You can shed tears that she is gone,
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back,
or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her,
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her only that she is gone,
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back.
Or you can do what she’d want: smile, open your eyes, love, and go on.
— David Harkins
My parents separated when I was very young and, for reasons that were unknown to us then, my mother left her family behind and completely disappeared for a time.
There were many causes, and not all of them my mother’s doing, but I didn’t see her or even know where she was for more than 15 years. We reconnected when she unexpectedly entered my life again after the birth of my own daughter.
As her oldest child, I still remembered loving my mother, memories that my younger brothers and sister did not have. Even after many years of disappointment, heartache and, yes, anger, I discovered deep within me that a real love still existed for my mother.
Sadly, as much as we both wished it, what had been lost between mother and child was never fully restored. There was love enough, and neither of us ever gave up, but it was never to be. For as long as my mother lived, our relationship remained tentative and more distant than it should have been.
During the years my mother was missing, I was fortunate to have had several very special ladies in my life who made sure I wasn’t missing out on any love. Most important was Dad’s mother, Mamaw Rebecca Reed Baldridge, who came to live with us and, in many ways, became the mother we no longer had.
Even after Mamaw became blind, she continued to sustain our family, protecting and supporting us with a strength and love that never failed us as long as she lived. There is no way that I can ever express how much Mamaw meant to us. I only wish that I had told her more often.
Of the many wonderful ladies in our family who were so special to me, there are three who made a real difference in how my life turned out: Mamaw’s sisters, Aunt Effie Howard and Aunt Dora Bayes, and Dad’s sister, my Aunt Louise Pinzone.
After our mother left, we were separated from Dad for a time, too (but that’s another story for another time). Mamaw decided to return home to Kentucky with her (grand)children. We soon learned that Aunt Effie’s home on Howard Branch in Rock Fork was as much our home as anywhere else.
Living on Rock Fork for some years after, we spent a lot of time with Aunt Effie and her family. Even after Dad returned and went to work in the mines, times were often hard, and when there wasn’t enough to go around, we could count on visiting Aunt Effie where there was always a meal waiting. She was a blessing to everyone who met her, but for us, Aunt Effie made a very difficult life more bearable, and we all loved her dearly.
When work in the coal mine no longer was enough, Dad and Mamaw knew that our family had to find a new home. So, we moved to New Jersey where Aunt Lou and Uncle Jim Pinzone lived. Earlier while Dad was absent, they had welcomed Mamaw and us children to stay with them when we were literally homeless.
Now, after Dad was offered work by Uncle Jim Pinzone’s brother Tony, we lived for several years in New Jersey. It was decided that my sister would live with Aunt Lou while my brothers and I lived with Dad and Mamaw. So, Aunt Lou and Uncle Jim also made a huge difference in our lives, especially for my little sister.
After I graduated from high school in New Jersey, I was offered an opportunity to attend Alice Lloyd College, and that’s when my Aunt Dora stepped up. For two years, I was like another son to her, spending every weekend, many holidays and some of my summer vacations in her home. Without her unceasing love and care during that time, I know that I could not have begun to be successful in college.
There were others in my family I could mention who gave me love and support, and I am grateful to all of them. However, I can honestly say that without these special ladies, my life would have been far different.
These were all my mothers, and I owe them far more than I could have ever repaid. But then, it was never expected, and no payment would have been accepted, because, after all, they did it all out of love.
Such a gift is only properly acknowledged with love in return, and I will gladly continue to fulfill that obligation every day of my life. I will smile and live on as each of them would wish me to, cherishing their memory with joy,
for all the yesterdays they gave to me,
all of the todays they made possible for me,
and the promise of all the tomorrows they left me.