Sunday, November 1, 2009

WEEK 10 ESSAY # 5 DIVISION ESSAY (11-02-2009)

If, along with syllabication, part-of-speech labels, and definitions, a dictionary could provide a footnote that gave examples of the word being used in sentences, then, my Mother’s name would be the subject in those selections describing “compassion” every time. My dictionary here at hand, gives the following: “compassion n. The deep feeling of sharing the suffering of another; mercy, to sympathize with, -compassionate adj. -compassionately adv. Before I was even old enough to look this word up in my first Golden Books Dictionary, by her example, my mother taught me the true definition of this word.

I was five years old and our family of four was on vacation somewhere near Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire. It was a Friday night around 5:30 PM, the second to the last week in July. My sister and I sat beside one another, our Parents on either side of us. Although we were sitting on hard, mismatched, wooden benches in a dilapidated barn with a dirt floor, my sister and I thought this would be an ideal place to live and raise the horses we imagined we would own someday.

While we were waiting for the auction to begin at 6 PM, my Mother insisted we have supper. My Dad made several trips to the concession stands and brought back drinks, french fries, corn on the cob, hamburgers and hot dogs, and slices of homemade pies and watermellon. Shortly afterwards, my Mother motioned my Dad to come sit beside her after trying unsuccessfully to carry on their conversation over my Sister and I and the noisy crowd. They talked quietly for several minutes. My brother was due to be born in less than five weeks, so I fretted we might have to leave now and I would miss bidding on something I can not even remember now.

Then, I noticed my Dad getting up and returning to the concession stands. He is bringing back more, I remember thinking. I felt overwhelmed. I was running out of hands and already trying to juggle my portions. I took extra large bites of everything, imagine I swallowed some things whole, gulped down the remainder of my soda, my stomach beginning to ache. Pleased I had finally finished everything, before the next rounds arrived, I looked up at my Mother but could not get her attention.

She and my Dad were nodding back and forth over the crowd. Each time my Dad looked at her, she nodded in agreement. Sometimes she frowned, wrinkling her brow, and turning her head aside, and that I know meant dissatisfaction. My Dad complied by asking the attendant for another serving or a larger portion until his order was complete. My Sister and I just looked at one another and swallowed hard. We watched as he paid for this order. Our gaze was disrupted when my Mother handed each of us an Early Mac apple and said, “ I brought these for our dessert”.

My Sister and I turned around quickly, so my Dad would not see us staring at him. When the auctioneer took the podium, I looked around for my Dad, feeling sad he would not be seated in time. I then scanned the faces in the serving lines and then began to scan the crowd itself.

Finally, I spotted my Dad hunched over a man of smaller stature wearing jeans. I thought he was being polite and exchanging “men talk”. Then, I watched as my Dad took each plate from his arms and handed them to this man who in turn passed a plate to each of his five children and young wife holding a newborn.

When he returned shortly afterwards, my Dad sat down beside me. My Mom nonchalantly passed an apple to my Sister which she then gave to me to give to my Dad. My Sister and I exchanged looks not fully understanding what just happened on the other side of that room and where all our food just went. Although my Mom caught my Sister and I watching all this time, her only comment was, “ Pretty soon, you’ll have a baby brother just like that too”.

I vividly remember that stomach ache. It probably ached as much for me being full as it did for those children with empty stomachs. Selfishness and greed share a similar pain. My Mother could always read my thoughts and looking back, I am certain she felt it was neither the time nor the place to explain. Yet, she had taught me to see what a person has, not what they are lacking. More importantly, she had shown me to give when I have an abundance and to share even if I have little myself. It may still be more than what someone else has.

My Mother often repeated my Grandmother in saying, “ A Mother is the heart of the Home“. She was not looking for praise, only acknowledging that the heart supplied the needs in getting everything to anything within the body. So when my Sister’s friend lost her Mom due to an illness, my Mother in particular was concerned.

Theresa was 11 years old and an only child. She and her Mom lived with her Mother’s parents. It was a “strained” relationship, I recall my Mom saying at one time. Now both Grandparents worked and Theresa always went home to an empty house after school. That was until my Mother suggested Theresa walk home every day with my Sister to our house. Her Grandmother agreed.

By now, our family had expanded. I now had an older Sister, a younger brother, and a Baby Sister. Adding Theresa raised my apprehension. I watched my Mother wash and set Theresa’s hair on Saturday afternoons before my Dad drove Theresa back to her house, so she would be ready for Church on Sunday. My Mom treated her just like her own.

I remember that first Christmas when my Sister and I each received a Fisherman’s Cable Knit sweater and there was a package under our tree for Theresa too. Its tag read: “To Theresa, From Santa”. Yes, it was a Fisherman’s Cable Knit sweater in Theresa’s size. When asked about this, “It must have been one of Santa’s Helper’s,” she told us. We believed her back then, and I still believe her now. Seeing Theresa, the joy in my Mom’s face, and the happiness in our home, my jealousy transformed into joy.

In later years, my Mother cared for her aging parents. At first, she would go into their home to run their household until that no longer seemed the best practice for all concerned. She then moved them into an in-law apartment on the second floor of my parents home. My Dad did the renovations. They were never alone. She made certain they had anything and everything they needed and that included her time. And still, she continued to raise her teenage children, check-in on elderly neighbors, play the role of wife, Mother, friend and Grandmother. She was a care giver in every sense of the word. She cared and she shared.

My Mother has taught me that compassion comes in various servings, different sizes and at different times. One size does not fit all. As I continue to watch my Mom today, there is never a need to justify what she has done and continues to do for any and all of us. She just continues to do her best to make certain everybody has everything and anything they need. Those ”Helpers” are still going strong.


  1. Unusual piece, very enjoyable read.

    Unusual because rather than create some artificial division of the word, you home in immediately to give examples of it in action--three examples so we are still in the sandwich essay format.

    I'd argue this is more a pure example essay than division, but I'm not inclined to argue at all when I read something as generous to the reader as this--generous in the careful, calm, and detailed unfolding of the stories and insights.

  2. Glad you enjoyed this piece, John.

    I will check the format for the Prompt piece. I did use punctuation in it.

    When I read the "division" selection about the employer (Larry Folsom) and his thoughtfulness towards his employees, I immediately thought about the kindness my Mother always shows towards others.

    Writing so much now in my Isearch about my Dad, I guess I felt strongly about writing something about my Mom too. She also taught me to "be fair". Love them both. Always trying to please them both (still).From there, the thoughts and the keyboard just took off...

    Will try to keep closer to the assignment specs in the future. Since, I did not wait for the "division " conference before proceeding, I appreciate your accepting this essay assignment.