I won the lottery in my mother-in-law, Pauline McCleary. Born early in the Great Depression to a young couple in central Kansas, times were hard. By the time her sister arrived 4 years later, her parents had already lost the restaurant for which they had traded the family farm. Though scarcity was the norm, Mom always spoke fondly of her childhood and her loving parents. Swept off her feet at the age of 18 by a divorced WWII veteran 7 years her senior, the first of their 14 children – 12 boys and 2 girls – was born a year after they married. There was never enough money for the large family, and they tragically lost two of their sons. I have often thought I could not have endured Mom’s hard life: the 100-lb sacks of potatoes; the laundry until midnight every night after the children were in bed; all those boys leaving greasy car parts and shot squirrels in her kitchen sink. Mom’s life could easily have made her bitter or, at the very least, just plain worn down. But the woman I first met when she was 50 was strong, resilient, and positive. So positive that in the 30 years I knew her, I almost never heard her say a bad word against anyone. She was simply amazing.
As we celebrated Mom’s birthday this week for the first time without her, my daughter said “It’s funny…when people die we are the ones who are sad, and they are better off.” Mom, you’d be so proud of the kids – all of your many grandkids and great-grandkids – just as you always were. I think most of us want to know that our life mattered. Well, yours sure did Mom. You left behind not just a large family, but a legacy of love and kindness that will never be forgotten. Happy 81st birthday Mom – we miss you. Say hi to Dad and the boys for us.
Russ, Kelly and the kids