Reader Essays

Reader Essays

Best friend


want to take this opportunity to celebrate my mom, Marion Sawyer of

Gloucester, Mass. She is my best friend. She has been amazing all

my 33 years on earth. She has had her fair share of struggles in

life yet she is so caring and loving, always doing for others.

Sometimes this drives me nuts because she is always putting herself

last. She is doing what the Lord calls us to do, though: “to

serve, not be served.”

She has taught me so many great life lessons. She was a teenage

mother at 16 and didn’t finish high school. She got her GED right

before I graduated high school, just to get it before I did. For a

good amount of my life, she was a single mother doing the best she

could to raise my brother and I. We didn’t have it all, but we had

her love. What else more could one possibly need?

She has also taught me how to be a complete horror movie buff. We

always enjoy watching the latest horror movie together, most of the

time picking on its silliness. We talk on the phone almost

daily. We can easily spend hours a month talking about nothing at

all. She is also a wonderful Nana, a title she holds dear. Anyone

around her is blessed to know her.

In my eyes, she is absolutely amazing. I would not trade her for

anything in the world.

–Jennifer Mayo, Waterboro

Still with me

I can remember the

way my mother smelled. It wasn’t sweet perfume or the odor of

scented sachets – it was the smell of cigarettes. Not a pleasant

smell, but my earliest memories are of me lying against my mother’s

(full bosomed) chest in the front seat of the Chevy Impala and

feeling comfortable nuzzled in her chest with the familiar smell of

cigarettes. There were no seat belts at that time. And I remember

hearing her voice through her chest – or through my ear pressed

against her chest.

Sometimes I still hear her voice in a dream. She never says

anything earth shattering or revealing – mostly she is calling my

name. The spirit messengers and people who communicate with those

who have passed on would say that she is calling my name to let me

know that she is still with me. I hear her voice in dreams fairly

often. If she is still with me, I think that’s a good a


My mother was a good mom. I did not have a great relationship with

my mom. I was her third and “most difficult” and “challenging”

child. But, I completely loved and respected her. She stayed

married to the same man for something like 57 years -– my father, a

man I found to be “difficult” and “challenging.” When I think about

my mom today, I think she was almost always in conflict between

being a mom and being a wife. In her world, the two did not flow

harmoniously together.

Away from my father, Mom would relax more and at times she was

silly. She would laugh and tell stories around the dinner table

when my father worked the third shift. As I child, I looked forward

to my father working the third shift, knowing that we might linger

at the table in the evening and hear stories from Mom, joined by

her mom, who lived with us all throughout my childhood. My

grandmother only came to the dinner table when my father worked

third shift and on holidays.

Mom and I had some good “girl” times. We would shop or go to the

beach, often accompanied by my aunt or another woman friend of

Mom’s and we had a lot of fun. It was Mom and my aunt who took me

to visit all of the colleges on my list. It was Mom who came to see

me in the high school variety show when I came out on stage in one

of her girdles and I could hear her laughing above everyone else in

the audience. She did have a great laugh. Typically, when she got

going she would laugh until she cried. I inherited this from


Mom was a wonderful grandmother to my children. She “let go” more

and allowed herself to be silly and laugh and play – not something

I remember her doing as much as my mom. She delighted in every

moment that she was with them, sitting for hours playing cards,

reading, or baking with them.

Mom died a couple of years ago after struggling with Alzheimer’s

for many years. When she first began to display symptoms of the

disease – primarily memory loss and repetition – I was impatient

with her, and she would get really angry with me. It didn’t take me

long to realize what was happening and it didn’t take me long to

stop correcting or reminding her. Initially, I got used to hearing

the same stories and answering the same questions each week during

our regular phone conversations. The only thing I found to ease the

anxiety and stress in the last months with Mom was to ask her

questions about her mother, her children, her life. She didn’t

remember that I was her daughter, but she could tell me about her

daughter. These became my favorite stories.

The last time I saw Mom, she lay in deep coma-sleep in a hospice in

Needham, Mass. It was early on a Wednesday morning in December

2008. I had accepted the loss of Mom years earlier from the disease

that stole her life. On this last morning, I simply said, “Thank

you, Mom,” one last time.

–Lee Hews, Durham

A good heart – and an inspiration

My mom was

an alcoholic. But don’t assume she was a bad mother. She was


Her parents were immigrants who met in New York City over 100 years

ago. Mom’s mother came from Czechoslovakia. Her dad, a trolley car

driver in New York, came from Germany.

The second of four children, my mom excelled in school and skipped

grades. Not just one grade or two. She skipped half a dozen. She

flew through high school and entered tuition-free Hunter College

where she double- majored in zoology and botany. Here’s the real

kicker. She graduated from her four-year college at 17.

What happened next sowed the seeds of my mother’s alcoholism.

After a few years in a professional job, she married my dad, a good

man who happened to be a conservative engineer. By the mid-1940s

they had three sons and a Colonial-style house on a hill. My dad

didn’t want a working wife. And the middle class neighborhood in

which we lived exerted pressure. Women were assumed to be content

caring for children and keeping a clean house. Despite her

education and good mind, my mother didn’t buck the system. She was

bored and depressed. Gin was her medication.

Still, my mom was a good parent in many, many ways. She had great

appreciation for the birds and trees that surrounded our house, and

taught me names of them all. She bought me chickens when I

expressed an interest in owning a flock, and cried with me when a

dog ate half of them.

My two younger brothers and I had some of the problems kids face in

alcoholic families. Police warned mom for erratic driving, but

never ticketed her. I remember running to our father’s car one

evening with the words, “Mom’s missing!” We searched the woods to

no avail. My youngest brother eventually found mom passed out on

the living room couch.

Of course, it would have been better if my mom had not had this

disease, and I get blue thinking about her unfilled potential. But

what I remember most about my mother is her good heart and the way

she inspired me to appreciate art, birds, plants, clouds and

everything else in the natural world. Thanks, Mom.

–Lloyd Ferriss, Richmond

What remains

The big thing about my mom is

that she was gone too soon, dead of a heart attack when her

daughters were 15 and 13.

Other people who knew her tend to shake their heads, even now, 30

years later, because she helped bring it on herself, smoking

unfiltered Pall Malls and drinking too much bourbon. There’s a lot

I would change for her, if I could go back in time. Instead,

though, I’ll share some of the things she taught me.

• Music is not just to hear, but to make. Even if the only singing

you do is the National Anthem at the baseball game, put your heart

into it and enjoy it.

• Books are more important than pretty much anything else you can


• Go to college. Then live on your own after college for at least a


• If you have to do housework, get it over with early in the


• Spelling counts.

• If you ever fail to vote in any election, no matter how

unimportant, I will come back from the grave and haunt you.

I have some of her things now. Some are the kinds of things any

family might save, such as her engagement diamond and her college

yearbook. Others, like the “poison ring” into which she once

sprayed Raid, are still around because of the stories I


Perhaps the best things she left me were a wonderful dad and her

best friend, a lifelong honorary “aunt” who remains one of the most

cherished people in my life.

–Patricia J. Washburn, Portland

Jennifer Mayo of Waterboro calls her mom, Marion Sawyer, right, “absolutely amazing.”

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