At about 5:45 p.m. on Saturday, September 4, 2021, my mother’s long battle with COPD came to a sad and inevitable end. With it came the end of an era for our family. There will be a tectonic shift in the structure of our world with the passing of our matriarch. Today, as we balance on the edge of what was and what will be, between memories that bring tears and those that bring smiles, I’m looking back at 55 years with the woman who made me what I am.
Beverly Ann (Anderson) Wedel was one of the last of her kind, a housewife. Her career was providing a home for her husband and three kids. There was no clutter in her house. No dust. For years, she had a Kirby vacuum cleaner that was like a Mack truck compared to other vacuums my friends’ mothers had. The 1970s rust-and-brown shag carpet never had a chance to hoard its dirt and grime because the headlight on that vacuum would seek it out and it would be sucked into a bag sturdy enough to be among the gear of any adventurer.
Lunch was at noon, when Dad got his break at the grain elevator, and dinner was at five, when Dad got home from work. The food was incredible. This was a time when there weren’t many fast food places in Enid, Oklahoma, and going to a restaurant was a luxury reserved for very special occasions. Mom cooked, and with the exception of meat loaf, which I think is just unsavable regardless of anyone’s culinary prowess, the food was always excellent. My favorites were the Thanksgiving turkey and pinto beans with ham, fried potatoes, and cornbread. And cake. Or chocolate chip cookies. Nobody makes cookies like my mom did, and it was a hard thing to realize a couple of years ago, as her health declined, that I would never again taste those cookies.
One of the things I have always been most grateful for is my mom’s dedication to my reading when I was very young. I was the firstborn, and so for a couple of years I got to dominate her attention. During that time, she read to me a lot during the days when Dad was at work. The Teddy Bear Twins and A Pickle for a Nickel were a couple of favorites that I still have. Later, when I was in elementary school, she would let me choose books to buy from the Weekly Reader and we would read treasures like Be Nice to Spiders, Sammy the Seal, Danny and the Dinosaur, and so many others. There is no doubt that today I’m an avid reader, an English teacher, and an author because of her influence over 50 years ago.
Speaking of books, Enid didn’t have a bookstore until Oakwood Mall opened in about 1983. But books were always on my Christmas and birthday lists. Mom would go to the office supply store in town and have them special order books for me. Where the Red Fern Grows and the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings are big ones I remember. She took us kids to the library often, too, and, although she always denied it was intentional, it seems an afternoon at the library almost always meant spaghetti for dinner.
She was the first disciplinarian at home. I gave her ample opportunity to work in that role. I was always a roamer and seldom felt burdened by the need to let Mom know where I was going. I often didn’t know, myself. Remember, this is way before cell phones. I remember one time I went to watch some fool jump his bike over a huge drainage ditch between Birch St. and the railroad tracks. The guy kept delaying and delaying, but the gathered crowd waited in misplaced anticipation. When I finally gave up and started for home after dark, I knew things were bad when a neighbor stopped me in their car to say my mom was looking for me. That lots of people were looking for me. When mom came back from her own search for me, she was a volcano of motherly fury. She threw my bicycle into the storm cellar and grounded me for life … or something. I spent a good deal of time standing on our curb after that, watching my friends pass by, unable to leave our yard. Another time, I said something stupid and she gave me her glare. Being in my teens and unable to use my brain correctly, I mocked that look and glared back at her. It was the only time she ever slapped me, and I knew even then I had it coming to me.
My second car was a 1976 Chevy Monte Carlo. It was a good car when I got it in 1983, but again, being a teenage boy, I was always on the lookout for something better. She told me I’d regret selling that car. At the same time, I was very much into heavy metal music and teased her all the time for listening to country. She told me someday I’d appreciate singers like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Listen to your mamas, folks, because they are always right.
The memories … 55 years worth of them. Learning to drive despite Mom always grabbing the steering wheel … Mom having the audacity to come home from the hospital with another baby sister instead of a brother … riding my pedal-powered fire engine around and around a carport while Mom watched … the airplane plants, ferns, tulips, roses, and myriad other houseplants and flowers Mom always loved … the “cowboy shirt” she embroidered for me with cacti, a stagecoach, and western sunset … watching John Wayne movies … Mom bringing the big bowl of popcorn while the family sat and watched All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show … the times I disappointed her … the times I thought I had gotten something by her but she knew the whole time.
And then the oxygen, the ventilator, nebulizer, hospital stays, and times she couldn’t get enough breath to come to the phone. The last phone call, when she complained that her throat had just started to hurt and she didn’t know why and it turned out it was because her body was shutting down. Sitting beside a hospital bed set up in her living room, holding her hand while her unconscious body struggled to keep breathing, watching my sister put medicine in Mom’s mouth to keep her comfortable until the end. And finally the sight of her lying there, no longer struggling for breath, no longer suffering. Gone from us.