Guest Opinion: Love and life lessons: A tribute to my mother

Mother’s Day this year comes two days after the wedding anniversary date for my parents, both deceased. But the inspiration, motivation, and success I enjoy can be traced to my Mother, who is very much alive in my heart.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Starting from a young age, my mother allowed me to dream big. Growing up in the early 1960s, that meant allowing me to try every new invention, fad, and trend. Because I had eye problems and visited a surgeon often in my youth, I associated with a leading medical drama at the time, “Ben Casey.” So my early goal, which I retained until after my first semester in college, was to be a neurosurgeon.

Of course, the space race with the Russians meant that a large number of American kids wanted to be an astronaut, myself included. So along with other young friends, we built a large cardboard spaceship in our basement and blasted off every weekend for hours of fun. Somehow, Mother put up with the racket and encouraged us to shoot for the stars.

During the late 1970s and 1980s, I went to college and graduate schools, having found a niche in the political science field. My mother never believed that a Ph.D. was a downgrade from an M.D., and was always excited to hear the latest news when I returned home via bus or car. Her encouragement gave me the confidence to initiate new things and the sustenance to follow through.

In the early 1990s, my parents moved to the adjoining town with a house in a cul-de-sac, quite different from the busy street I grew up on. No problem: Mom hit the ground running to make the new house a home, and I have many happy memories of returning there from Dover for holidays.

Like others I suppose, Mom and Dad grew tired of putting the large, well-decorated Christmas tree away for the winter, so they left it up year-round. Along with the ever-present tree was food and frivolity, so it always seemed like Christmas when my wife Phyllis and I came back. Though a world-class cook, Mom sometimes forgot a dish in the oven at Thanksgiving, giving the clan an extra course or leftovers.

In the late 1990s, my mother was hospitalized for the first time in a half-century, an amazing streak. She seemed to slow down somewhat in the 2000s, partly a function of age and the passing of close family friends. But her spirit was always positive and strong. When she passed in August 2012, it was a fitting if ironic tribute to the end of the season she loved so much.

There are many life lessons which my mother imbued in me and my siblings, starting with tolerance. I always joked that my mother was a religious nomad, but that is not to say that she was a lost soul. In fact, her religious views influenced the entire family. Born a Lutheran, she practiced the Catholic faith in her 20s, then returned to the same Lutheran church where I was baptized and became a member.

In 1972, as a result of assisting with local fashion shows, she was invited to become a member of the local chapter of Hadassah, the Jewish women’s group. Two years later she was elected president of that group and it was confirmed that she was the first gentile president of any Hadassah group in the United States. Though she retained membership in the Lutheran church where I grew up, her later years were spent at Episcopal churches.

Though I did not know it at the time, my mother fought hard along with others in the neighborhood to allow a home for unwed mothers, which like our house was near to a hospital. My mother was always respectful and courteous, but where I did see her in contested situations, she was a fierce and righteous fighter for what she believed in. Both she and my father taught me take a stand and never back down if a principle or people’s welfare are at stake.

There were other lessons which my mother taught by example. She was a Barbizon model in her early 20s, and as a result kept a thin figure her entire life. What a great dresser she was. I think she was trying to make the point that if one looks good, they feel good about themselves. She often kidded me about my unshined shoes. Today, she would be happy to know that my shoes sparkle in the sun. She was a natural artist who painted and free-handed Old English script. Unfortunately, that skill was not one I inherited from her, though I have tried to compensate with creativity.

Like millions around the globe who experience Mother’s Day in the absence of their matriarch, I commemorate the day rather than celebrate it, often with a feeling of wistfulness. But I know Mother is enjoying the fruits of her earthly life and her belief in the hereafter. That thought, along with the myriad of memories of a life well-lived, gives me the “peace that passes all understanding,” a phrase often used in the benediction of a religious sermon. Now I truly know what that phase means.

Happy Mother’s Day to all.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies Director at Delaware State University. He was born and raised in Williamsport, Pa.

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