Tiny but powerful, my mother possessed influence. Barbara Jo managed both our family and a larger social circle. Her friends were charming people with exotic names, names no longer fashionable. Like Gertrude and Walter, Cliff and Muriel, Frank and Edith. Born in the 1930s these people prospered in post-War America. My favorite name among them was Willie Wenker, a German immigrant who founded a successful fuel oil company. Willie Wenker -- it slides out of your mouth as if poetry.
Barbara Jo felt fierce commitment to our family. After raising two boys my parents moved to Florida where they settled into a comfy new home. My mother's final years (1985-1991) were spent relaxing in well-earned leisure. During that period she regularly mailed me monthly checks, unsolicited gifts designed to ease my financial situation. It was the beginning of my law career and I could use support.
My first legal job was found after a long, desperate search. My boss, an exploitive tyrant, paid me the least he figured he could get away with in tough market conditions ($10,000/year). I later discovered our secretary was making more money than I was.
The monthly gifts from my mother were appreciated. In addition to enabling me to enjoy a slightly better life-style her checks represented something else: reminder of her maternal love. Emotionally the mail erased geographical distance between us. Envelopes arrived with the reliable frequency of a Swiss timepiece.
Near the end of my mother's life she struggled with physical pain from cancer. She never complained and refused to even acknowledge her illness. The only clue was her new wigs and turbans. Barbara Jo was stoic and strong to the end.
Checks from my mom were written in a steady hand -- the same hand that had cradled me as an infant, fed me as a child and led me through life. I viewed her steady hand as a pillar, something always there that could be counted on. As certain as the Sun rose in the morning, my mother's love existed and sustained me.
Then, suddenly, something happened. One day I casually opened my mail and saw a check written in shaky handwriting, manifestly unlike its predecessors. This check stopped me in my tracks. Looking at it I shuddered. The check's paper, account, amount and envelope were all same as usual but my mother's infirm hand betrayed her deteriorating health. I realized she couldn't really write any more and had slowly, painfully forced herself to spell out my name letter-by-letter in a heroic act of devotion. A last, significant act powered by sheer will.
I'll never forget that check or its significance. Barbara Jo taught us to care deeply and be Herculean in our devotion to loved ones. I honor her by following that example and spreading her lesson.