Much of what I have written has been focused on masculinity, fatherhood, and marriage. As a result, I can tend to neglect (in writing) the impact of a mother, but I could never, ever deny the lasting evidence of my mom in my life.
If I were to take two words to describe my mother, I would say that she is a curious mixture of femininity and Godly strength held in a degree that one rarely sees today. The ideal woman who is able to endure hardship with faith at such a level that it overflows into those around her.
Were I to choose a snapshot of Pamela Jo Coffey that summarizes her impact on me, I would go back to our home in Arcadia, Indiana. I remember coming out of my bedroom in the mornings, and as I would pass by our living room, she would inevitably be sitting in that worn-out gold colored arm chair with her Bible open, and her journal in hand. She studied God’s Word religiously (see what I did there?). Every. Single. Day.
She felt a desire to impart to her boys a love of reading, and at nights she would sit us down to read a Bible story and a piece of classic literature. Many were the nights when she would sit in a lit hallway while my brother and I lay in bed, reading to us the works of Louisa May Alcott, J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis and Robert Louis Stevenson. Our little minds became flooded with images of Aslan, Josephine March, Uncle Tom, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Aragorn son of Arathorn. Her love of books and stories spilled over into her sons, and as a result my own children are currently enduring my scratchy voice telling the story of Little Women.
She had a knack for making special moments out of ordinary events. As we would eat the breakfast she made daily, we would listen to music that she had chosen for us that she knew we would enjoy. We would slowly awaken to the world over a bowl of oatmeal to the tunes of Michael W. Smith, or some other artist du jour.
On one clear summer night, we were roused from our beds, and taken outside just to look at the stars shining in the sky. Even in the dark, I could tell that the expression of wonder on her face was completely real
During a particularly hot day, she took us to the garage, where she had scraped and crushed the ice from the deep freezer so that we could build miniature snowmen.
During the holiday season, she would be the first one up so that she could turn on the lights on the Christmas tree before everyone else woke up. We even had a cassette tape of special Christmas music simply entitled “The Tape.” It was how we knew that Christmas was officially coming, and the best mornings were when we would enter the kitchen to see her smiling face as she hit “play.” The dulcet tones of Perry Como rendition of “White Christmas” would enter our ear holes, and we knew that the best holiday in the world had been ushered in by our mom.
When my brother and I would get scraped knees, bruises and cuts, she would pick us up, dust us off, and say, “Now wasn’t that FUN?!” until we were all laughing. Now, I don’t laugh at pain any more, but I will always remember her gentle way of getting us to man up in the sight of blood. Seriously, even getting hurt around her became a fun event.
As a constant form of encouragement, she made an effort to be involved and interested in every activity my brother and I did. Somehow, she managed to avoid the overbearing pageant mom level of involvement, but we were always sure that she was present. She was at every terrible soccer game, every wrestling meet, and each band concert (even the cacophonic elementary school ones). She attended all of our track meets, our laughable grade-school basketball games, and chaperoned several youth events.
She knew our favorite rock bands, the cartoons we loved and our favorite characters, and our favorite books. She can still name every Marine who was ever in a Scout Sniper team with me, and she continues to pray for them and their families to this day. Many were the times when I would visit and see a world map with pictures of all of us in the various places we were scattered. Her prayers encompassed her sons, her daughters-in-law, her grandchildren, her son’s friends, her daughter-in-laws’ friends, her grandchildren’s friends, her sons’ coworkers and THEIR families…so on and so forth.
Perhaps the most brilliant facet of her impact on me revolved around how she acted as a wife.
As a husband, I am in a tricky position. I have chosen to make my wife the most important person in the world. I rightfully praise my wife for her amazing nature as a spouse and a mother to my children, but this choice to do so can seem to diminish the wonderful nature of the first wife and mother I ever met. The woman who gave me life is apparently given a back seat to the woman who now shares my life. While my mom would tell you that this is how things should be, I would remind the world of her greatness.
From day one, I lived in a house where I saw a woman who respected her husband, and supported him in everything he did. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have NEVER heard her speak so much as a negative word about him, or even TO him. She was the picture of encouragement and love, and worked hard to make every one of his days a little better. She often would let her boys know how great of a man our dad was, and how hard he worked for our family.
Essentially, we grew up with the perfect woman as a model for the wives we would choose.
Unfortunately, this weeded out most girls we had known right off of the bat, and it took a long time before either of us found a woman that could hold a candle to our mother, but the wait was well worth it. I firmly believe that 90% of most marital problems can be solved by not marrying a terrible person in the first place, and the bar had been raised extremely high for us. The payoff was definitely worth it.
I will spend the rest of my life trying to be the kind of man worthy of the woman I married, but if I were to compare my wife to the most beautiful of days, I would compare my mom to the perfect sunrise that brought that day about.
Happy Birthday, Mom.
“I could wax poetically about Mom’s patience and nurturing personality. Stories of how she raised Nate and me to be functional adults in a nonfunctioning society. Her quiet, spiritual strength. How, if we ever managed to wake up even close to her usual zero-dark-thirty wakeup time, we’d find her doing devotionals: reading her Bible and journaling her thoughts. But I’m going to tell a different story. If you know her, you’ll be able to confirm all that I’ve already mentioned. And that this little, seemingly insignificant moment is further enhanced by the salt of her cheery personality and deeds of kindness.
Parris Island, SC, 2003:
Nate had just graduated Boot Camp and was officially a United States Marine. We had the unusual ability to spend a couple weeks with him at home before he had to go back for SOI – School of Infantry. We were in the van driving back to Virginia (God’s Country) and had stopped at a rest stop. It was October, and there was snow on the ground. A lot. In the South. In the Fall. I really don’t understand Global Warming…
Anyway, after exiting the restrooms, Nate had a “Boot” Moment. Those of you who have been in the military understand this, and we’ve all been guilty of it. Your levels of motivation are excruciatingly high after graduating Basic Training. Especially if you’re Infantry. Especially if you’ve been trying to sign up for ages, all because of some bad paperwork at MEPs. Especially if you’re a Marine. You’re FINALLLY a servicemember, and are acutely aware of that when surrounded by civilians. So you have a “Boot” moment or two before the military crushes your soul and drains your motivation into a can of RipIt. You flaunt the high-and-tight haircut. You wear your dog tags when you’re not in uniform. You stand at parade rest in McDonalds and say “Roger” to the lady taking your order. A couple years, hundreds of bottles of Ibuprofen, and 3 poorly-selected tattoos later, you look back at who you were and laugh. But we’ve all done it.
(Editor’s comment: This from a guy who graduated basic and decided it would be cool to wear a full Army PT uniform in my basement gym)
Nate’s “Boot” moment was to exit the restroom tactically.
(Editor’s Note: I’m pretty sure we’ve all done that at one point in our lives, right reader? No? Just me?)
He and I stacked the door and assaulted the outside of the rest stop with our hands in the classic “I don’t have a weapon, but I can pretend by pointing two knife hands at you! Pewpew!” fashion. Well, Nate did. I was a civilian, and had no idea what I was doing. So I just copied him and marveled at how cool all this was. No joke. We took cover behind a wall and watched for… Taliban, or something. Just hoping for a chance to slay some bodies. With snowballs.
Then we heard the war cry. It was like an entire army of orcs had snorted a couple of lines before charging Minis Tirith. It made your blood freeze and then try to crawl back up your veins to safety. We looked around and saw Mom charging us. She had a war face that would send Chesty Puller, Audie Murphy, and all the Expendables running in the opposite direction. She was running at us with all the fury of the Viking pantheon, holding what looked like a 20 lb chunk of snow over her head.
What did we do? We dropped our “rifles” and gawked. I mean, this was a side of her we’d NEVER seen. And then we saw 20 lbs of snow in our faces. It was the literal definition of “Shock and Awe.” There was no defense against Mom’s snowy onslaught. There was no running. Only paralyzing fear. And then… we all had a laugh and got back into the van. But I never forgot that moment.
The moral of the story, ladies and gentlemen, is this: quiet people have hidden depths. And if ISIS ever attacks Virginia, I won’t be too worried. So Happy Birthday, Mom… please don’t kill me.”
Our wives had various comments as well.
“I appreciate that she has been more like a mom to me than a mother-in-law. From the time I became part of the family she has loved me like a daughter. I remember a time early on when we were either engaged or just married a road trip from Indiana to Virginia. I was alone with her in a car most of the time, and I really connected with her on a more personal level. I loved hearing stories about her life, growing up, and meeting her husband.
She puts so much time into praying for us. Every time we are together as a family, we spend time in prayer. We all know that she spends a significant amount of time praying for each of us and our own families.
I love watching her as a Nonna (how we say “Grandma”) connect with, get really involved with, and plan special activities to do with the kids.”
“You know how everyone wants to come visit right when a new baby comes? My mother-in-law is so giving that she considered it nothing to offer to come help out before the baby is born, possibly giving up a chance to be around when the baby actually shows up. Another way her care and consistency is shown in how all her cards arrive within a day of the birthday or anniversary she’s aiming for. She is a wonderful, Godly, caring woman and I’m so blessed to be part of her family”