Friday, November 29, 2013

A Wonderful Life

I have written before about Frank Capra's movie, It's a Wonderful Life. The hero of the movie, George Bailey, just can't catch a break. George is a dreamer who longs to see the world and build grand things, but every time he thinks his dreams will come true, fate intervenes. His father dies, forcing George to postpone his college education and take over the family business; his brother Harry goes off to war leaving George stranded once again in his home town of Bedford Falls; and just as he's off to honeymoon with his new bride, there is a bank run on the Bailey Building and Loan, and George must use the honeymoon money to bail out his investors.

The final straw comes at the end of the movie on Christmas Eve when George's drunken Uncle Billy loses an envelope stuffed with cash. Uncle Billy was supposed to deposit the money in the building and loan's bank account, which is now short of funds at a time when the bank auditors are in town to check the books. George becomes so despondent over his "cursed" life that he contemplates suicide. The movie ends with George's guardian angel, Clarence, showing George how valuable his life really was...how all his sacrifices made such a difference in the lives of others. Clarence convinces George that he's had not a cursed life, but a wonderful one, and the movie ends with all the people George helped over the years repaying his kindnesses.

There are not many people like George Bailey in the world who put themselves last so that others can get come first. My mother Frances was such a person. I don't know if she had unfulfilled dreams...if she did she certainly never shared them with me. It was not her style because telling me that having to stay at home and keep house for a husband and three children kept her from doing something she really wanted to do might hurt my feelings. Mom would never do that. I'm not saying she wouldn't administer some "wooden spoon justice" when required, but she just couldn't knowingly hurt someone's feelings, especially her kids.

Like George Bailey, I saw her so many times set aside what she wanted and defer to my father or to one of us kids. Whether it was using the hard-earned, cookie jar money she was saving for something to buy me a new baseball glove, or stretching our limited family income to cover my Dad's occasional losses at the race track (which she never once mentioned to us) Mom came last on her own list of priorities. She cooked and cleaned for the family, even my father's mother, who was not the nicest person in the world, and never complained. When my grandmother, who resented my mother despite all Mom did for her, began telling lies around the family about how Mom mistreated her, that, for her, was the equivalent of Uncle Billy losing that envelope.

Mom walked out of the house one day and nobody knew where she was. The strain must have been unbearable for her to do something like this, but there it was. The woman all of us had taken for granted and thought would always be there was gone. I was maybe 12 years old when this happened and don't remember a lot of details, all I know is we were scared. Family members made telephone calls and scoured the neighborhood, but she was nowhere to be found. She stayed away overnight, and came back the next day. She never said where she was, and picked up her life where she left off. No therapy, no retribution, she was just there for us again. Maybe Mom found her own Clarence to show her what her life had meant to all of us...I was just so glad she was back.

You might say that I'm looking back in my rose-colored rear view mirror and remembering Mom as a son wants to remember his mother rather than how she really was. I can assure you this is not the case. Anyone who knew my Mom spoke highly of her. (One reason I married my wife is that she reminded me so much of my mother.) I know she's with me today, gently nudging me back on to the right track like she did when I was a kid. It's a sad thing when we realize we never told people who mattered so much to us how we felt about them when we had the chance. Frances toiled, she sacrificed, she loved her family and did everything she could to make us happy. I know that when she met her maker, the Lord smiled at her and said: "Frances, you have led a wonderful life, welcome home my child."


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2 comments:

The Whiner said...

Grandma was always so kind and patient and always had our favorite treats waiting for us. She always knew how to make us feel loved and special.

Jim Pantaleno said...

So glad you had some time with her...you brought her a lot of joy.