September 5th, 2014
Maxine Ann Gumbert.
You don’t hear the name, “Maxine,” much these days. Her father gave it to her in 1930. His name was Paul Max Hinckley, our grandpa. Grandma wouldn’t let him name his oldest sons, Paul or Max. So, he named his two daughters after him: PAUL-ine and MAX-ine.
And her life began……
But, it doesn’t end today.
Yes, a great tree has fallen and opened an empty place in the sky.
Our North Star, our brightest light has dimmed.
The blooming flower of our family has laid down.
The last page has painfully turned.
We must turn dry the tears in our eyes.
We must swallow the lump caught in our throats.
We must leave behind us the sadness of her death.
For death is the golden key that opens the palace of eternity and death is not her last sleep, but her last and final awakening.
Death does leave us heart-broken and the hole is large. But, love… a mother’s love, blesses us with memories and strength to walk forward. The cracks in our hearts will let the light shine through. We are on our feet, mom, catching our breaths, and we will go forward. We shall forever carry you with us, for you are permanently stitched in the tapestry of our lives as we were in yours. We know we will not walk alone because you left your footprints in our hearts.
And like you, we choose God and family above all.
Mom knew no spotlight. She chose to let it to shine on others while she cheered on the sidelines. She was unassuming and probably the last person you would notice in a room, but the one you would enjoy talking to the most. She was real. She was very comfortable with herself. She was highly personable, easy to talk to and, well, pretty darn stubborn when she wanted to be. She was an expert practical joker and funny. Quick-witted funny. Clever funny. And, fun.
Mom loved to laugh. She was a happy person and she loved to listen to or watch things that made her laugh. As children, she introduced us to Bill Cosby. She bought his comedy records and we would listen to them over and over again. Together. As a family. She was also “into” Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and the Smothers Brothers like today’s kids are into One Direction, Beyonce and Lady Gaga. They made her laugh and it was so wonderful to have a mother who laughed all the time.
Then there was Erma Bombeck. Mom loved Erma Bombeck. She wrote a newspaper column about Midwestern housewives called “At Wits End” and mom read every one of them. Bombeck wrote best selling books, too. Books like “The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank” and “If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?” She kept those books for her entire life.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to take mom to see the Smothers Brothers and Bill Cosby. I had tears in my eyes – not from the comedians, but getting to watch and listen to her bust out laughing.
We loved her sense of humor.
The greatest advantage a mother can give her children is love. Unconditional love. A mom is one of the only places you can find it. A few years ago I read a poem about mothers. It goes something like this:
A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials, heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine, desert us; when troubles thicken around us, still she clings to us, and kindly she counsels us to help dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.
Unconditional love is all we know from her. And, of course the words, “you wait until your father gets home!” For sixty years, from 1954 to 2014, she let her children stand on her shoulders, or in my case, carried me on her back. Family was her prize. It defined her in every way.
And, she was always there. Hundreds of little league games. Years of high school football games. And yes, one “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves” school play. That’s love. She was my good luck charm in little league. I played shortstop and she sat five feet behind third base at every game. So every time I looked to my right, she would be there. To cheer a good play, or more times than not to cheer me up after throwing the ball over the first baseman’s head. There. From her, I learned to be there for my family and friends. Other than my children, it is the single greatest gift I have ever received.
Mom wasn’t the type of person who wanted a “legacy.” She just wanted a family.
She had five kids in nine years. The first four, Chip, Phil, me and Patty were born in five years. Bill was born four years later. It was a difficult pregnancy, so she stopped at five.
And, thank God she did!
Chip had polio when he was two years old. So, little brother Phil made a living from pushing him down all the time. I was late to dinner every night and dad would blow a gasket every time. Patty was the perfect one. The only child to ever have her own room… and we all still resent it. Bill shared a bedroom with Chip and learned very quickly that “life isn’t fair.” And it isn’t.
Mom was no helicopter parent. She loved us instead. In a lot of ways, she taught us to love ourselves. Now, it took decades, and some of us are probably too good at it now…. But, mom did spend a lot of time motivating and course-correcting us…and it was a full-time job.
But, we are who we are because of mom. And, I am so proud to have been her son and a brother to her children. To us five kids, Mom was a lighthouse. The guidepoint for our lives especially when we felt most lost. Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “friends are angels who lift us up when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.”
She must have been talking about our mom.
I saw mom two days before she died. I brought her favorite chair to the nursing home. When I picked her up to move her from the bed to the chair, her eyes connected to mine and we had a “moment.” When I sat her back down, she put both of her hands on my face, leaned forward and gave me a great big kiss…right on the lips. It took my breath away. She looked up and said, “I haven’t had a kiss like that since dad was here!”
Life is measured by moments that take your breath away. Dad did that in 9th grade. Mom took his breath away, too. They were high school sweethearts, went off to college and nursing school, received their degrees and got married in 1953. “Some people come into our lives, touch our hearts, and we are never the same.” That was their love story.
Dad was the only man mom ever loved. She loved him for 70 years. If there was ever a marriage made in Heaven, it was theirs. They were devoted, loving and an example of what a husband and wife should be for all us. Mom grew up with a lot of arguing in the house and she promised herself that her home would be different. Mom never argued with dad. Ever. She loved him too much to be so little.
Here’s a news flash: Mom got pregnant on her wedding night. Or did she? Chip was born exactly one day shy of nine months after her wedding date. Some of us have been suspicious about the actual conception date, and we kidded her for years about it. 18 months later Phil was born. Yep, mom was pregnant for 18 of her first 25 months of marriage!
Mom and dad believed in family and for the next forty plus years taught us the true meaning of life…love and family. First hand, we saw things like “unconditional love,” “sacrifice,” “hard work and responsibility,” and “faith.”
Today, we stand here as a family with deep convictions about those things because of them.
Into each charmed life some rain must fall. And it did on the morning of August 20, 1997. The love of her life. Her world. Her everything. Was suddenly gone. Dad’s death was devastating to all of us, and it crushed her heart. I don’t think she ever really got over his death and the loneliness. How could you?
She lived 17 years and 10 days after dad died. She missed him and talked about him every day. Every day until Saturday, the day she died.
That’s love. True love. Epic love.
No one has ever measured, not even the poets, how much a heart can hold. But, our hearts are filled with her love and memories of a lifetime.
Her beauty is a reflection of all of life’s moments – love, joy, and sorrow. Mom taught us about the first two and in death, we now know the third, “sorrow.”
Mom, I know a son only holds his mother’s hand for a little while, but I will hold on to your heart for the rest of my life.
You are the star in the sky. And when we look up, we know you will always be there.