20 years ago, my mom celebrated her last Mother’s Day. About six weeks later, she passed away quietly in her sleep in bed with my sister asleep at her side. For today, it is Dorothy Sobieski McInnis Day as a tribute to all mothers—past, present and future. It seems appropriate to share again, 20 years later, the eulogy that I prepared and read at her funeral. I hope this gives you insights into all moms, the lives they live and the influence they have on the world. While we pause for a day for moms, mothers’ days are in the moments of every day.
A week ago today, I wrote about my mom. I had visited her on Sunday to talk her, my dying mother. On Monday I had to discharge a bomb of thoughts and emotions. The first sentence read “She died with poise.” Mom’s life was one of poise–calm and class in the adversities of living. A life developed during the Great Depression, continued through forty-plus years of marriage to a loving, adoring man who was a a pretty damned good father but sometimes a difficult husband, and all the way to death.
Only once did I see mom “unpoised.” Is that a word? Anyway, dad had just purchased a fishing boat. It was April 1968 and dad had fulfilled a lifelong dream by buying the boat which would take us onto one of mom’s most dreaded enemies: water! We spent the first day on our expedition at San Luis Pass getting stuck on every sand bar in the Pass at least twice. Mom hated the water and feared it, never mind the two lifejackets she had tied securely around her. The responsibility of pushing us off of the bars belonged to dad and Molly, my sister. I inherited my mom’s water aptitude. The end of the first night found us heading out to the Gulf without running lights…dad was lost on the water for the first and last time in his life. The next day we went out for another day of joyful fishing. As we sped across the water–deep, dark green water on one side of the boat and a clear view of hermit crabs on sandbars on the other–mom was still less than secure. When the inevitable happened–stuck on a sandbar–mom was uptight. Dad jumped over the side, willingly accepting his role of boat pusher. He disappeared, save for his trademark brown cap floating on the water. Seconds later, light years after mom declared herself a widow, dad resurfaced, sputtering some words about how deep the water was. From the water, he calmly handed mom his wallet, new watch and cap. He asked her to throw him a rope. As she performed her backswing for the throw, dad yelled “Not that rope.” Mom was about to throw him the rope…the one with the anchor on it. Ah, poise.
Mom’s gravestone describes her as “A Tender Mother and A Faithful Friend.” I could probably leave it at that, but I won’t.
In 1974, Molly and I gave mom and dad for Christmas this poem that I wrote:
There are two stones
Simple rocks of granite
Which have held me up
And kept me at it.
Rocks so soft
On which to lay
Tablets of wisdom
And words to say.
Shiny and smooth,
But weathered on edges
Steady and rigid.
Slabs to lean on
When exhausted and old.
Foundation for a home
When winds get cold.
These enduring stones
Are part of my life.
Forever mom and dad,
Husband and wife.
What type of woman was this? Many of you are here in honor of mom; many of you are here for her family–thank you for that, but you really should know her.
Cute, athletic and a great dancer in her youth, she married a man who couldn’t/wouldn’t dance. She must have been something. As dad described their first meeting, dad was working late at a gas station. A muscular, cocky 20-year-old boxer pulling long hours. From the station he saw someone snooping in the house across the street. Grabbing a pistol from the desk, he walked over and asked the peeper what he was doing. The voyeur said he knew the people there and was trying to get their attention. Dad took the man to the door, knocked and asked the woman who answered if she knew him. She said “no” and dad told him to leave and promised he would shoot the man if he did it again. Dad asked the name of the young woman who answered the door. All attempts to find out were answered with “I’m in the telephone book.” Dad went back to work. He told his fellow late-night employee that he just met a gorgeous woman and was sure that she was the woman he would marry. Quite a statement for dad at that time in his life. The woman, of course, was mom. After dating 3 years, they married…7 years into the Great Depression, a life-affecting circumstance.
She remained active all but the last few years of her life, but shied away from the spotlight. She often cited her ability to do cartwheels with Molly’s friends. Mom was 50 and still playing like that.
Marriage to dad and his poor Mississippi family, living through the meagerness and tough times of the Depression, and raising four kids–and one foster child– across two generations were managed…with poise. Calm, steady, always supportive.
When we talk about mom we see visual images. Snapshots of memories pass amid our tears and laughter. The things she did, the life she had, her experiences:
Snapshot• Her years as a child: Her Polish-Catholic immigrant mother divorced when mom was two; her mom died eight years after that. Her mom, intelligent, able to speak 5 languages, and strong-willed profoundly affected mom. At 16, mom moved out on her own…met dad at 17…married him at 20.
Snapshot• A young mother watching as her small, 14-year-old son sat atop phone books to see out of the cockpit prior to his first solo flight. Jim was flying at 14.
Snapshot• That same young mother, making treks with dad to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and John Sealy Hospital, holding Ann, their dying daughter, on a pillow as she went through the suffering of leukemia before she died at the age of 5.
Snapshot• Behind the stove, making divinity that filled the house with a wonderful smell and that served as appreciated presents to kid’s teachers for decades. And, behind that same stove, filling the house with the noxious odor of greens for her husband. Ugh.
Snapshot• Cool, calm intermediary, liaison and conduit between the kids and dad. We each had our…”issues” during our growing years…have they stopped…and mom always promoted “easing us through.” She guided with a gentle hand and a faith in our principles to do right.
Snapshot• The mom who helped her daughter pull off Little Broadway in Memorial Bend, a play that offered attendees soda and homemade cookies and boasted of press coverage. A play presented by a bunch of kids. It was quite a community event.
Snapshot• Mom discussing with neighbors our totally destroyed front yard. It was the playground for half the children in Memorial Bend from 1956-1970. Having a safe place for kids to play was more important than having a nice yard in the developing subdivision according to mom and dad.
Snapshot• A warm welcome smile to all her kids after they came in from their adventures: amateur spelunking in the hills of San Antonio, scuba diving using homemade air tanks, exploring the bayous and creeks in the Memorial area, first dates while a protective father panicked.
Snapshot• Tender and courageous caregiver to everything from kids’ colds to Ann’s leukemia to dad’s cancer, from her husband’s mom’s slow demise to the grueling 2 months of her husband’s death in ICU.
That is just a couple of pages from our mental scrapbook on mom, sister, aunt, friend….
She was such a good example for us, though always modest about that role. When she commented on how well Molly took care of her during her illness, she was surprised to hear Molly ask, “Who do you think I learned this from?” She was surprised, but pleased, of course. She was always there–tender and faithful–with a smile, an ear and a backrub. Always giving others rope, whether they built bridges or nooses was up to them. But I don’t think mom would ever pull the noose if someone made it. Infinite in patience, she moved gracefully through life, taking the rhythm of life with the smoothness of the dancer that she was. She was never flustered by what God had in mind for her. I don’t recall mom ever blaming anyone else for any condition in her life, except maybe the doctors that she felt took her beloved husband away. Over the years, I have come to appreciate her ability to never blame others but to have the courage and will to say “This is my life. I will make of it what I will.” In this time where people look for others to blame for failures, hurts, and imperfections, it is nice to look to mom as an example of someone who accepted life and moved forward with faith. She had a wrought iron spirit. Don’t mistake her for rolling over for life, she had the knack of knowing when to draw a line in the sand and when to let the tides wash it away. The line was only to be drawn when it came to issues of supporting her family.
An extended review of this family’s memory collection would show a seamstress, fisherwoman (with an incredible knack of fishing while doing crossword puzzles), housekeeper, and so much more….always done with poise.
I believe all of us are here today because of what she taught—always matching her actions to her words—on how to love genuinely and selflessly. How to sacrifice. How to give. Perhaps her greatest legacy is what she taught those around her: how to be a tender parent and a faithful friend. All of us here today appreciate her lessons. There can be no greater legacy.
Wednesday, June 29, at about 3:00 a.m., she left us. Greeting her was dad, with a fishing pole in one hand and little Ann holding the other. After a soft kiss and a tender pat on the bottom from dad–a love pat as they called them–dad, mom and Ann went fishing. And we’re happy for her because we love her. Today, we aren’t burying our mother, sister, aunt and friend; we are celebrating a reunion.
“Forever mom and dad
Husband and wife.”