05/11/2012 02:04 pm ET Updated Jul 10, 2012

Mom's Stopping by for Mother's Day -- 37 Years After Her Death

My mom's joining us for a Mother's Day celebration. It's an unplanned thing. But, unplanned has become status quo for my mom in the 37 years since she died at an age when most moms are serving out a stint as room mother, cheering at school sporting events or sitting in carpool lanes.

While my own "Mom" memories are limited to the 14 years I lived under the same roof with her, I've come to know her in very tangible ways. One of those ways is through the army of other mothers who earned their stripes along with her in those innocent years in the sixties in our small, Nebraska town (think Mad Men, but watered way down -- just swap out the martinis and sex for Dr. Pepper and Mr. Clean.)

My mom was the grande dame of my childhood neighborhood because she, at the ripe age of forty was raising five testosterone-filled boys in a house that operated more like an army base. Her entire world was done in bulk. She didn't just grocery shop; she'd buy cows from the local farmer. She didn't just bake; she'd have mornings where she would produce chocolate chip cookies by the hundreds and freeze them in tins so she could pull them out one box at a time to make sure her basketball team of boys would always have milk and cookies after school.

She was funny. That embarrassed me. She was candid. That embarrassed me. She was the volunteer school lunch lady who talked to every kid. She was tireless until she finally collapsed in bed every night. She gave awesome back scratches. She liked her boys to brush her hair. She had backbone and was wise. And, to quote my dad, "She washed a mean load of laundry."

She was the mom all other moms turned to.

A couple of those other moms were two young neighbors. They were both named Pat. I thought they might actually be the Doublemint Gum Twins. My mom affectionately called them her "Pretty Pattys" because they symbolized everything she no longer felt about herself. They were young. They were pretty. They wore dresses while my mom wore pancake batter. Each Pat had two daughters, so when my mom had her share of jockstraps and muddy football cleats, she would enjoy a little escape with one of her two friends and look at girly clothes and drink tea out of nice china.

One of the Pats drove a pink Mustang. This was a 1960-something Mustang, folks. It was hot. And, while it wasn't a convertible, I vividly remember this Pretty Patty driving around town in her Hollywood sunglasses looking like a movie star. My mom, in the meantime, drove an old, beaten, blue Ford wagon with wood siding. The fraternity house she lived in didn't have many offerings of pretty.

Then one day, the whole story sadly turned on a dime. My mom was gone. And, it wasn't too long before Pretty Patty, her husband, two daughters, and her pink Mustang moved to another state. Like so many things in life, they became part of memories that just drift away.

But you see, that's where my mom comes back into the story. I've learned to be on the lookout for her because she has this amazing habit of staying connected with my life. Call it what you want. I just call it my mom being my mom.

I recently stumbled back in touch with Mustang Pretty Patty's oldest daughter, Kristin, through Facebook. She's in a distant state. A mom. Three kids. I still think of her as an 8-year-old on a blue Schwinn bike with a white wicker basket in front. She probably still thinks of me as having hair.

Last week, Kristin asked me if I would send her mom, who lives near her, a copy of my book.

"Of course, of course!" I told her. I was delighted and put a copy in the mail the following day.

My book is a collection of life lessons I forgot I had learned. Many of them relate back to those first 14 years of my life with simple memories of my mother. Truthfully, it's a collection of stories that pay tribute to my young mom who taught so much to her sons in so few years. It was an easy book to write. I had fabulous material placed in my lap.

Two days after I mailed the book to Pretty Patty, I received an email from her.

Dear Jim,

The mail arrived at 11 a.m. and at 2 p.m., I read the last page of your book. It has stirred all kinds of memories about those blissful days when everyone still had growing up to do. I remember your mother well, and always consider her the first true friend I lost. I will send you my reminiscences of her in another letter... but in the meantime, I am mailing you two recipes from her for you to keep. Sorry they are in a messy state, but you will know when you see them that we have enjoyed them many times!



I read her words and my first thought was that there must be some special communication device between good moms in heaven and good moms here on earth. I certainly had, once again, two of the best looking after me.

The recipes have yet to arrive. And, I don't know what they are even for. Regardless, I've decided that they will be our Mother's Day meal. Even if they are for her tomato aspic and green Jell-O with canned fruit, they will be our celebration. I'm hoping at least one of them is for cookies. But, I don't really care. They're part of my mom. What more could I want?

And this year, if only for a brief moment, I'm going to picture my mom being the one driving the pink Mustang. This one, a convertible. Young. Healthy. And, so very pretty. Sunglasses and all.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love it when you pop in.

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