I grew up calling her Mama. By elementary school she was Mammy-Jay. Don’t remember the joke now, just the name. When I became very sophisticated (around twelve or so), I called her Mother. Mother it was until I studied German in high school. That’s when I began calling her “Mutti,” (pronounced kind of like Moo-tea’ ), the German equivalent of Mommy.
That’s the one she really liked. It may have had something to do with her German roots. Her great-grandmother came over on the boat. Or it may have been because it was special — just between Mutti and me.
My Mutti was a woman of great intelligence, ‘way too much common sense, gentle ways, a quiet demeanor, fierce loyalties and even fiercer done-with-yous. When she was done with you, she was done with you. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was final.
She grew up on a dairy farm in rural Virginia where the church was the center of everything — community events, social life, politics, business, and oh yes, religion. That’s where she met my daddy. They eloped when she was sixteen. It was 1931. They spent the next eight years living with her mother-in-law.
The Great Depression was on, but they didn’t feel the effects as much as others. She said it was because they never had very much, so they didn’t expect much.
She and Daddy both worked six days a week at the garment factory where they manufactured work shirts. My daddy cut out the patterns. My mother sewed on the yokes. For every 144 yokes she was paid 12 cents. She made $6.50 her first week. On the weekends my father and grandfather (Mother’s father) played semi-pro ball. Daddy made more playing baseball than he did all week at the factory.
Even rural Virginia was touched by the New Deal’s alphabet agencies. The WPA, Works Progress Administration, sent a music teacher to Woodlawn Baptist Church. My mother and daddy, along with other young people in the church, were taught to play piano, mandolin, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, drums, trumpet and more.
Then the classes were over. Where would they play?
“In the church, of course,” my grandmother, who was also the choir director, announced.
Guitars in church? Drums in church? Horns in church?
My granny was a slight woman, just about five feet tall. But she could wrestle a six foot deacon to his knees. So that settled it. The music ensemble played in church.
Their first child was stillborn. The baby weighed over twelve pounds and had a birth defect, spina bifida. Her name was Anne Marie. Judy was born next, followed by Linda (born during that bad August storm), Jimmy (who contracted polio at the age of one) and Patricia.
My mother was so grateful my brother recovered from polio that she wanted to help other children. When she was 42 years old, she got her chance. She went to nursing school and became a pediatric nurse. I was ten at the time, so I was the guinea pig for her homework. She wrapped me in every kind of bandage imaginable, but she also gave me back rubs.
As soon as I met the age requirement, I became a candy striper and got to share a bit of hospital life with my mother. The flowers I delivered to patients had to be kept in the coldest part of the hospital. That meant my “office” was in the basement next to the Morgue. We were also pressed into service to transport “liquid specimens” to the Lab. I quickly learned I did not want to go into nursing.
Mutti was an excellent nurse — highly respected by doctors, nurses, patients and parents. When my teenage girlfriend was dying of a kidney disease, she was one of her nurses. When my teenage male friends “played the fool” and totaled their cars, she took care of them as well.
She prepared all of us children to leave the nest and fly on our own. And we did. We were independent and accomplished. We were not afraid of life. At one time Mother and Daddy had children living on three continents — I was in Europe, two were in the United States, my sister Judy in Asia.
After my father died Mutti lived independently as well — learning to manage the checkbook and to pump her own gas. She continued to travel — even visited Russia. She delivered “Meals on Wheels” to senior citizens because she didn’t know she was one. She drove her friends and neighbors to appointments and took time to wash and mend clothes for a local Christian charity.
Nearing the close of her life I was able to spend quality time with my Mutti. She was in her 80’s and only had a few years left to live. God let me enjoy those last years with her even though we lived over 600 miles apart.
She would call and say, “Can you come see me? I’m hungry for you!”
In the German version of Bambi the little fawn cries, “Mutti! Mutti!” as the shots ring out in the forest. His father appears and tells him his “mommy” can no longer be with him.
When my Mutti died at the age of eighty-seven, that’s not what my heavenly Father told me. I missed her so much, but I knew it was not the end. I knew she was in the arms of our loving Saviour and that I would be with her again.
“But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed.
You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again.
At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true: Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?
It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!” — 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 (The Message)