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Mothers at work

by John Collins

On our Australian May Mothers Day, I found myself penning a few extra words on a card to my wife.  I had bought her some flowers but no present because during the years when our daughter and son were not very discerning in their choice of Mothers Day gifts she used always insist, "You don't have to give me a present.  I am not your mother."

Mind you, as many a father of younger children would agree, it is not easy for the husband either to be discerning in this matter of gifts.  I recall the now distant year when I had provided the children with, yes, a pair of powder blue slippers as a gift for her.  The slippers were graciously admired and the children fittingly fussed over, but on the following Saturday morning’s shopping expedition my wife asked, "You wouldn't be offended, would you, if I changed the slippers?  I think I could do with a different size."  Two hours later she and the children returned, the latter unmistakably excited about a very large package propped up in the front passenger seat.  It was our first microwave.  Heavily discounted of course.  Yes, the store had taken back the slippers.

The later card that I penned expressed our thanks and admiration for the sheer hard work and the constant bright thoughtfulness of the mother in our family.  The young man and woman of that time presented her with a watch (silver - and not yet exchanged for gold), and this was the point at which I felt a tender nerve might be touched.  For this was the fifth week since my wife had experienced one of the deepest griefs of recent times.

On the Tuesday night of that Holy Week, during the Penitential Service at our parish church (one of those 2.5 Rites which seemed to be quietly pervading Australia after the prohibition of the 3.0), she let out a yelp - I was not present but know what it would have sounded like - because in a reflective moment of looking down at her hands she saw that her ring no longer held a diamond.

This was not any diamond but a handsome gem she had inherited from her mother and which she cherished daily for the closeness it brought between them.   She was distraught when she came home, late because she and a number of parishioners had felt around the carpeted floor of the church for some time.  In the succeeding days and weeks she searched everywhere. Back to the church, sweeping up the path that she had walked between her car and the church door she had used, sorting through the bags of debris she had brought home, poking through the contents of vacuum bags, having the plumber in more than once to investigate U-bends in bathrooms and laundry, going through her shoe boxes, handbags, fingering dips in armchairs and under car seats…

I told her how as a boy I had come home from school one day to find my own mother in tears and getting two or three of us down on our knees to look for the opal that had come out of her engagement ring, and with her giving St Anthony a piece of her mind.  Long after we children had drifted off, she found the opal in the crack of a floor board.  In the course of a long life she had found much else.  So I suggested to my wife that a word to her might not go astray.  She had already done that, she said, and had spoken to her own mother too.  For myself I felt helpless - and faithless.

At one stage my wife cracked.  Over Easter, when it came, we had had a few days away from our distant beachside suburb in an inner suburb of Melbourne.  We enjoyed the time together and its easy opportunities of casual eating out, but the days were nonetheless clouded with the seemingly irretrievable loss.  Then, in the course of keeping an appointment with our daughter to see a significant film, she picked up a heavy parking fine.  On returning to work after Easter, waiting in the office was a speeding fine.  She could not see why it was happening.  After all, she had merely been motherly to her daughter and conscientious about being punctual for a professional appointment and, above all, desirous of preparing herself spiritually for Easter.  This is why she had gone to the Penitential Service.  This was bitter.

On the way in to Mass on Mothers Day she remarked that we ought pray for our mothers.  I said it might be sensible to pray to them.

That evening, 10 minutes before I was to serve Mothers Day dinner, I heard a soft and protracted coo from somewhere nearby. I waited before turning around, and she walked silently into the kitchen holding her hand slightly aloft and between finger and thumb was the diamond.  "I found it."

She hugged me with a kind of desperation, then sat on a stool and sobbed quietly but briefly. 

Two things came vividly to mind.  The joy Jesus talked about when the woman in his story calls out after sweeping the house, "Rejoice with me, I have found the coin which I had lost" (Luke 15:6), and at the same time the thought of how kind, how real, and how close our mothers are.

Dr John Collins is a theologian, a teacher at Loreto, Toorak, and family man.  On meeting his wife, Carolyn, he had been greatly surprised to learn that the mothers in this article had been students together at Loreto, Ballarat.



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