Back in the late 1930’s, a dark time, when the Depression was in full force and the clouds of war were gathering around the world, my father was a graduate student at Princeton, studying mathematics, on his way to earning a Ph.D. in three years, writing a thesis on linear p-adic groups and their Lie algebras.
How cool is that?
He was then, as he was the entirety of his life, a brilliant but quiet man. Thoughtful, insightful, but terribly shy. Today we’d call him an introvert. He lived his life and he allowed others to live theirs. But on this particular day, he was back home visiting his parents in Greensboro, North Carolina, taking a break from his studies. And he was with a friend of his. It was Saturday morning. They were bowling.
Duckpins. [This was your authentic southern bowling, back in the day when “pinsetter” wasn’t an AMF or Brunswick machine; it was a summer job for high school kids. The pins were small and so was the ball. Strikes? Spares? Good luck. You should try it.]
Nothing out of the ordinary.
But then, my father saw, in the lane next to him, a younger guy he knew only slightly…and a young woman, college age, of such beauty and overall, compelling, total appeal, that he did something he had never done before, and never would do again in his 85 years.
He forced an introduction.
That woman would come to be my mother.
At the time, she was a college student, majoring in mathematics at what was then the Womens’ College of the University of North Carolina (today it’s UNCG). [As she’d later discover, she’d taken a French course from my father’s father, a professor there.] She was bright and she was popular, gifted in every respect. In 1938 she’d been voted “The Best All-Around” of her senior class in high school. Her college life was a mix of academics and social whirl. She and her circle of friends, as was the custom those days, didn’t go steady with any one person so much as they went dancing and partying with a different person from their group…but in that large group…most nights of the week.
My mother, having a high social IQ and great situational awareness, realized quickly that my father would never get the hang of this social setting and find his way in. Her dance card was always full for a week or so in advance, and he would never get up the courage to ask her out until way too late. So she began to make small excuses, and set aside periods of free time to be available for him.
They married as he was finishing up at Princeton. He took a teaching job at North Carolina State in the fall of 1941, on the eve of U.S. entry into the War. I’d be born two years later, and my brother two years after that.
For the rest of her life, my mother devoted herself to her husband and her two sons. In many ways, from my brother’s and my perspective, she served as Dad’s deputy in the household. She held him up as the example both of us should aspire to. Use your brains. Be honest. Do the right thing. Treat other people well. Put their interests first. Be as good as your Dad. She filled in the gaps in his parenting. He played a little baseball with us until we were in grade school. Then knee problems (that probably could have been readily treated today) kept him off the field; we kids had to play with each other. He taught us a lot of mathematics…and particularly, a love and respect for it.
Mom was pretty much responsible for the rest. How to stand up for ourselves on the playground. How to stick up for each other. Learning to swim. Dancing lessons (she could have worked a little harder on that one!) She taught my brother how to play the piano. She taught us how to draw and paint. No soccer Moms back then…no soccer! Instead, she took us to the library once a week. For much of our childhood, I was reading a book a day. I’m probably giving this more emphasis than it deserved, but one of the words she kept pushing on us was gumption. We should show gumption. She also told us every day that while we lived at home she’d been in our lives, but that once we moved away, she’d leave us be, let us make our own decisions. And she kept her word.
[Okay, okay. Sort of.]
Because Mom was “the deputy,” we always knew what Dad was thinking. As she got better at this, we could see less and less of her personality. She subsumed it to this cause. You want an illustration? She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002-2003. Because Dad was failing then, and because letting anyone else take care of him was anathema to her, she opted for a lumpectomy instead of the mastectomy the doctors had recommended…because the former could be done on an out-patient basis, and she wouldn’t skip a beat in her care for Dad. And after trying the chemo for a while, she told the doctors to forget it. It interfered with her ability to function.
My father died in 2003. The effort to take care of him at the end completely exhausted her. It took her a long time to recover, and she’d been lonely every day since. But the best thing about the past nine years with her is that her own personality returned. She was now independent, letting us know what she thought and how she saw the world. Though physically frail these last nine years, she’d maintained a sharp thought and a consuming interest in world affairs. When we’d talk, she’d pepper me with climate-change questions or disaster questions stemming from this or that she’d just watched on C-Span.
She liked the blog. She always said more people should read it. I told her it was enough that she did.
Things were stable…in slow decline…over this nine years, until just a few weeks ago when congestive heart failure and its complications started to catch up with her. At the end, she was suffering terribly. She wanted to die. A week ago, when I was visiting her, the nurse came in to have her take her seven medications…the heart medications, the diuretic, the medicine for her pain, etc., etc. My mother said, “I told you I would take one pill a day. One pill! You get to choose, but I’m only taking one.”
You gotta love a woman like that. [My brother and I were voting for the mood enhancer.]
When death came yesterday afternoon, I’m sure she was ready.
We disagreed about some things. I told her that I would see her in heaven…that for me, it wouldn’t be heaven without her (and that holds for the rest of you as well…I’m going to see you there!). She was more skeptical.
Just this once I hope I’m the one who’s right. Today is Mom and Dad’s anniversary. If I’m right,she got to heaven just in time. They’re together. Maybe they’re bowling celestial duckpins. And getting spares and strikes. Ageless. Joyful.
Thanks for everything, Mom. I miss you already.
My sympathy on losing a wonderful woman. Keep active – we all need your counsel, and action is the best anodyne for loss.
What a touching tribute to your mother, I am sure she and your father are looking down on you from above – between strikes 😉
Bill, this really touched my heart!! Gail 🙂
Oh Bill. =( I am so sorry for your loss. I almost kept it together until I read the last part about their anniversary. In a very odd way, it’s almost romantic that she joined him on this occasion. My heart goes out to you.
This was a wonderful and moving portrait of your mom. If she liked the blog before, I’m sure she’s up there loving it now. Myra’s and my prayers are with you.
Bill, I met your mother at Southern Pines a couple years ago as I visited an old friend there. She was a wonderful and wise woman. The world needs more like her. I enjoyed her very much. She told me about your blog and I have been reading it ever since. Thank you — and thank her!
It is no surprise that it took an amazing women to raise a man as wonderful as Bill Hooke. You have the support of everyone who looks up to you Bill…today and always. I am sure your Mom and Dad are looking down unbelievably proud.
Poppers – I know that she would consider it bragging to say that she was proud of her sons – anathema! – but I know she was so very proud of you and Uncle Jack. She knows she did good, and now, she knows peace. I love you! – Amanda
Thank you all…more than I can adequately express.
Ron & I want to express our deepest sympathy to you, your brother and the rest of your family in the loss of your Mother. Your tribute to her was very moving and I know she is smiling down from heaven. May your loving memories of your life as her son and GOD’s grace give you comfort at this time.
Bill -that was absolutely beautiful. And I am certain that you were more important than the furniture.
My dad, Steve Hines sent me your blog. What a great way to honor your mom. I”m so sorry for your loss. I heard many great stories about your mom from my grandmother. Thinking of you and your family!
These are absolutely beautiful words about your Mom. What a wonderful tribute.
What a wonderful tribute, Bill!
Great post–you write beautifully in the face of such a loss. We’ll all gain a bit of gumption from your mother’s story and your own example.
Great tribute. I love the mental image of celestial duckpins. I hope they save a game for me.
I remember Annis at a holiday dinner years ago just after Alan and I married. My grandmother came with us (along with my parents). My grandmother was quite elderly and not neccessarily “all there.” Annis was the one that kindly paid attention to her and patiently included her in coversation. Annis made the evening a true celebration for our family. Annis’s social IQ was tops!!
Bill, I love this piece about your mother. I always felt she was so self-effacing that she didn’t get enough credit for who she really was!
Bill – What an awesome way to celebrate the life of your Mom! She raised you well as you have the best attributes of both your parents. You’re the best!
Condolences, Bill. Sounds like she lived a full life.
Bill, this is such a lovely tribute to your mother. I hope you are surrounded by family and friends to share more memories during this difficult time. Take care.
Bill — What a wonderful tribute to your Mom. Thanks for sharing. So sorry for your loss. Take care – Renee
I join all the others in lauding you for your continued great work in the face of such a loss. It is obvious you had a great relationship with your parents and there efforts show in your continued good work. Our hearts go out to you and yours.
Condolences Bill. Keep those great memories bubbling up and any moments of sadness will be short lived. -Lou
I’d never heard the story of how your parents met–or how your Mom leveled the wooing playing field so your Dad had a fighting chance…the story perfectly illustrates how she lived her life, never making a fuss–or wanting one made over her, despite her frontline contributions and multiple talents and abilities.
Because our parents weren’t close, at least when we were all young, I came to know “Aunt Annis” after our grandparents died, at first through Mom and later through our own email correspondence. (She told Pete later that they would’ve been better friends had their mother not endlessly compared them). I marveled at her sharp wit and intelligence, her unvarshished honesty, and her carefully considered points of view, many of which we share.
Much love to you and Jack–and all the Hookes and Hineses–as we mourn the passing of a great lady. May she live on in you and me as we aspire to carry on with her courage and grace. I remember her with great respect, fondness and love.
Lately, I’m reminded of her dailly when I look in the mirror; and I told her so not long ago, and in typical style, she said well, she was sorry about that!
Again, thanks to everyone for this outpouring of well wishes and words of comfort. Has meant more to me this past week than I can adequately express.
continuing best wishes to all of you.