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MOTHER’S DAY: When 90 years seems too short

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Laura Erlanson

OGLESBY, Texas (BP) – Ruthie Brinkley has three children, nine grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, one great-great-grandchild and a lot of in-laws. And somehow, they all think they are her favorite.

At family gatherings, they tease each other (i.e. lie) about getting more money in their birthday card from Meme this year or about being the reason Meme brought her famous Ritz cracker pie. “Because I’m her favorite,” they’ll say.

As the world pauses this weekend to recognize mothers, I’ll be thinking about one of the great ones. The matriarch of a whole family who held it together for 90 years.

What makes a great mother? Is it cooking skills? Or excellent housekeeping? The ability to put together an impressive costume the night before it’s needed? I’m sure many good mothers have these qualities. Ruthie could hold her own in any of them (did I mention the Ritz cracker pie)?

But what made her great was making people feel special.

When I married one of Ruthie’s grandsons 18 years ago, she simply made me her granddaughter. I started calling her “Meme” too. And I’m pretty sure I was her favorite. She always (always) called and sent a card (with some money in it) on my birthday and at holidays. She wanted to know what I was doing. And how I was doing.

I can look around my house and see things she gave me, most of which were purchased at a yard sale or church rummage sale. For some, “garage saling” is a fun hobby. For Ruthie, it was a full-contact sport.

“You know who’d like that?” she’d say, holding up some tossed-aside item. She knew. And she’d negotiate the price down to something a widow on a fixed income could handle. This was usually under a dollar. I treasure these gifts. I know she didn’t spend a lot, but each one is something I really do use or really do like. Because she thought I was special and she cared about what a liked.

Up until a few years ago, when she was still a spry 85-year-old, she would make food and take it to shut-ins from church or the community. “The old people” she called them. She thought they were special too and could use a home-cooked meal or a Ritz cracker pie. She loved people. And they loved her back.

Last week, the Lord must have wanted some Ritz cracker pie, because He called our Meme home. A couple days after her death, as my husband chatted with his cousin on the phone, I heard him say, “I know she was 90, so why am I not ready for this? Why does it feel too soon?”

It does feel too soon. We grieve that she’s gone even as we rejoice that she’s with the Lord she loved so much.

But we’ll have part of her with us because she taught us how to live – by making each person feel seen and loved and special. And because she gave me that pie recipe.