There’s a lovely cemetery in Sacramento that is the final resting place for four Hellewell generations. It’s sacred ground to the Beautiful Wife and I—the second of our seven children lies here, a still-born son named Billy. Though we never knew Billy, he is ever with us. With Mother’s Day coming, I visited the graves of my mother and grandmothers for inspiration. I brought flowers; they became my muse.
My Mom’s mom was Scots-Irish, if you know that heritage. Her first husband was a hard-rock miner who died at 32 years old of pneumonia leaving her with two young children. Grandma was ill-prepared to support a family but she had grit and did what a mother does: fight for her children. Working together they not only survived the hard times of the Great Depression, they prevailed. She taught us true grit and never forgot our birthdays.
My dad’s mother had a softer side, though she might forget your birthday. In a family cabin in the mountains she cooked our morning eggs and bacon on a wood-burning stove. The smell is still with me. She took us on walks through the woods to see a tree that swarmed with ladybugs in the spring. When my older sister was big enough to write we left funny notes in her car for her to find. Later we got a card in the mail that when you opened it, a mouse-trap device snapped on your finger. Her note said: “Gotcha back.”
Though she might miss your birthday, she could unexpectedly delight with her “un-birthday presents,” such as a book I still remember. When I was in trouble for playing with fire, she told me about a tragedy that burned her family’s barn and promised a Red Ryder BB gun for my tenth birthday if I quit. I stopped and she delivered the gun, my best birthday ever. She was about love, delivered with humor.
My own mom reared 10 children including two nieces and a nephew. In nature’s timeless improvement system, she combined and passed on the best of our grandmothers. The never-ending work moms do must have been good for her—she lived to the venerable age of 101. She’s with our dad now, fulfilling their headstone inscription: “Their music shall play forever.” Moms make life’s music.
Finally, I visited the grave of my aunt and uncle whose untimely deaths orphaned the three cousins who became part of our family. We are witness to the trauma that the premature death of a mother brings to her children. The vital role of moms is real, writ large in our family story.
My walk among the deceased reminds that the selfless, loving acts of mothers are the essence of life. Across the cemetery, grave marker inscriptions testify that after all else is forgotten a mothers’ work remains, timeless and eternal. There’s meaning in that. Happy Mother’s Day to Laguna’s moms.
Reminder: Don’t miss the “Laguna Beach Interfaith Council-National Day of Prayer Event” on YouTube.
Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]