The church I was raised in – First Baptist Church of Fountain, N.C. – had a custom for the Sunday that fell right before or after Mother’s Day. The tradition was that if you mother were still alive you were to wear a red flower. If your mother had passed away, the flower was white.
For years, before going to that special Mother’s Day service, my parents and I would go to the rose garden out back behind our house and select the nicest red rose for me to wear.
As a boy, I always found this service a bit odd. Mom was there. She’d always be there. Right?
My mother’s name was Doris Lee Yelverton Mercer. She married my father, Henry Marvin Mercer Jr., on June 12, 1949, in what could best be described as the social event of the season for their tiny community. Mom and Dad had three children – all boys – of which I was the youngest.
Mother taught school for many years in Wilson and Greene counties and took great pride in the fact that annually her classes’ test scores were among the highest in the system and throughout the state. She was, however, realistic about each child’s potential.
Once when an overly demanding parent wanted to know why her precious little one had gotten a less than satisfactory grade, Mother with replied with brutal honesty, “Well I can’t give ’em what God didn’t.”
Besides teaching, Mom was passionate about a variety of things – the New York Yankees, the Tar Heels, K&W Cafeteria and her dogs. We had several growing up, but the one Mom loved best was her last – Henry.
Henry’s greatest trick was to jump in Mom’s lap and growl at anyone reaching down to give Mom a hug or kiss. Mom often joked that dogs were better than sons because dogs do what you tell them and you didn’t have to pay for dogs to go to college.
Mom also loved the K&W Cafeteria, something Dad and I never quite understood. Why go out to a home cooking place, when you’ve got a perfectly good cook at home?
Perhaps the fact that neither Dad nor I did any of the actual cooking might have something to do with our different point of view on this.
My mom was an enthusiastic sports fan. Mom loved the New York Yankees, but her true passion was the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. For years, she and Dad attended all the home football games in Chapel Hill, and they never, ever missed a basketball game.
My brothers and I were all raised to believe that there were actually four parts to the divinity – God, Jesus, the Holy Ghost and Dean Smith. Mother found it particularly appropriate that my first child shares a birthday – Feb. 28 – with Coach Smith, the patron saint of basketball.
On the other hand, I believe is fair to say that mother was a fragile person. She suffered from a variety of physical and emotional conditions that troubled her most of her life.
But through it all there was never any doubt of one thing – Mom loved being my mother. The reason I know this is because she told me so – and often. She told me time and again, how proud she was me, how glad she was that I had married my wife, how wonderful her grandchildren were.
On April 29, 2003, my mother passed away after years of declining health. At the time, I was too much in shock to remember much, but I do remember people telling me how time is the great healer. That life would go and gradually the pain of separation would fade.
I’m still waiting.