I, Kendrick Garrison Crawford, had a mother. We all do, or did. Ruth Grace Wagner Crawford was mother to myself and my sister Kimberly Ann, by Ruth’s husband, our father, James Garrison Crawford Sr. I realize now, 15 years after her death, that I really didn’t know my mother all that well. I knew her only really as a son. We did not get to spend much time together once I was an adult –and even then there were so many other distractions – other people, her illness, my plans and dreams. If I could, today, I’d love to ask her about her childhood, about her views on politics and religion, about her faith in Jesus. She was quiet and unassuming. She was confident in what she knew and she lived it out, though rarely shared it with others unless it was her task to do so. She was one of the most tender and loving people I have ever known, but that love never took her far from home or the school where she worked. She simply loved the people around her, not seeking out new strangers to love.
Mom was diagnosed with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma when I was 18, again when I was 24, and finally when I was 27. She lasted only a few weeks after the final diagnosis. At her memorial service, as people were coming through the receiving line I hugged my mother-in-law, Camille, and said, through my tears, “Will you be my mommy now?” I was twenty six, and felt like I was four. And of course she said yes. And she has been loving and tender toward me in my own right, not just through her daughter Laura. I’m so grateful for wonderful in-laws. I’ve never known anything of the nightmares of immaturity and strife that so many people share.
Dad remarried the next year – Jackie. Thin as a rail and sweet as Texas pecan pie. I remember vividly arriving at Dad’s house, perhaps the first time we met her. We walked in and in only a few moments I realized that all the photos of Mom (Ruth) that had displayed only days earlier were gone. I came unglued and ran out of the house and walked around the neighborhood for nearly an hour. When I arrived back at the house I learned that Jackie was hurt by my actions, because she thought I was rejecting her. Nothing could have been further from the truth, though I certainly understand her interpretation now. It was simply that the absence of all the photos brought a new level of concrete reality to Mom’s death, it was the next stage of good-bye, and it took me by surprise. Jackie was in ICU when Dad proposed (he’s certainly a bold one!) and they were married for 7 years before she succumbed to pneumonia and other complications. She was always frail, but in a remarkably and mysteriously strong sort of way that still makes no sense even as I write it. She was really the only grandmother that my kids knew on my side, the kids called her Grams. Camille was two when Mom died and thinks she has some faint memories that may be recollections or constructions or a combination of both. Russell was three when Grams died. She loved them deeply and fully as though they were her own, and loved us the same way. I was 35.
Dad remarried again (yes, that’s right!). Faye came along by way of someone who was supposed to smooth his ruffled feathers over a civic organization gaff (and maybe make him go away?) Well she’s been trying to smooth those feathers now since 2006. She’s kind and gracious with us and the kids, and she and Dad make each other happy.
An aside: Jackie and Faye were both mothers long before meeting Dad, with grown children of their own, and Jackie with grandchildren. So it’s interesting to think about observing them as mothers of their own children, and experiencing their mothering instincts in a different sort of way toward me and my family. And if your Dad’s wife’s kids are your step-siblings, what relation are they after she dies? It’s not a weighty thing, but it is curious.
You may not believe this, but Dad was actually married and divorced before he met my mother. (The man does believe in the institution of marriage – and loves women – one at a time!) So, Kim and I have a half brother and sister (That sounds so weird, like “Top half or bottom half? Left side or right? Is that half a brother and half a sister?” Anyway…) So they have a mother different from our mother, which is interesting – siblings with different mothers –what relation is Floretta to me? How do I think about my love for her on their behalf? It’s another curious thing.
And I’m married to Laura Camille Evans Crawford, the love of my life, who has given me two beautiful children, Camille who is now 16, and Russell who is now 10. So I’m married to a mother as well. It is wonderful to see how mothering works “from the side” as it were, rather than from below. Eventually I’ll get to see it, perhaps, from above, if Camille and Russell get married and have children. For now, I watch and learn a new view of motherhood. I see its challenges differently now. I know what it is to hear a mother regret that she doesn’t or can’t do more for her kids, when I know she does so much. I know what it is so watch her cheer for them and grieve for them, and want to wring their necks, and to share together in all of that with her – our experiences distinct, but together. I treasure Laura as my friend and wife, and particularly, this weekend, as the gift of motherhood she is to our children, for I know how precious that gift is, and I know that generations will be blessed because of her loving care for them.
Finally, I watch mothers. I watch our sister Carol, our cousins, our friends, our neighbors, our church family, community colleagues, and strangers at the park or the store. I watch the women who do not have children of their own, like our beloved Kimberly, yet who shower so many children with a mother’s love – particularly those who seem to be getting short changed by the world somehow. I marvel at the diversity of what it means to be a mother, when the essentials are so basic and share such clear commonality. Mothers love unconditionally. Mothers nurture, feed and tend. Mothers protect and defend. Mothers hover and smother. Mothers worry and fret. Mothers hope and dream and pray. Mothers receive, and they give, they cling tightly, and they let go. But mothers never really let go, any more than we let them go. They are, in that way, like God. Always with us, even if we can’t see, hear or feel them. Always loving and being loved, we are never out of their thoughts, even if they are out of ours. I thank God for the mothers in my life.