My mother used to tell me that you have to be tough to get old. She was definitely tough, and she did get old. She was the head cook in her family before she was even able to lift the big cast iron pan of biscuits into the oven. Her family home burned down when she was a teenager. She faced many more challenges in her life, but she never let them slow her down.
I learned two very simple things from her. The first life lesson was that hard work is not a burden but a gift. That we are able to work hard and enjoy it is a blessing that only lasts during part of our life. As my mother got into her nineties there were many things she could not do. I remember her remarking often that she would much rather be working very hard than sitting around watching someone else work.
The second thing my mother taught me is that you cannot live in the past. Your life is in the future. While you have to be mindful of the past, you cannot let it bind your future. Mother rarely looked back. She knew she made mistakes, but she also knew that letting the past weigh you down was a sure recipe for failure.
In the last twelve months many of us have faced both challenges in our lives and our environment. We live in a world which is much more complex than it was when my mother grew up. Still she lived through the Great Depression so she knew the value of steady work and the challenge of getting a job during tough times.
My mother also lived through some real storms. One of my earliest memories is riding in the car with mother as we followed an evacuation order from the Outer Banks. I still remember seeing water half way up the wheels of her old 1952 Ford, but I wasn't afraid because I knew my mother would keep me safe.
When mother was over seventy she flew to our farm in New Brunswick, Canada one December to watch over our children while my wife had our third baby.
That turned out to be an amazing time to be in New Brunswick. In an area famous for blizzards, we had one that people still remember. However, the blizzard wasn't the only challenge. The temperature was dropping to levels that were very dangerous. Every day the low temperature for the previous day became the high temperature for the next day.
When the temperature reached minus forty, our youngest daughter decided to be born. We made it the hospital, and I left my truck running while our daughter was delivered. As soon as she was born, and I knew everything was okay. I headed back to the farm which was twenty miles north. I barely made it home in our big four wheel drive truck. The next day they had to send out the snow blowers from the airport to clear a section of road about a mile from us. It had snow drifts over twenty feet high.
I'll always remember dinner that night after our daughter was born. When I walked into the house, mother was calmly cooking fried chicken like she had so many times during her life. There were blankets hanging in the windows, and our children were fine.
In the last twelve months we survived six weeks without any rain, Hurricane Irene, a brush with a tornado, and recently a wild line of thunderstorms that killed three people. On top of that a derecho delivered winds that took the power out at our home in Roanoke, Virginia. The power there has finally come on after being out for three days. Amazingly our power on the coast was only out for three hours with Hurricane Irene.
The weather has added its own brand of challenges to a world struggling to recover from the wars which were paid for by credit cards and a political system that appears to be owned by those who already have title to almost everything.
Mother just took all that happened in her amazing life in stride and kept working and doing what she could to help those around her. It is a good recipe for life in good and tough times.
She set a great example. In my own way, I will follow her footsteps. She wasn't perfect, and neither am I, but with all that we have survived, I have got to hope better times are around the corner.
While I am waiting for those good times, I will try to leave things just a little better than I found them.