May 13th, 2012
08:26 AM ET

Letters to the President #1210: 'Mother's Day'

Reporter's Note: I write to the president all the time; to my mother, not nearly enough. I should probably fix that.

Dear Mr. President,

My mother did something small and wonderful for me when I was a kid. We lived in South Dakota at the time, on the Air Force base just outside of Rapid City. It was winter and one of those crushing Black Hills blizzards had buried everything in snow. Nonetheless, my brother and sister were at school, my father was at work, and as the youngest (too young for even kindergarten) I was at home feeling lonely.

Dakota winters can be bleak, biting affairs, with the wind shrieking off of the hills and ripping across the prairies. We lived quite close to the intersection of those two features, so the brutal conditions often made it unwise for a small child to be allowed outside.

My mother was attentive and always interested in me, but she still had a house to tend to; clothes to wash, food to cook, and bills to pay, not always an easy trick on an NCO’s salary. Accordingly, I had a fair number of minutes in which I had to amuse myself.

At the time, I was too young to read. Daytime television (two channels, and in black and white,) after Captain Kangaroo in the morning held little of interest to a little boy; soap operas and the odd talk show. So once I had played with my toys, and flipped through some picture books, and stared out the window a while, I sometimes found the days…especially in winter…oppressive. Well, perhaps oppressive is a big word. I was, after all only about four, so how oppressed could I be? Boring. That’s probably the term I was seeking.

Anyway, on this one cold winter day, for reasons that neither of us can recall, my mother had an idea. She took a small bottle of Coke (glass in those days,) opened the back door against the blasts of winter, and leaned out to jam it into a snow bank. A short while later she pulled it back in and opened it for me. And I drank down cold, sweet, foaming soda infused with chunks of ice. It was simply, breathtakingly delicious and wonderful in the limited world of a small boy in a military family in 1963. My mother has never understood why that memory resonates so much with me, and I guess maybe I don’t either. But I know it does.

I know that when I think of all the endless kindnesses, lessons, work, care, and love she has extended on behalf of her children over many, many decades, this one always comes to mind. Maybe that’s because it was such a small thing, and yet she took the time to do it. That, to me, is what makes a good parent; not trips to Disneyland, or cell phones, or iPads, or tickets to professional sports events; relentless, unflagging, devoted attention to the small necessities and pleasures of building a good person, a good family, and a good life.

My mother has believed in such things, and lived them, every day that I have known her.

I hope all is well with you and your family. Call if you get a moment.