Joe Henderson: A mother sees promise in her kids, even me, that others don’t

Published May 10 2018

Motherís Day has been a little melancholy for me since that night nearly 16 years ago when a voice on the other end of the phone said Thelma Jeanette Henderson had died.

She was a feisty lady, 90 years old, and read the King James Bible every day. She was sharp, independent and had an opinion on everything that she was always ready to share.

I would imagine that after she was in heaven for a few days, she pulled St. Peter aside to complain about the food. If you couldnít fry it, she didnít want to eat it.

She came out of the hills of eastern Kentucky, from a town called West Liberty, and made a life in Ohio with my father. They were together more 60 years until death they did part.

She didnít drive, so the ritual was for my father to pick her up from the Golden Lamb Inn where she worked and drive her home at 5 oíclock so she could make supper. He would drive her back to the Inn, then pick her up again at closing time around 9.

It didnít seem strange to me then.

I wish I could say I fully appreciated the sacrifices she made when I was growing up, but that would be a lie. This much I do know. She pushed me. She encouraged me. She believed in me.

Depending on your opinion of my work, you can either blame her or thank her. She launched my career in journalism.

She came home one night from the inn, smiling, and told me to call this guy who was starting a little weekly newspaper in a nearby town.

I had never written anything for publication before. I even was turned down for a spot on my high school paper. The teacher only wanted serious journalism students.

I called the guy and wrote a few horrible sports stories, but I was hooked. My mother saw something in me that no one else did.

Thatís true of most mothers and their children, I think.

Moms might be cranky or unreasonable at times, but in the world where I grew up they were the backbone. They didnít ask or expect much, but they kept the family together. They worried about things that never cross a fatherís mind.

I know this from experience.

My wife, Elaine, went through labor with our two sons without taking so much as a Tylenol to dull the pain. In one delivery, that involved 13 hours of back labor.

It was horrible, but she didnít want drugs to possibly affect the miracle she was about to bring into the world. Mothers will do most anything for the well-being of their children.

But you know that.

If your mother is still here, youíll probably call her or take her out to lunch on her special day. Maybe youíll give her some flowers and a nice card.

But look for the little things, stuff you might not fully appreciate at the time ó like one of the last times I went to see my mom in Ocala.

She was in her own apartment. No assisted living facility for her. She had her friends. She had her bingo games.

When I arrived, she had prepared a bodacious lunch, all the stuff I used to love as a kid. Soup beans and ham. Cornbread. Fried potatoes. I ate like a pig, and she just sat there and smiled.

After she died a few months later, I figured out what was up. She wanted to cook for her son one more time.

I still smile thinking about that day, and about the strength of a woman from the Appalachian foothills of Kentucky who did things her way.

Thanks mom.

Iíll be thinking about you.