Everybody Has a Story: Mom was short in stature, a giant in terms of helping others

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I would like to share a few happy memories of my very special mother.

Hazel would tell you that she was 4 feet 7 with her shoes on. She may not have been very tall, but she was never short of ambition, love, caring or determination. Although she only had an eighth-grade education from a small country school in the early 1900s, she was good at arithmetic and wrote poems for her family and friends.

Music was always a big part of life when she was growing up. My grandmother, mother and my two uncles could all play an instrument even though they never had lessons; they all played by ear. When my father bought Mother a small piano, she taught herself to read notes. She formed a small band called “Beth Carter and her County Rubes” that played for local dances, and one time they were thrilled to be heard on the radio. (I don’t know why she took a stage name for the band. Maybe she thought it sounded better?)

As teenagers, she and her younger brother won a “cake walk” dance contest. In her 30s, she took dance lessons and performed in the local minstrel shows held by the fire department.

When my older sister and I had a fight that left her in the bedroom crying, and me on my mother’s lap, Mom convinced me that if I told my sister I was sorry, I would feel better. She was right. That lesson I’ve tried to remember and live by.

She was also very good with the neighborhood kids, who spent a lot of time at our house. Once, when money was missing from the bowl on the buffet, she was sure little 6-year-old Dickie had taken it. When he came again, she didn’t ask him if he had. She merely asked how he had reached it. He ran to the buffet, pulled out a drawer and proudly showed her.

She was always well liked wherever she worked. Her last job was working for me at her desk in the waiting area, greeting students and parents, answering the phone, and collecting the month’s fee for the children in my dance classes. Lucky me! If anyone got behind in their payments, she went to their house to collect. I’m not sure how she did it or what she said, but they actually seemed pleased that she had “visited” them. When a fire occurred on the second floor, beneath my third floor studio, causing the building to be condemned, I don’t know how she managed it, but somehow Mother got in the building and made it up the stairs to retrieve some pictures and files.

She lived a very busy life but always had time for others. If one of her family needed help of any kind, they lived with us until the problem was solved. She must have been in her late 50s or early 60s when she hitchhiked to visit her mother in an “old people’s home.” She found they were keeping her bedridden; nobody helped her to get up, so she had big bed sores on her back. She called my father, who drove up and brought them both back home. My mother had the piano moved away from the corner to make room for a bed.

If a homeless person came to the door, she gave food. I never heard her talk politics but she spent every election day driving people to the polls. She was the one who taught me how to drive for my test, although she got her driver’s license before driving tests were required. She always renewed her license on time.

In her 70s, she cared for my brother after he had brain surgery for a tumor. Because he had lost his ability to read, she bought some beginning readers and tried to teach him to read again, even though she knew he would not be with us very long. In her 80s, she cared for my father after he had a leg amputated. He required a lot of care, but she did everything for him except lift him in or out of bed.

I’m sure everyone has special stories of their mothers, and I could go on, but you get the picture. Mothers are just so special.

Everybody Has A Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. E-mail is the best way to send materials so we don’t have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to neighbors@columbian.com or “Everybody has a Story,” P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA 98666. Call Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525,with questions.