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“Watch out for snakes,” was Mom's standard admonishment to my sister and me when we set out in the summer to go play, especially when we’d set out to go play down by the river or ride our bikes up the hill south of the old bridge. It was not without reason that Mom gave us this warning, as she, herself, had been bitten by a rattlesnake years before, during high summer, while very pregnant with my sister. She'd stepped out on to the back step to call the dog to give him some scraps. It was mid-July, and a bumper year for cicadas, and the skies rung with their insistent, buzzing call. Bear in mind the combination of advanced pregnancy and loud ambient noise, and you'll have a woman who can't see much going on in the region of her feet and can't hear the snake's characteristic warning noise. The snake struck, her foot and ankle swelled hugely, and Dad rushed her to the hospital where they slashed and drained the wound and pumped her full of anti-venom serum. Both she and my sister were okay, obviously, thank goodness.

“Watch out for snakes,” has become Mom's general talisman for caution, a code for “I love you and worry about you.” If I recall correctly, she even admonished me thusly before Todd and I left for England, where there's only one poisonous snake species, the adder which is not even especially deadly at that.

Mom managed to maintain the delicate balance between authority and fun. She wouldn't believe it if you told her, but she's quite charismatic and has a natural knack for understanding how people work, and integrates that “spoonful of sugar” into all sorts of otherwise unappealing situations. For example, we used to have very busy Saturdays for a while when I was a kid. Mom was janitor at the school we kids attended, and she'd do a major scrub-down of the facility early on Saturday morning, hauling Audrey and I along as dust-rag minions. While she was vacuuming, mopping, and sanitizing bathrooms, we'd be dusting woodwork, polishing desks, and washing chalkboards. After we wound up at the school, we'd make a bee-line for Alliance, so my sister and I could attend dance lessons. While we were in class, Mom would frequently run a few light errands, then pick us up for a grocery haul. As a reward to all of us for surviving these arduous days, the final stop would be at the library, where we'd take pleasure in leisurely selection of the next week's reading material. Cleaning the school was a mixed bag. We hated missing the good cartoons, but the money from cleaning paid for our dancing lessons, and Mom did her best to make it as pleasant as possible, bringing selections of records from home to play on the school record player. Rolling Stones or the Pointer Sisters would be thumping out through the cheap speakers, over the raspy whine of the Shop-Vac, affectionately nicknamed, “Chubby.”

When I was 13, Dad's mother, my Grandma Davis had to move in with us for a while. Health troubles and debilitating anxiety following the death of her oldest daughter, my Aunt Glenda had left Grandma unable to live on her own. So, I was moved out of my bedroom, back into the basement bedroom Audrey and I had shared in our younger years, and Grandma was moved in. It was a tense and crowded time, with a cantankerous elder relative with extensive needs plunked into a usually rambunctious and high-spirited household. Mom and Dad took Grandma in because that's what you do…it was the only way to support her, to help her out. After a time, Grandma got a little better, and decided to take a house in Alliance. By this point, Audrey and I had quit dance, and Mom had quit her janitorial job. We'd still do the Saturday trips to Alliance, to clean Grandma's house, help her run errands, and run our own errands. Grandma's sour and cranky attitude would wear thin on all of us, especially on my mom, who went to great lengths to accommodate the old lady. Thus, when we'd get home from our weekend trips, we'd blow off steam with fits of Extreme Silliness known as “going Yorgi.” We'd talk kind of like the Sweedish Chef from the Muppets, except instead of “herndy yerndy,” we'd say “yorgi yorgi” and hop around a lot. Two half-grown girls and a grown woman bounding around the kitchen chucking bags of marshmellows and raisins at one another giggling and chanting “yorgi yorgi” had to be an alarming sight, but it was an effective coping mechanism.

One thing about my Mom that I really have to admire is her willingness to take on some pretty daunting tasks. She may be, and is a worrier (and lucky me, I inherited the worrying and fretting genes) but when it comes down to it she comes over all decisive and matter-of-fact, and shoulders the load. This is a woman who has taken it upon herself to tear out walls in the house to kickstart renovation projects. Who willingly adopted a mischievous goat to save it from certain death, who milked the World's Crankiest Holstein regularly, who, with my Dad, utterly uprooted from family and friends on the West Coast to settle in the boondocks of Nebraska in the early 1970s, to run a bar/burger-joint/gas-station, a whimsical business proposition prompted by a peculiar advert which had read “Town for Sale.” There's not much dilly-dallying with Mom. When she takes up the notion to accomplish something, by golly it is getting done.

Sometimes, when I'm faced with something that truly intimidates me, something that's been worrying me and keeping me up at nights, I think about some of the things my mom has taken on and accomplished, and reflect that I'm lucky to come from a long line of women who have had the fortitude to do what the needed to do to keep on going. Great-grandma Elly helping get her family safely out of wartime German, Grandma Helga learning a third language to converse with her Slovenian in-laws, Mom adapting to prairie isolation, decrepit cars, and a house built during the Depression out of scrap lumber, by people paid in beer.

One more “Mom” story before I wrap up. One time, when I was 12 (the year I got in big trouble at school I was just dying to bunk off a day. Mom agreed to call me in for a “sickie,” and kept me home with her that day. I wasn't getting a vacation day, however; she put me right to work, helping her paint the dining room. All day long, we painted, me doing the fiddly, annoying brushwork around the trim and fixtures, mom wielding the roller. Sometime around mid-afternoon, we were as done as we could be, drying notwithstanding. At this point, Mom asked me how ice-cream sounded, and I thought it sounded really darn good, so we loaded up into her old Dodge, paint-bespeckled and all, and went into town for twisty cones. That's a pretty good illustration of how my mom works—she doesn’t let you slide, you don't get away with something you’re not supposed to, but she makes it worth your while to behave yourself.

It's really sad, but I hardly have any good photos of my mom…hardly any photos of her at all. She really hates having her picture taken. The one you see here was taken at a party at my sister's house…I cropped out a couple of Audrey's buddies.

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