At holidays, I miss my mother. Opal Moore Adams Bowling was overweight, sloppy in her appearance, and never saw a household task she was eager to take on.
Picture her in a modest home in a small town in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Dirty dishes in the kitchen sink; piles of soiled clothes in, on, and around the washing machine; and beds only made up when the sheets were washed.
My mother had no time for mundane tasks as she was busy teaching her children, volunteering in her community, and living a life inspired by nature.
She had excellent teachers at Benham High School and was eager to share her knowledge with her children, so she spoke to us regularly in French. As we sat on the front porch in the evening, she identified the constellations: Big Dipper, Little Dipper, North Star, Taurus (That’s my sign). She loved the sciences and told us about phrenology, a belief that the size and shape of the skull could determine a person’s character and mental abilities. She and we were particularly interested in the craniums of persons destined to be criminals.
Mother had played basketball during high school , so when we listened to the University of Kentucky Wildcats on the radio, she was right there with us. She explained what we didn’t know and regaled us with tales of her own coach.
She had taken a college prep curriculum at Benham High school but her father was deceased and the family could only afford money for the oldest child, Lurlene, to attend college. So mother took an extra year at the high school in what she referred to as “commerce courses” and knew shorthand, typing, and bookkeeping.
Mother was a musician, of sorts. Central Baptist Church needed a pianist, and Mother stepped up to the plate. When she played classical songs on her mother’s piano next door, I marveled that a person who had wanted to learn to play the fiddle but was prohibited from doing so by a father who said, “The fiddle is the devil’s music” could take such joy in playing the piano. I was mesmerized by her fingers moving gracefully across the keys. Her public performance of hymns at the church was another matter. She was shy, hesitant, unsure about signals from the preacher. And when she struck wrong notes, I wanted to crawl under the pews. Instead, I just blushed profusely.
A different matter was Mother as a teacher of young girls. I was in her class at church and was so very proud of her empathy, her ability to explain, her kindness to everyone — even volunteering to make a dress for an initiation ceremony when one of her students had no resources. Mother had been a teacher in a one-room school in a less- than-small community “down the river” her first year out of high school, but she contracted pneumonia and had to quit.
And anytime my class at school needed cupcakes, I was quick to stick my hand up, knowing my mother would be pleased to do this. After all, she had learned from the best home economics teacher, and she knew how to bake virtually everything: coconut cakes, blackberry pies, banana oatmeal cookies. She said frequently, “I know my kids are all right to go to school in the morning with a big glass of milk and a handful of my banana oatmeal cookies.”
Walking in the woods, or going “up Cloverlick” to swim, or climbing Pine Mountain to Ravens’ Rock were summer activities for us, and Mother was always the teacher in terms of botany. We were cautioned about the copperheads and the rattlesnakes — and the black bears had not yet returned to the area- but her focus was on the beautiful foliage. I learned to identify a wide range of mountain flowers, jack –in-the-pulpit, mountain laurel, bloodroot, bluebells, wild roses and daisies. We normally left them untouched, but on occasion Mother would dig one up along with the rich forest soil and bring it home to plant.
Am I like my mother? I hope so in terms of her character and her teaching ability. Can I grow plants? No, but my interest in them led me to a biology minor as an undergraduate. Do I play a musical instrument? No, but I have four mountain dulcimers hanging on my living room wall. Do I still follow the UK Wildcats. Yes, and I’ve read Coach Calipari’s book Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out. Can I type? I’ve learned what I need to know, but I still “hunt and peck.” Do I speak a second language? I’ve tried Latin, German, and Spanish, and I’m terrible with all three.
All four of my mother’s children have graduate degrees and have held responsible jobs, so I’d say that she did most things right. All of her children have children, and all the children are fine human beings.
In obvious ways, I’m probably most like my mother in terms of my belief that there are more important tasks in my life than housework. Enough said.