Remembrances of mother more fond as time goes by

The relationship between a son and his mother is unique and complex.

Richard Ford noted this when he wrote a memoir, "Between Them: Remembering My Parents," in which he focused on his relationship with his mother and father, giving each parent half of the book's space. In a previous column, citing Ford, I wrote about remembering my father. Today, anticipating her 109th birthday next week, I will try to present a portrait of my mother as I remember her.

I have a lot to thank my mother for, including my safety and my faith. Elsie Spevak was devoted to her family and to her Catholic religion. She wanted to keep her children out of harm's way and prayed that the good Lord, the Blessed Virgin and all the angels and saints would watch over them.

I was the youngest of four children. In between my brother Frank and me, Elsie had a miscarriage. I can thank her for giving me life, because she could have called it quits after miscarrying. I'm sure she appreciated my birth, after which she became very protective of my safety, often too protective. As a kid I often felt smothered by her protection.

Elsie was also a worrier. I remember Elsie worrying about all of her children, but especially about me. I seemed to be essentially confined to the quarters of my home and fenced-in yard, especially during the polio outbreak of the early 1950s, before Jonas Salk had created the polio vaccine. That precluded, for example, my going to any public swimming pool for swim lessons, which helps explain why I'm such a poor swimmer today.

By the time I was 5, all of my siblings were teenagers and were pretty much doing their own things. I became the kid that my mother would bring along to places she liked, including church. Among Elsie's favorite church activities were evening novenas, and I think her favorite was her devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

I also was dragged along to department stores. My father, Frank Spevak, Sr., would drive my mother and me to a central shopping place (well before malls) and Elsie would check out, as I remember, all the floors of all the department stores.

Oh, how I dreaded that, which is why I deeply dislike shopping today. If I'm in a store (excluding bookstores) for more than seven minutes, my palms start to sweat.

But today, as I think back, I realize my mother gave me more freedom than I realized back then. When I was 8, I could play softball in the street on my block and in my neighbor's back yard all day until sunset, and I could walk the three blocks to school on my own.

Elsie's life had not been an easy one before I came along. Because my father worked long hours in his gas stations, my mother was often home alone with her three young children, who were born between 1935 and 1938.

Elsie never learned to drive, so when she went somewhere with the kids and her husband was not around to be the driver, she hauled them around on buses and streetcars.

While I have no doubt Elsie and Frank loved each other dearly in their own ways, they often disagreed emphatically on a multitude of topics, including money and time spent away from home. My parents expressed their feelings for each other often with great animation. I remember the time I fortunately avoided the line of fire when Elsie threw a china plate at Frank, which missed him but smashed to pieces against the wall.

As I look back on my childhood and teenage years, I don't remember ever feeling emotionally close to my mother, although she showered me with affection, probably because I always wanted to fly out of the nest to which I felt she was confining me. But as an adult my admiration for my mother increased steadily each year.

The more my sister Joan and brother Frank told me in recent years about our mother, the more I appreciate all she did for me and her other children. And when she endured a stroke while I was in college and she was essentially confined to a wheel chair, her faith never wavered and her disposition was upbeat.

As with the column on my father, this short remembrance of my mother only tells a fraction about our relationship, but it's been another good exercise for me. I recommend my readers reflect similarly as they remember their moms.

John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email john.spevak@gmail.com.