If I had to select a one-word definition for personal success (however you define success) it’s as easy as the picture I keep on my computer desktop…’Mom’.
In the absence of baseball and softball today, and writing about it without a mask…I’ll do the culturally correct thing and write this about the most sentimental of all national holidays, Mother’s Day.
Of course, it’s not a national holiday – Mother’s day – but think about how much more we care about it, and spend on it, than those that are. Because when was the last time you gave a damn about Presidents Day?
Like most people, while I love my mother I know I’ve always taken her for granted; which is a horrible oversight because my mom, on this Mother’s Day, is 93 years young and the finish line is in sight. I know it, she knows it, and she reminds me. And the manner in which she does it is nothing short of ‘pure’ Mom.
“Your days are numbered like the hairs on your head,” she likes to say. And because of that my mom has always been the embodiment of 1) hard work, and 2) anti-procrastination. Do it, and do it while you can.
If I or my younger sister have had any success in this world it’s because of those two distinctive traits passed down by our mother. But you don’t inherit the trait for hard work. Rather, you learn it by example and by being passed over in its absence. “Why wait?” she used to say to me about something…anything.
Or, she’d say, “It’s great to have faith, but it’s better to have legs on your faith.”
Leona Fulks (Simpson) was born in 1928 and grew up a Depression baby in the middle of hard times on the Ohio River (Lawrence County). But in all my years I’ve never actually heard her complain about it. That doesn’t mean she hasn’t told me how she survived – how she walked to school, or walked two miles to pick strawberries for market with nothing more than a fried egg sandwich to eat for the day. Or, how she made graduating high school a priority because she saw education as the conduit to a better life.
She was one of fifteen to graduate from tiny Windsor High School in 1946, and while nearly everyone else in her class thought high school was enough, Mom was looking for a way to get across the Ohio River to Marshall University and earn her teaching degree. She literally worked her way through school, because she had no choice. And to this day she’s afraid of large bodies of water because of having to ride the ferry across the river to get to her classes.
She developed a unique sense of survival, of using fear of something as motivation. There was no such word as ‘can’t’ in her vocabulary, and ‘priority’ was her guideline. In her world you did the most important things first – you survived. And when she married my dad in 1950 the two of them formed a bond around those priorities that would serve them for life. They fed off their individual strengths. Mom was the risk taker of the two, and Dad was loyal to whatever plan they chose.
Mom had taught for twelve years by the time Dad got his teaching degree from Marshall in 1962, and she impressed him to get that done in a little more than two years – by going to school fall, winter, spring and summer. They worked together, did odd jobs on the side, saved, raised a garden, canned, and planned…always for the payoff and vision of a better day.
Dad started teaching in 1963, and after his three years of experience in the classroom they set their sights on something better and more lucrative. Mom was making $4,200 a year teaching in the Symmes Valley school district, and Dad’s contract, he told me, was just $2,800 when they moved to Piqua in 1965. Mom was insistent, because as she told him, “With two kids there’s not enough money or opportunity for them if we stay here. We HAVE to move.”
Dad got a teaching job in Piqua, making $9,200 that first year. And after sitting out a year to take care of my infant sister, Mom got a position teaching at Covington for $12,000. Between the two of them, they had nearly quadrupled what they made teaching in Lawrence County. Taking that risk made a tremendous impression on me.
There was no comfort level when you moved from the country to the city – no familiarity, no friends, and nothing automatic. There were no invitations for inclusion, you simply decided you wanted to belong and proved that you did. Mom convinced me that music was a great way of developing self confidence, paid for private lessons, and eventually that led to my going to college and playing in the Ohio State marching band.
But I loved baseball more than music. And while my dad would tell me that school was more important, Mom would take me aside and say, “Go ahead and try…if it means that much to you.” That support allowed me to play for Jim Hardman at Piqua and walk on at Ohio State and make the varsity travel team as a freshman. Dad was pleased that I did it, but he was always a bit dubious. Mom just said, “Work hard and someone will notice.” And they did.
I graduated from Ohio State with a teaching degree, but I didn’t want to teach. I wanted to work in baseball, so it was Mom that gave me the $350 dollars necessary to go to the Umpire Development School in St. Petersburg, Florida in February of 1975. Dad just shook his head over my turning down a sure job, teaching in Piqua. Mom looked at me and said, “Make it count. Get what you’re going after.” I did.
There have been disappointments in my life, like everyone else. It hasn’t all gone well, or as expected. Mom would simply tell me, “You picked it. Make the most of it.” I never got to the major leagues, but because of her example I learned to stockpile skills over the years…skills that led to different opportunities. From there you figure it out for yourself.
She taught us to be self-sufficient – don’t trust that someone will do it for you. Hence, both my sister and me worked to build our own businesses.
I used to ask her why she and Dad spent so much time gardening, even after they didn’t need to. And Mom would simply say, “Because, if you’ve got the ground and the time you won’t go hungry.”
And on this Mother’s Day she lives in the Brookdale Assisted Living Center, in Piqua, and yesterday I spent the afternoon with her. We talked about old days and old things – of gardening and work. She lives in quarantine and understands like no other…that you make the most of even a bad situation. It’s nothing new. ALWAYS been that way.
Happy Mother’s Day, to my mom and yours. They’re all alike, you know. And the best thing….
They’re all a little different.