My maternal grandfather Art Curley was a jazz and big-band radio DJ for decades all across the eastern seaboard, and he sure had the pipes for it. Any time he would call us from his seaside home in Delaware, his tonal voice — deep, velvety smooth — would resonate through the receiver. The most memorable calls, though, were the ones picked up by the answering machine. That’s because the message would always begin with that soothing voice saying, “Hi Claud. It’s your papa.” He was greeting my mom, Claudia, and he pronounced papa the French way, with the second “a” receiving the emphasis. He often told me how much he loved the name Claudia, saying it was the most beautiful name… which made it funny that he was the only person I ever heard refer to my mom as just Claud.
My grandfather was great. I’m sure it’s one reason my mom is so great too.
I have fleeting “memories” of my earliest years — bits and pieces that are likely mere mental formulations of moments I don’t actually remember but whose stories I’ve heard so many times. One was my mom jumping in our family pool with her clothes on (I’m convinced I recall her wearing an ‘80s-oversized Minnie t-shirt from Disney World) to rescue me after I’d waltzed into the pool without my swimmies. Another is when I made some snide comment about my mom, who was acting as “room mother” that day in my first grade class, and felt so incredibly sad and ashamed later. I think I might have used the word “bastard” without knowing what it meant. Oops. Sorry, ma!
My mother wore combat boots. (She chuckles at this phrase, because apparently it was an early version of the Dozens, a.k.a. yo’ mama jokes. Except about her it’s true.) She met my dad in the Army, which she had joined in 1976. In the beginning, she became part of the first platoon of females to go through the same basic training as their male counterparts. She kicked butt; I’ve seen the pictures. But as in the movies, sometimes her drill sergeant was the butt kicker. Only this drill instructor was also female, and apparently had a high, shrill voice. My mom’s maiden name was Curley, so this drilly would yell: “PRIVATE CURLEY! YOU NO GOOD BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP, DROP AND GIMME FIFTY!” and my mom would eek out a tearful “Yes, drill sergeant!” After surviving basic, she spent the duration of her service as a medical lab technician, just in time to meet a handsome doctor on staff, who was to become my pops. I’m proud to have two veterans as parents, and I’m good with the fact that neither of them had to trade bullets with the enemy in their military career.
I’m a dad now, and between my two kids, my daughter is the bossy one when it comes to play. That was me. I remember my mom getting down on the floor of my room with me to play with Matchbox cars. I had a full story in my head that intended to see through to reality — generally something about the police car getting smashed up but somehow flying in to still save the day later — so I would give orders to my mom throughout the play session. Any straying from the script, any attempt at ad-libbing, and I’d jump down her throat about it. I was probably five. She conceded and played along, which I can now appreciate took great patience and gentleness.
My mom has always been a woman of tremendous faith and obedience. A forever volunteer of many stripes, she is among the minority of Christians I know who lives out her faith actively and practically. We share the same worldview, my mom and me, which has led to some of our best interactions as adults. But we don’t see eye-to-eye on smaller theological details, and one of them is whether God “speaks” to us in a way that is perceived just as though someone whispered a fact or command in our ear.
That said, one of my mom’s stories leaves me undecided on that topic. It’s the story of a day when an adventurous bike ride with my dad was interrupted by a strong conviction. My parents are retirement cyclists, enjoying as often as they can this healthy hobby with a view to boot. On this particular ride, my mom had just conquered a massive hill — this being a woman who had a fusion of two vertebrae in the year or so prior, whose amazing recovery was so astounding that the hospital used her in a marketing campaign — and was finally feeling the lactic acid burn subsiding from her legs.
Suddenly, though, she was made to recall a woman she’d passed at the bottom of the hill, sitting alone on a bench. My mom hadn’t done more than notice her on the way, but now, something (or Someone) was quietly but firmly encouraging her to go back down and talk to this woman.
Mom protested a bit, wrestling with the weightiness of this conviction and drive pitted against her burning lungs and tired muscles. But the conviction only grew stronger, and in her words, “God told me: It doesn’t matter. Go back. Go down. Talk to that woman. She needs you.” And so she relented.
As it turns out, this woman was going through some crisis and was feeling scared, alone, confused, and desperate. While I don’t remember my mom’s retelling of the content of the conversation that ensued, I do know that she told this woman how God knew about her struggles enough to send my mom to pray with her in this time of need. The combination of believing God cared enough about her to send someone and the fact that my mom obeyed that calling and pursued a conversation and a prayer with her greatly encouraged this woman. And the story continues to inspire me.
My sister has four young kids, and she lives a stone’s throw from my parents. We’re on opposite sides of the country, but just about every time I check in with them, I hear that at least one of my sister’s kids has an illness, or needs a ride somewhere, or has a big game coming up.. and how my mom is there for it all, doing whatever needs to be done, gracious and with little complaint. I witness the same thing when my folks come to visit my family out west. She’s younger than my dad by sixteen years, so that her patience and flexibility (figurative and literal) to juggle my two-kids-under-six is called upon in large measure for several hours a day each time they come to town. Her wonderful maternal attributes have only grown in her role as Nana of six grands. Thanks, ma!
I’ll end with one more humorous story. When I was about three, my family moved to a new town in Pennsylvania. We lived in an apartment complex while our home was being built, and across the street from the complex was a four-star hotel complete with large elegant duck pond in front. There were always dozens of geese and ducks just milling about the pond, but one morning, my mother awoke to see that several of the ducks had made their way across the road to our neighborhood. She felt scared for the ducks and sad for the hotel who may notice them missing, so she very charitably called the hotel to alert them of the possibly-illict duck crossing. “Ma’am, we appreciate the call. But they’re not our ducks. They’re just ducks, who happen to like our pond. And they come and go, like, pretty much daily.” Oh, ma..
Very happy birthday wishes to my dear mom. Thanks for bringing so much joy to so many of us every day. You’re a wonderful mom, grandma, wife, friend, community member, and ambassador for Christ!