My daughter-in-law celebrated her birthday on Saturday. Since May 16th is also my mother-in-law's birthday, I spent the day wishing Bri had known her. And then I realized...
if you know me, you know something about LeOra.
When my father-in-law first laid eyes on me, he was stunned. I flew down the street with youthful exuberance and landed in his arms. All he could think was: “LeOra! She’s LeOra! ” Sweethearts since childhood, he remembered her well at the same age: eighteen.
I am a lot like her, or so people have told me. One of those times was on the day of her funeral. Elisa watched me flutter around Mom’s kitchen, trying to take care of things. Though she’d been married to Mother’s brother for nearly fifty years, I’d only met Elisa-from-California once before, so we were something of a revelation to each other. With wonder, she finally articulated what she was thinking.
“Ramona,” she said, “You are LeOra.”
Mom was raised in a less active home, as was I. We both married young: at 18. Each of us was the only (pampered) daughter in a family of boys. Our children were of the same number and gender. We shared shoes, wardrobes, music, and theater.
But it was more than that.
She was my mother.
In the most classic sense of the role, she nurtured me through young adulthood and young motherhood. She taught me overtly. She taught me by example.
In my first year of marriage, I watched with awe as she just talked to people. How did she do that, converse with so much ease? Each person she spoke to was touched and uplifted by the simplest comment, the most ordinary communication. How did she do that? I wanted to be that.
She taught me how to cook chicken soup from scratch. She taught me how to make homemade noodles. She taught me how to put a Sunday roast on the table.
"Mom,” I often phoned, “How do you...” and then I’d ask a question so basic it would be embarrassing to ask anyone else.
She explained a lot through the years as she pruned a rose bush, trimmed the shrubs, fertilized the trees, pulled the weeds. I know she hoped some of it was sinking in, but mostly I watched her puttering around the yard.
I gradually absorbed her good taste. As a young wife, without a comparable bank account, I couldn’t shop from the same upscale department stores that she did, but I tailed along anyway, and learned loveliness.
Though Mom wanted to be a writer, most of her writing is in her journals; a spiritual pursuit she wanted me to learn. She loved the gospel, the work of the Kingdom, the divine principle of family. I watched how she honored, respected, sustained, supported, and cared for her eternal companion and the Priesthood. I experienced firsthand her employment of patience, long suffering, charity and forgiveness. She taught me how to have faith in people who seemed not to want it or deserve it.
She taught me to love spirituality. She taught me to love the Brethren. She taught me to love the scriptures. She taught me to love the Church. She taught me to love the temple and family history.
She taught me to not be afraid of missionary work, or trials, or repentance.
She showed me how to turn my kitchen into a concert hall, how to sing old tunes and dance jigs with babies. She held my hand when I gave birth.
The phone rang on an August afternoon. Dale said Mom had suffered a stroke. As I prepared to meet him at the hospital, I knew that I would not leave her side.
The last words she heard were mine: "I love you Mother.”
Her funeral was nothing less than majestic with nine-hundred people filling the chapel and cultural hall; yet I knew, in the midst of it all, that I was special to her. I felt the Spirit assign me to remember her, by representing her, for the rest of my life.
I’m not worried about what happens after that because when the Lord releases me from mortality she will come for me.
And then all I will have to do is imitate mother.
Muse with me: Who have you tried to emulate? Who are you trying to lead to Christ through your example?