First, Eda Maye didn't like her name, and most of her friends probably never knew what her real name was. Family members knew better than to use her given name.
From the time she was about 4 years old, my mom was known as Mater, a name that came from the fact that she would follow her older siblings and friends to school, carrying a pocketful of tomatoes. In her adult years, more friends came to call her simply "Smith," or "Smitty," both of which suited her fine.
Mater was an icon of stability. She was a resident of Ponca City from March 1953 until her final illness. She married Bill Smith on March 20, 1953, and they remained married until his death on Aug. 23, 1976. Through those years, she always banked at the same bank, and always had the same telephone number. Once she committed, she remained loyal -- even to those with whom she conducted daily business.
Momma worked as a registered nurse until the birth of my brother, Bob, then devoted herself completely to her family. I was born less than a year and a half after Bob.
She gave us both wings and roots. The roots burrowed deep -- some life decisions were non-negotiable. Bob in particular needed her care because of his physical needs as well as his need for help in navigating this world.
The two were inseparable. Her devotion to him created a ferocious loyalty to a simple lifestyle. It was the kind of life where the family could tell time based on what she was doing at the moment -- at 7 a.m. she was awake to make sure I was ready for school; at 11:50 she was making lunch; at 4 p.m. she was starting supper because Dad would be walking in the back door at 4:35 and it would be supper time. The routine of life was done when it was supposed to be done.
Change did come to her life after Dad's death. She was 53 years old when she learned to drive, and was a terror that would overshadow any 16-year-old driver. But it gave her such independence that she didn't care how many of her friends' mailboxes she backed into, or how many parking lot poles she scraped with her bumper. It opened up whole new worlds to her -- including the bingo halls in town. These became her social circle, where she made loyal friendships. She and Bob were accepted there, and they daubed their numbers happily as they caught up with the lives of their pals.
Shortly after Bob died in 1997, Momma's health began fading. Hospital stays were followed by moves to assisted living centers, and finally a hospital visit in Oklahoma City led to her final weeks in a nursing home. Her brothers Jean and John were able to travel from Missouri together to see her while she was in the hospital, a visit she treasured. John delivered a message from his dog, that she would feel better if she just ate some grass. She laughed harder than she had in months.
She knew she had given Bob the roots she needed, and also given me the independence to spread my wings beyond life in our hometown. A few days before she died, she told me "I don't want to have to leave you alone, but it looks like I have to." We spent the next several hours sharing the words and thoughts of our hearts, and we both knew that this Christmas she would return to God.
Beloved sister-in-law Dorothy, whom she had known since nurses' training in the early 1950s, came from Missouri to say her goodbyes, too.
Momma departed this world at 1 a.m. Dec. 24, 1999. The staff of the nursing home was still in her room, crying, when I arrived a few minutes later. They said they knew the night was different because Momma wasn't performing her usual midnight serenades -- singing bawdy songs at the top of her lungs to make them laugh. The entire staff had come to her room to find out why she was so quiet, and in their company she closed her eyes.
Later, I was going through her things, getting ready to have a garage sale. I stopped for a moment to check the pockets of her jackets that hung on the hall tree with her collection of silly hats. I discovered her legacy in the three tools of "momhood" she kept at hand: handfuls of Kleenex, hard candies and pocket change.
The value was immeasurable -- $13.92 in coins, a half-dozen peppermints, mixed with butterscotch and cinnamon disks, and not quite enough tissues to dry my tears. The mix was a good recipe; it was enough to hold a family together for almost 50 years.