Fictional football player and coach George Steele’s personal life events in A COACH AT HEART might have been driven by his father’s actions, but it was his mother who was most responsible for making him the man he became.
That’s probably true for most of us. We might follow our father’s footsteps or consciously choose to go in another direction. But what’s inside of us — mental strength, empathy, ability to love others — often come from mom.
I’ve considered this quite a bit recently following the death of my own mother on March 31. On the outside, I became like my father, a man of letters, sports fan and military history aficionado. On the inside, I’m like my mother — she instilled in me that the Golden Rule is the default position and to have respect for others, particularly women. On the other hand, you didn’t want to test her, as she had plenty of her Greatest Generation’s resolve. I like to think I inherited some of that, too.
Some of my mother was in Irene Steele, though I don’t think that was a conscious choice on my part. When George didn’t want to do something, she made sure he did it. And, of course, she wanted him close, not chasing career dreams in far-off cities. There were tender aspects, like Irene sharing the photo of toddler George and his dad with Diana. That’s how most of us recall our mothers.
For me, it was a tad different. The youngest of three siblings, I delivered the eulogy for my mother when it was time to say goodbye. After briefly discussing the subject of motherhood, I turned to one of the things that stood out in the family life of my childhood:
When I was growing up, dessert was often a major event in our house. Especially boomerangs. When Mom was making boomerangs, us kids would be lined up in front of the oven, staring through the window counting the minutes until they were ready to eat. We barely closed our eyelids, let alone dash outside to see if a blimp was flying over — the definition of a major event.
That was for what I learned later was actually a simple concoction — bake a meringue and top it with strawberries and whipped cream. My wife keeps the tradition going by making them once or twice a year during strawberry season.
Mom also made the world’s best brownies and would do things like bake a chocolate cake on Valentine’s Day, top it with white frosting and decorate it with red hots. She suspended strawberry and banana slices in jello. Like in millions of other families, decorating Christmas cookies was an annual December tradition.
Yes, the eating was good when I was growing up and I’m blessed to say that continues today in my own family. My wife considers serving food to be an act of love. While I’m not sure if my mother thought the same way, somewhere deep down I think she probably did.
Those other things, like making you do what you didn’t want to do, were similar. We just didn’t appreciate it as much at the time.
So now both my parents have departed the earthly life, leaving my brother, sister and I to sort through their stuff — there was a lot, figure out the family finances and sell the house. It’s an emotional time, but one mixed with precious memories. And now we’re the mothers and fathers of young adult children striving to find their way in life, and hoping we’ve prepared them as well as our parents equipped us.