Even up until the end, mom never stopped being a mother

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 28, 2011

My mother passed away the day after Thanksgiving.
She reached her 91st birthday in September and was ill, so I didnít include the phrase ědeath was unexpectedî in her obituary. I knew this was coming.
Even though I knew her time in this world was limited, it still hurts to see her pass on, even though sheís now pain-free, worry-free and reunited with my father, friends and other family members who all went before her.
If it makes me a selfish person to give her up, so be it.
None of this experience makes me a unique person, because if the natural flow of events takes place, we all have to eventually bury our parents. Still, thatís little comfort when itís time. I canít at all imagine how it must feel if that natural flow gets twisted around. And I pray Iíll never know.
My mom, in her prime, was 5 feet even and weighed 120 pounds. But 100 of those pounds were pure spunk. Barney Fife often said that his mother had spunk, too. But my mother was real, not a fictional TV character. She came from a generation of folks who were strong people, and in their lives, had to deal with situations which later generations could only wonder how it was for them.
Velma was the oldest of three girls, born in Illinois. Right after the youngest was born, my grandfather, for whatever reason, decided heíd be better off solo, so he up and deserted my grandmother and the three moppets.
Right after this came the crash of 1929, and the nation was thrust into the Great Depression for more than 10 years. I know weíre in a rough economic period today, but imagine how it was back then. Even if you had the money, you could only buy meat or a gallon of gas on specific days of the week. Fortunately, it hasnít come to that in 2011. Not yet, anyway.
In 1930, my grandmother moved herself and her girls to New Mexico. She married a good man, and they had two children of their own. Plus, he had a steady paycheck, so they managed to squeeze through the rough times. So now, my mom was the oldest of five. She outlived three of them.
She excelled in school, and in her senior year at Santa Fe High School was chief cheerleader and editor of the school yearbook. Iím not knocking cheerleaders at all (my daughter was one for six years), but I still have difficulty picturing my mom as a cheerleader.
After graduating in 1938, she left the nest and moved to Los Angeles to attend college. But before she could graduate, this thing called World War II came along, and feeling the call to serve, she left college and joined the U.S. Navy.
My mother resisted the political passions of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito, but not the passions of U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Robert Perry Cline, whom she married when peace time came. Bob returned to his Statesville hometown, bringing his 26-year-old bride with him. She would be a Statesville citizen for 55 years. Four years later, a precious blessing named Mike came along, and Velma shoved being a mother into high gear, not letting off the gas pedal until this past Friday.
We made a pretty good threesome. I would be their first and last child. I would like to think I was the perfect offspring so they decided ó unable to top me ó not to have any more children. But thatís probably not how it really went.
My father died when I was 12. That was really tough on both of us. But she carried the load without my ever hearing a complaint. Spunk. A childhood friend told me recently that he always admired my mom for the way she handled the cards she had been dealt. A single mom working full-time raising a teenager during the explosive and rebellious 1960s. Today, that situation would probably get her a TV reality show.
When I started second grade, my mother gave up the June Cleaver/housewife role and went to work for a law firm in Statesville. I would have to say that worked out for her. She was with the firm 45 years, retiring at the age of 80. Spunk. Her last working day was a Friday in December 2001. My wife, Julie, and I moved her to Salisbury to live with us the next day. For the record, she didnít object. Iím sure she was tired of living alone.
In her own right, my mom was a political trailblazer. In addition to everything else she had on her plate in 1963, she was the first woman elected to the Statesville City Council. Several women had run for the office previously, but she was the first female to win.
Two strokes followed by two major surgeries in 2003 slowed her down a bit, but she soon came back strong (thereís that spunk again). Things went well until three years ago when Julie and I noticed she was starting to slip a bit in what had always been a sharp-as-a-razor blade memory.
Then, last November, things quickly went south to the point at which she needed more medical help than we could provide. We placed her at the Laurels of Salisbury, and it couldnít have worked out any better. She loved the place and the staff there (I now consider many of the staff as family). And, from what many of them have graciously told me, they loved my mom.
The final bell started to toll in June when she was diagnosed with cancer. We didnít tell her. She would just mention having a sore throat, probably her tonsils she said, even though her tonsils had been removed in the 1920s. The dementia, by this time, had become a blessing as she couldnít remember one day to the next. Last week, when she told me she had a sore throat, I asked her how long had it been hurting. ěSince yesterday,î was her response.
The end came on rapidly last Friday when she took a drastic change for the worse. She passed away in the late afternoon. Iím so grateful she went quickly.
Velma never stopped being a mother. I guess real moms never do. When she moved in with us, she took control of one of our dogs. She pampered and spoiled him to the point that he probably wouldnít have lifted his leg on me unless she told him to do so. He was her dog from then on.
And the last time we talked last week, I told her I had to go because I had to run some errands. ěIn your car?î she asked me. ěYes,î I answered.
ěLock the door,î was my instruction.
Through the years, I often heard Mom say that if a picture fell off the wall in your house, that meant there would be a death in the family. Last Friday morning, a picture hanging on the wall at my sonís house, for no apparent reason, fell to the floor.
Son Matthew told me perhaps that was her way of saying goodbye.
Mike Clineís website, ěMike Clineís Then Playing,î documents every movie played in Rowan County theaters between 1920 and 1979.