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Sneed: Cherishing mother’s gift of courage

Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed her mom June.

Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed and her mom, June.

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Updated: June 12, 2014 6:48AM



An ode to Mom . . .

I don’t remember my mother being an avid newspaper reader; nor was she particularly interested in politics.

Until her dotage, she voted for Democrats.

Then she voted Republican. At least, I think she did.

She married twice; began to golf in her 60s; made potato salad with Miracle Whip, and introduced me to mincemeat pie.

Mom grew up beside the Missouri River in Mandan, North Dakota, and graduated primarily with prairie kids of German descent with names like Aquilinias Koch.

Ostensibly named after her birth month, June — my partially farm-bred mother — had a pet duck, snuck her dog Nippy table scraps, read Zane Grey western novels by firelight, loved the song of the meadowlark . . . and regaled us with her recitation of the poem “Little Orphant Annie.”

She loved jokes, but didn’t tell them; played with dolls way too long; was called “Olive Oyl” because she weighed 90 pounds at 5 feet 8 inches when she was in eighth grade; and grew into a willowy beauty.

Unlike my father, who was like the bold reds and oranges of late summer; my mom was the soft pastel colors of spring flowers. Dad was raised on the eastern shore of Maryland, loved adventure, memorized the poems of Omar Khayyam and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his prowess as a turret gunner on a B-17 in the Pacific during World War II.

While Dad was bombing the Pacific islands of Truk and Emidji, mom did her duty waiting for my father by working with the war effort in a naval yard in California — until she became pregnant with me.

Then she did what all good mothers did. She gave up her clerical job and went home to have her baby.

And when she finally left North Dakota for good to start a new life with my dad, she never looked back — and was glad to leave behind the incessant noise of what is known as the prairie’s zephyr; the incessant blast of wind blowing unfettered across treeless plains.

But it is in the wind that I hear my mother’s reassuring voice; her calm, loving, supporting counsel encouraging me to do more than she was able to do. To be anything I wanted to be. To take advantage of opportunities not available to her back then.

It may have been my larger-than-life father who gave me curiosity, but it was my precious mother who gave me courage.

Mom kept an immaculate house, fixed three meals a day even though she hated to cook, and hugged and kissed us on our way out the door each day until our cheeks were raw.

In other words, Mom wasn’t just always home. She was home.

I will not be able to visit my mother’s grave on her birthday this year. But on June 8, I will sit in my flower garden and read aloud “Little Orphant Annie” like my sisters and I did when we buried her on a lovely September day in 2006.

Amidst flowering peonies, the flutter of wild turkeys, and a prairie wind which chose to be quiet that day, we buried Mom in the sun-dappled Mandan Union Cemetery next to a field of sunflowers.

And, graciously, no wind interrupted our farewell that day.

It must have been the prairie’s way of thanking Mom for finally coming home.

Sneedlings . . .

Saturday’s birthdays: Bono, 54; Kenan Thompson, 36, and Linda Evangelista, 49 . . . Sunday’s birthdays: Cam Newton, 25; Tim Blake Nelson, 50, and Joanna DePorter, ageless and priceless.



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