I’m staring at a priceless and befitting photograph for a Mother’s Day tribute... gleaned from eight millimeter home movie frames shot by my Spielberg dad, Everett. Mom’s beautiful face and smile fills the lens of Dad’s wind-up Bell and Howell camera, a snapshot slice of Hilda Mable Johnson parading against the backdrop of a ’55 Chevy… both destined to be “classics.”
It was1938 when Hilda Mable Carder accepted Everett Milo Johnson’s proposal under an Ohio moon. From their union came three children, starting with my brother, Daniel, ten years my senior. Only a year later Sally Jo came along and evened the gender score. A decade ticked by before I debuted. Oops? Well, not in Mom’s presence. Over the years she vehemently denied that my latecomer birth was accidental… as if being “unintended” might somehow bruise my young and tender psyche.
Mom was a tad eccentric (think Edith Bunker times ten). Maybe because she dropped out of school in eighth grade to avoid ridicule from classmates at her struggle to properly enunciate words… something she would struggle with for years. In compensation, I think, Mom tended to go overboard and grew fond of the “spotlight” it cast upon her. By the time her “golden years” rolled around, Hilda Mable was so far out of her “shell” she couldn’t even find it… and making up for years of feeling inferior due to her speech. Eventually Mom’s drama queen antics got her kicked out of two retirement centers. It was a script right out of “Days Of Our Lives” (insert organ music here).
Aside from finding a new place for Mom to live, my cross to bear was to listen to the “particulars” of my conception being told to total strangers. For some confounding reason I could never undo, that story became one of her favorite subjects. At the park, in the supermarket… church; Lord have mercy, anywhere she could corner an audience I suffered through that story. I learned to just smile and nod; there was no stopping my dear mother once she commanded the “spotlight.”
In retrospect, I suppose Mom was still trying to protect my tender psyche… reassuring me and the public at large that I was not an accident, that by God she wanted another child so bad that (drum roll… this is the dramatic crux of her story) she willfully “tricked” my reluctant Daddy into giving her one. The fact that I was well into my 50’s, that I could care less whether I was accidental or on purpose didn’t matter in the least. It was embarrassing; I developed a sixth sense for avoiding public “situations.” “Mom, did you hear that? Come, there’s a sale on ice cream over in aisle three!” It’s oddly funny and sad, now, and brings both a chuckle and a tear.
This Mother’s Day I will reflect on Mom’s wonderful attributes. She had incredible energy and physical endurance. Her work ethic was without peer and a fine example for her children. Mom was devoted to God, husband, family and friends. She gave time and love to nearby Pima Indians as if they were family, and possessed a bottomless well for empathy. One of my earliest memories is of Mom drinking from the “Colored” water fountain in our grocery store. It was her way of drawing attention to a wrong and a lesson in human dignity I never forgot.
One fine suburban day we received devastating news. Sally Jo had died; she was only 22. The light went missing from Mom’s piercing blue eyes; she grieved that loss for years. In her darkest hours Mom continued to reach out and help others. Time eventually healed her wounded heart, but it left a nasty scar.
On a grey and chilly January morn in the Village of Oak Creek, Arizona, amongst a magical surround of red rocks and cedar, Mom slipped from this life into the loving arms of her Father. My brother Dan, Bobbie and I were bedside when her rhythmic shallow breathing altered. She inhaled deeply, as if waking up. This was it. Dan leaned down and gently whispered in her ear, “Mom, you’re going to heaven now... we love you.”
Mom slowly exhaled to those precious words and passed from this life. We gathered in a circle at the foot of her bed, held each other close, and wept.
You were a “classic,” Hilda Mable Johnson… unforgettable. We miss you so.
Here is a link to a one minute video memorial to Hilda Mable Johnson, or you can click the top image in my video bar and watch a small version right here.
|Hilda Mable Johnson