I can see her now, as plainly as I saw her more than 50 years ago, in the backyard of our house in Kansas. I'm watching her hang clothes on the line, battling a steady breeze that flutters her efforts.
She is wearing a dress, probably one of many she made because she couldn't afford to shop for new clothing. With the expense of eight children in tow, the frugal lessons of her childhood were put to use daily. I sit in the grass to the side, staying "out from under foot," as we kids were always reminded to do.
Perhaps this is the earliest memory I have of my mom.
Throughout the years, Mom would sing while doing such chores around the house, whether she was hanging clothes, ironing, cooking or any other activity that her seven boys wouldn't go near. And that was alright with Mom. When it was time for help, she had plenty on call. But when it was her time, her turn for solitude, she took advantage and sang, beautifully and captivatingly. We never knew what it was she was singing, and perhaps she didn't either until it came out. Long, high notes with a vibrato that comes only with practice and comes from the soul. Mom had plenty of both.
Dad was an accomplished violinist. We attended his recitals and orchestra concerts and marveled at his brushes with fame as a session player for such artists as C.W. McCall on his "Convoy" record and Chip Davis on his first Mannheim Steamroller recordings. He even once accompanied Jack Benny during a show. Dad passed his musical talents on to us kids. But Mom's musical talent was never overlooked.
On Sundays, Mom would drive us 90 miles-an-hour to get us to church on time, and with all of us lined up in the pew, she'd belt out every hymn the priest offered up. It mattered not if the rest of the Todd flock was or wasn't off key. Mom drowned out all our sour notes and any others from nearby pews.
She would then drive 10 miles-an-hour on the way home, reveling in spiritual uprising.
Sunday afternoons were a time for us boys to get out of the house and for Mom to cook lunch. While fixing a meal for 10, she would sing. Opera? Again, we never knew. There were no words.
The neighbor kids, who could hear her up and down the block, teased us some, but mostly would say things like, "There goes Mrs. Todd again."
Even losing our brother, Dale, to cancer at an early age didn't stop her from singing. Perhaps she sang even more, reaching the heavens above with her voice.
When all the kids had left the nest, a few returning and leaving again, Mom and Dad moved to another part of Omaha, in a bigger house. They had all they needed, all they had worked for.
It was their time, their turn.
They traveled a bit. Joined a civic club and took in a few exchange students with whom to share the house.
When Dad's health declined and he couldn't travel anymore, it was frustrating for both of them. I could tell Mom felt the burden of being homebound again, this time caring for Dad instead of eight children.
Mom had a stroke seven years ago, just a few years after Dad passed. She could never sing again.
She was afflicted while riding in the car with our sister, Annie, driving, on their way to church. Annie, who is deaf, knew something was wrong, but couldn't call 911 - text to 911 was not available then - so she texted my brother and drove Mom home. A lot of time elapsed before the ambulance arrived, and that worked against Mom.
She had been mostly bedridden since, with all her needs tended to by nurses and Annie.
When Mom passed this week, I couldn't help but think about her in the backyard putting clothes out, or frying chicken on a Sunday afternoon, and singing, beautifully and strongly, in those times she had for herself.
Well, Mom, it’s your time again. Sing all you want from the heavens above.
Alan Todd is co-publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.