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Chuck Brooks' column: Memories of Mom on the anniversary of her death

We all have events in our lives that shape who we become and where we go in life. The death of a parent usually is one of those moments that brings all of life to an abrupt halt. March 7 marks the 29th year of my mother’s passing. I’ve shared her multiple times here with you. I’ve given you brief glimpses into our relationship. Since the timing is appropriate, I’d like to take time this week to tell you more about the woman six of us called Mom.

Mom, Helen Becker, grew up on a farm. She had only one brother who died in his 50s. Mom’s dad died early in life, so she invited her mother to come live with us. At the time, “us” was Mom, Dad and my oldest brother who couldn’t have been 2 years old. This afforded my mom the opportunity to work along with Dad, so they could eventually raise a family of six kids. Five boys and one girl. Don’t feel bad for the girl. Feel sorry for her brothers. We feared for our lives.

I lived in a small town until I was 10 months old at which time we moved to a “bigger” city about 10 miles away. By then, our family was Mom, Dad, my grandmother, my two older brothers and me. Dad was a factory worker, and Mom was a bank teller downtown. Her bank was located just behind the parochial school where I spent my first eight years of education. Seeing Mom daily after school was an easy trip. We often walked together in the morning and at day’s end.

Dad liked his beer. He also liked something with a bit more kick at times. Mom was never much of a drinker. In the summer, she would say how a cold beer sometimes was the only thing that could quench her thirst on a hot day, but those moments were rare. Sometimes she enjoyed a Tom Collins. I remember once she had poured the gin into a glass but then walked away from it for a moment. I thought she had poured water for me because I had just come in from playing on a steamy day, so I threw the liquid down my throat with no reservation, only to spew it forward as it hit my taste buds. Wowzers. I was probably 13 at the time. Mom felt bad, but she somehow found the energy to laugh for a while as well.

Mom was a good person. She was strong in her faith and did her best to raise a solid Catholic family. She turned to her faith more as life progressed. Her mother living with us became more of a trial as both women grew older. Their relationship became strained at best. My grandmother’s death brought with it guilt for my mom. Mom had grown impatient with her mother in the final years. Mom told us at one point, “Don’t ever take your dad or me into your homes as you become adults. Put us in a nursing home, first.” It would be years before I understood.

The first grandchild died when she was 7 months old. I remember my mom on her hands and knees on the side of her bed, pounding her fists into the mattress in despair. This came two months after Mom lost a breast to cancer and had just finished chemotherapy and radiation. Within that same year, she also had to bury her mother. It was a string of about four years where our family had “stuff” to deal with where we had been blessed and fortunate for years prior.

Mom’s cancer went into remission twice. She lived over six years after her first diagnosis and surgery. I grew a lot during those years. The afternoon I emceed my first pep fest I received a call to come home 15 minutes after the high of the event. Mom had collapsed at her visit to the doctor in Madison and the doctors weren’t giving her a month to live.

I picked up my brother in River Falls, and we drove to southern Wisconsin that afternoon. We went to see Mom the next morning. She was simply lying in bed with no real sign of life. When I was going to leave, I went to her to say goodbye. I knew the next time I saw her, life would be over for Mom.

Mom taught me about being gentle and kind and humble. Mom was loved by any who met her. She had a path to heaven paved with prayers and well wishes from a community who hated to see her leave so early. She was only 61. She left her mark, however. I’m definitely a product of my mother. And I’m proud to say so.

This one’s for you, Mom. Twenty-nine years later you still continue to impact my world.

And that’s a good thing.