Thanksgiving for Mother as Mentor - Ralph Cissne

RALPH CISSNE

I stopped to give thanks. The weathered backstop at Monroe Elementary School rose into the bright blue sky. This was my field of dreams where, at age seven, I first played baseball. My father was coach. The memories rushed over me as I recalled his strength, patience and fun-loving spirit. He died when I was ten.

Through the years that followed my mother never wavered, as provider, den mother, coach, chauffeur and mentor. She worked two jobs and went to night school while making sure my younger brother and I never missed a meal, baseball practice or Boy Scout meeting. Her commitment, kindness and sense of humor were beyond measure. She was fair and she was tough. I only saw her cry once, later in life when she asked me how to deal with “mean girls” at work. Keenly aware of our role reversal, I gave my best advice and she resolved the issue.

Early on, as an introspective teenager, I recognized when someone spoke in an authentic voice or ran the reactive tapes of critical parents or siblings: “Sit down. Shut up. Who do you think you are?” They don’t consider the weight of unconscious behavioral traits. My mother understood this concept and encouraged me to find my own voice. She told me countless times how proud she was of me. She knew how proud I was of her and that I never wanted to let her down. 

On a summer afternoon in 1987 we sat in her galley kitchen. She smoked a cigarette and drank sweet tea when I broke the news, “I’m moving to Hollywood to be a writer and stand-up comedian.” She coughed, spit tea in the sink and blurted, “Why? You’re the least funny person I know.” Her comment was hilarious, and bittersweet, knowing the difference between her calm mothering voice and her mother’s sharp-edged sarcasm. This was her way of saying, “I don’t want you to go.”

I called my mother every Sunday evening and came home to visit often. One year for Christmas I gave her a box of illustrated note cards. “What am I to do with these?” she said. “All my friends are dead.” I laughed out loud. “I’m your friend. You can send them to me.” So, every few weeks a card arrived, in her elegant handwriting, a sweet note about the weather or gardening or a funny comment on one of my brothers. I kept every card, like time-capsule treasures.

Shortly before her death in 2000 we sat in her den watching an old late night movie – Errol Flynn was our favorite – a tradition we shared most weekends until I went away to college. When the film ended she crossed the room and sat beside me on the couch. Not known for physical affection, she put her arm around my waist. I pulled her close and we sat together in the dim light for the longest time. I am thankful we shared that sweet moment, for her courageous example and my mother’s greatest lesson: “Always be kind and thoughtful, that’s the least we can do.”