Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Sometimes in the course of my day, if I listen carefully, I hear the sound of children laughing. I hear their innocence in their tone, and the joy of youth becomes very real.

Helen was Mom, a loving mother, with old fashion values and a heart bigger than any wide opened space. She was a teacher, a parent, a mother-in-law. When you saw Helen, you saw all there was, never trying to impress. Impress was not in her vocabulary. She had a child-like laughter that always made you smile.

Helen loved her grandchildren. When they showed up at her little bit of heaven, they took over the house. Her local grandchildren loved her like a mother: those from out of town did the same. She loved them all alike without prejudice, without qualification. Sometimes, if I listen carefully, I hear Helen. Helen is my Mother-in-law. She was a gentle soul. Filled with the spirit of child-like gentleness and innocence. No, she wasn’t a simple-minded person, but a simple soul, one who loved children. I can vividly recall her giving to her grandchildren. She was a model grandmother, filled with happiness and giving. She gave the gift of laughter to her children and grandchildren. She got down on the floor and played at a child’s level because she knew her sophistication was no match for children.

She had 4 wonderful children, but you would think her in-law children were hers too.

TLW (The Little Woman) has told me stories how she would give her pots and pans to her children, and let them play in the mud. If you went into the family library, it was not uncommon to find pictures cut from books so her children could do a school report! Mary Margaret McBride’s cookbook was nothing but words, no longer pictures!

Often when I would show up, and there were grandchildren present, the living room was converted into a campground, with make-shift tents erected with the help of furniture and blankets! The kids, all interacting with each other, would enjoy the time and would squeal with delight when Grandma Manning or Helen came by.

She wasn’t a great cook, but she wasn’t bad, just didn’t get into it like some women do. But she cooked from her heart: every spoonful was a ladle of love. She loved her Jim, a shoe salesman that built a wonderful family, a sense of respect for the world, and never allowed his kids to fight. On that shoe salesman’s salary, he sent four children to parochial elementary and high schools! He loved his TV, especially the news programs and so enjoyed the Watergate hearings.

But Helen enjoyed all of life. You could find her singing out loud, or telling stories about her childhood, Picture a tree if you will, the trunk is a person (Helen), the branches: times of her life, and the leaves, stories, many stories that sometimes never always got fully told because Helen went off on another leaf or even branch. Sometimes she would get back to the original story and everything was back tied in a neat bow!

She was a better person than I can ever be; she gave of herself, she sang, told childhood stories, and played with her children. Her stories were often amusing, sometimes bitter, sometimes deviating from her original train of thought. But she took the time to tell them, and that made people happy.

There was the little-known fact that she loved Superman comics, her father had a Pontiac (She pronounced it “PONT ti ac” and he would never allow someone to pass him on the road. She once got an obscene call, and before the caller could get started, she befriended him! Once she made a small infraction on the road, not fully stopping at a stop sign. She pulled into her driveway, as a policeman pulled up behind her. Her opening remark to him was: “And how are you, officer?”

Her kindness was quickly forcing me out of my home. It seemed every time my kids saw her, she took them to a store and bought them a toy! It got so bad: I had to ask TLW to ask her mother to stop.

When she visited, she wasn’t a Mother-in-law, but a person who was genuinely happy to see you. She never took sides, but always listened to what you had to say. She was my best audience. I could tell her a joke and she laughed. Tell her the joke a second time, and she laughed twice as hard.

When the family got together, she would listen, often adding to the conversation, and laugh, while everyone would get the giggles from it.

When her sister Mary visited with her husband Uncle Eddy, Helen would keep the wine line flowing, and Uncle Eddy would get redder than a beet but was always fun and a gentleman.

Today is Helen’s anniversary. She is missed every day of the year. Often, after she passed, TLW would want to call her because of something that happened, and then sadly would realize, she is no longer a part of us on earth.

I think Helen lives on strongly, without a doubt, and will continue to.

It is the anniversary of her death, Helen has been gone 30 years now, but it is funny how we miss her. We will never hear her laugh again, but in our hearts, it rings true and loud.

Thanks, Helen, I know God must be having a cup of tea with you about now.

God, bless you Helen, or can I say ‘Ma’?


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