled, In the Land of Canaan, Maine: A Little Girl’s Giants, to be published).
“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”
My mother probably doesn’t think so, but she is the epitome of the Virtuous Woman mentioned in Proverbs 31.
In Hebrew, the word “virtuous” comes from the word Chayil. It means: Strong, forceful, powerful, warlike, wealth, and having valor. The short definition is “war.” Just as a man, a woman can be strong, full of valor, wealthy, and powerful.
Take for example, Ruth. The Hebrew scripture records, "And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman." The word virtuous here could be translated: strong, mighty, powerful, wealthy, ability, valor.
The word Chayil is used over 200 times in the Old Testament, and the four times that it pertains to a woman it is translated using Greek influence to mean submissive, moral excellence, ethical, good moral character, gentle, and chastity (according to Strongs #2428 and Bushnell #632).
In scripture, Gideon is called a Man of Valor. This is the same word Chayil that is used in Ruth, and again, in Proverbs 31 to describe a virtuous woman. Perhaps the Virtuous Woman mentioned in Ruth and Proverbs isn't only speaking of a woman having good moral character, gentle, ethical, and chastity, but could be said, She is a Woman of Valor, too.
Today, on Mother’s Day, I honor the Woman of Valor, who defended me. The woman who has apologized, and keeps apologizing for a less than comely childhood. "Please stop apologizing, Mom! I wouldn't change how I grew up. I am, who I am, because of you! If I blame you for all the things you did wrong, then I have to blame you for all the things you did right! You wasn't a perfect mother, and I wasn't a perfect daughter, but our negatives balance each other out. You taught me how to be strong and courageous. How to be forgiving and resilient. How to be a mother and a wife. To you, I am eternally indebted."
God answered the question, "Who can find a virtuous woman?" when he created you!
I love you, Mom!
Happy Mother’s Day!