This Mother’s Day, I thought it might be a bit hackneyed to honor two women whose consistent and genuine goodness continues to amaze me. And since I’m always looking for an excuse to use the word “hackneyed,” honoring them is just what I’m going to do. My mom, Floralee, has taught me that service is nothing more than inviting another person to join your celebration. After my parents’ divorce, my dad married my stepmom, Mary, who has taught me the meaning of loyalty and friendship.
My mom raised five children in a two bedroom condo. Even though we knew we weren’t exactly well off, we never felt like we had too little to share. My mom invited a different family to dinner every Sunday. She never baked just one loaf of bread or a solitary pie. Rather, she descended upon friends and neighbors with baked goods she mass produced the way Henry Ford did Model Ts. But my mom’s products came in a lot more shapes and colors. Every pie crust was painted with a picture of the fruit contained within. If it was a holiday pumpkin pie, it was topped with a chocolate poinsettia molded from red and green chocolate. When an occasion called for a savory dish, my mom brought a cheese ball shaped like an igloo flanked by scores of penguins crafted from carrots and olives. If it was summer, whatever she brought would look like an American flag.
Growing up with my mom, meals were more than just food. They were events. Dinner was an occasion for taste testing competing brands of sodas and tortilla chips and for dry runs before her new recipes went public. Every holiday was accompanied by festively food-colored dishes, which we had a perfect record of eating until the Halloween of the black milk.
Because of the way my mom celebrated the routine, we never noticed how much she sacrificed. For years, my mom cleaned our music teachers’ homes in exchange for our piano and vocal lessons. She brought in extra income by hiring out her clothes ironing services. In all this, she never asked for thanks, and she rarely received it.
Unasked, my mom recently delivered a different dessert every Sunday to the children of a family friend with terminal cancer. From the months before and after the funeral, my mom made it her yearlong goal to provide these children something to be happy about.
My mom continues teach me that even when things don’t turn out the way you might have liked, you can still celebrate the people you love. For Floralee Shumway, service isn’t a sacrifice to fret over or try to fit into your schedule. Rather, it’s just a way of inviting one more person to join you as you celebrate life with music and rainbow-layered Jell-O.
Life didn’t turn out the way my mom expected, but her love and service never wavered. All my mom ever wanted was to provide an idyllic life for her children. When circumstances made that difficult, she worked as hard as she could and trusted that the rest would be provided. I will forever be grateful for my mom’s example of service: that she gave of what little she had, even when she didn’t know when she would have more.
When my dad married Mary, she became an instant friend who joined us in movie marathons and midnight Slurpee runs. She listened and remembered every detail while we talked about school and friends, and she always took our side.
Mary stepped into our family at full-stride, and rather than trying to change us, she joined in the fun. Some of my favorite memories are of Mary giggling along with us as my dad tried to foster some sense of decorum at the dinner table. In fact, my little brother and I used to fight over who got to sit by her during dinner.
Mary was always coming up with fun crafts and outings. I remember her bringing home a box of art supplies and a book on how to make puppets. This led to hours of gluey fun. Mary provided the bread and transportation for countless afternoons of feeding ducks from the paddle boats at Liberty Park.
The longer I’ve known Mary, the more I’ve grown to appreciate her. She notices people’s needs and goes out of her way to serve people, even before they know they need help. Mary drove my high school best friend and me on a grueling hunt for the perfect homecoming dresses. She used her connections to have a job waiting for me when I finished my mission. She helped me pick my wardrobe for my first post-mission date. Every time I tell Mary about some new venture, she immediately provides a contact person, a recipe, a vehicle, an outfit, or hair products.
More than anything, Mary is a true friend. She’ll do anything she can to help the people she loves, and she never asks for anything in return. She looks out for what we need, more than just what we want. If we need advice, Mary’s full of wisdom. If we need to have fun, she’ll buy the ice cream or movie tickets.
Because I’m apparently pretty self-absorbed, it only recently occurred to me how differently her 30s must have turned out for Mary than she’d expected. When she married my dad she also took on five kids who were a bit of a mess. My dad had been cooking layers of crusty Hamburger Helper—one on top of the other—in what I can only assume was his only pan, but Mary calmly swooped in and put our family back on its tracks. During the first year she and my dad were together, Mary calmly handled my allergy attacks, my little brother’s string of upholstery-destroying bloody noses, my throwing up all over her car and everyone else’s dressiest clothes after she took us to see The Nutcracker, and lots and lots of very vocal—and sometimes quite violent—sibling rivalry. On top of her creating order out of our family chaos, I’ll always be grateful Mary also made sure that my hair was combed every day and that I looked reasonably presentable. Including once when I fell out of a tree: Mary was the one who went out and bought me a new outfit so I could leave the hospital in style.
I am deeply grateful that Mary had the faith to accept unforeseen circumstances and that her capacity to love was great enough to make five rowdy kids a part of her family.