My mother is a woman of contradictions. The big joke in our family is that when she dies, mom’s wake and funeral will go on for days because everyone who knows her has a colorful story to tell.
Many tales revolve around Mom’s driving. My mother believes that speed limits are suggestions. Oddly, she has only one speed: 45 mph. In a 70-mph zone, she drives 45. In a 15-mph zone, she drives 45. Don’t ask me to explain because I have no idea.
It gets worse. Mom makes left turns from the right lane, and, as far as I know, she has never used a directional signal. Not ever.
When I was growing up, Mom once jammed 13 kids into her Beetle convertible for a ride to the beach. Safety was never one of her top concerns, but she did instruct us how to dive to the floor of the car if we spotted a police officer.
My mother parks in front of fire hydrants (“I’m just running a quick errand”) and drives the wrong way up one-way Boston streets when it serves her purpose. Take a deep breath here because, for years, Mom cut the seat belts out of her cars because they shackled her freedom. That’s how we were able to dive to the floor so quickly when we saw the police.
The annoying thing is that my mother has a stunning ability to talk herself out of trouble, using a combination of salesmanship and a “helpless old lady” act.
Fundamentally, Mom believes that laws do not apply to her. And yes, at age 87, she still drives. How do you think Boston drivers got their reputation?
At the same time, my mother is a courageous crusader and a tenacious woman of prayer.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Mom battled clinical depression. She endured appalling shock treatments without anesthesia, and she fought hard to regain her health because she was determined to raise her three little girls. Throughout those years, she spoke openly about her illness. People didn’t do that back then because mental illness was considered a family disgrace. By speaking out, Mom encouraged others to bring their struggles into the light. She refused to be ashamed.
During the 1970s and ’80s, Mom spoke candidly about my sister’s fierce battle with drugs. Mom’s openness was shocking in tony Wellesley Hills, Mass., where such matters were shrouded in secrecy. Again, her honesty gave hope to others.
When my sister eventually contracted HIV, my mother pitched in to help. She volunteered at the AIDS residence where my sister lived, and she loved my sister to the end.
All during those decades of pain, Mom fasted and prayed for my sister every Friday. For 20 years.
Before she died, my sister returned to her faith, abandoning herself to the mercy of God. I’m quite certain that Mom’s prayers for her healing were answered, even though it wasn’t the way she wanted.
So yeah, she’s a woman of contradictions.
Years ago, someone asked if I wanted to be like my mother when I grew up. At the time, I rolled my eyes and gave some snarky reply. But in truth, I’d be proud to live a life inspired by her courage, compassion and persistence. Mom has helped countless immigrants and refugees, often welcoming them into her home. Her garden produce filled shelves at the local food bank. She reaches out to the aged and the outcast and the lonely. Hers is a faith that is lived in everyday life.
Driving practices aside, I would be honored to lead such a life of faith.
M. Regina Cram is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.