Besides being a glorious spring month, May is always a special time for me. Mother's Day appears on the May calendar, and so does my own mother's birthday. Everyone loves their mother, and I am certainly no different. However, I believe that my mother is special. She has been a wonderful blessing to me since she brought me into this world, nearly 59 years ago.
Patsy Ruth was the oldest of five children, born to Jerry and Mary Stidham, in Logan County, WV in 1929. Yep, that makes my Mom 80 years old this month! Her sister, Hessie, died from leukemia at age 12, and a baby brother known as "Buddy" died in infancy. Her siblings who survived were younger brother, Bob (now deceased) and sister Dori. Papaw died in 1968 and Mamaw joined him in 1996. So now, it's just Mom and Dori remaining from the original Stidham family.
My grandfather was a coal miner, who later worked for the United Mine Workers of America, eventually serving the union as an International Representative. He was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1948 as a Democrat from Logan County. During his time in office, he served in the House with future West Virginia Governors Underwood, Barron, and Moore, and with future United States Senator Robert Byrd. He was active in several fraternal organizations and was well respected in Logan County and throughout the coal fields of southern West Virginia. He was an unpublished poet, and in 1964 was named West Virginia Poet Laureate by then Governor Hulett Smith. In 1960, he gave his life to Christ and was later called into ministry. He served as Pastor at a church in the Charleston area during the brief time that they lived in Kanawha County, and eventually served as Pastor of the #20 Whitman Community Church (the church were he was saved in Logan County) until the time of his death. I remember him as a kind but strong man who loved and served others.
My grandmother was a "domestic engineer" and one of the most dedicated Christian ladies I have ever known. Her life revolved around her Lord, her church, her husband and children, her special friends, and her 10 grandchildren until the day she died. She was a woman of prayer and great faith. She had the ability to make each of her grandchildren feel that they were her favorite. Mamaw was kind and generous, and would give her last dollar to someone in need.
Mom seemed to inherit the best qualities of both of her parents.
Her early life couldn't have been easy. She suffered from a bout with polio as a child, and has gone through life with one leg slightly smaller and shorter than the other. She grew up in the small dirty coal camps, living in little houses owned by the coal companies. As the oldest sibling she had the responsibilities of helping with housework and helping to care for the younger kids. Mamaw always said that Mom was a good girl, but that her only fault was that she had a "sassy mouth" at times. That was hard for me to imagine, because the Mother I knew was such a sweet and godly woman. I rarely ever heard her even utter a cross word.
Mom excelled academically. She was an honor student at Logan High School and was offered a college scholarship, but opted to go to work for Island Creek Coal Company. Her first job was as a clerk in one of the Company Stores and then later in the payroll department of Island Creek's main office in Holden. She had given her life to Christ as a young girl and was actively involved in her local church. She was a beautiful young lady and there were a number of fellows in the Holden area who came calling from time to time, but God had someone else he was preparing for Mom to meet.
That meeting came at the old Franklin's Dairy Bar on Stratton Street in Logan, when a friend introduced her to Caudle Adkins, Jr., a U.S. Navy veteran and young Baptist preacher. The rest, as they say, is history.
Mom and Dad were married on July 3, 1949 at her parents house with both families and several neighbors in attendance. I came along in October, 1950, Bruce joined us on Valentine's Day, 1955, and Carl discovered America in September of 1960. The three of us and our families will be honoring Mom and Dad by celebrating their 60th Wedding Anniversary in a couple of months. We hope many of their friends and neighbors will join us.
My mother was a stay at home mom for many years. Her days and nights were filled with caring for the three of us, and keeping things organized for Dad, who was a very busy bi-vocational evangelist for many years. She was sharp as a tack and took care of most of the "business" of the family. She read constantly, loved to discuss the Bible, and taught teenage girls in Sunday School. She also always worked in Vacation Bible School in the summers. As Carl got older, Mom decided to get back into the workplace. She worked for a while in the local drug store, and for several years in the offices of two Huntington doctors. First for Dr. Martin (a dermatologist) and later for Dr. Hoffman (a urologist).
Sometime in late 1995 we begin to notice some changes in Mom. Mamaw told me, "I'm worried about Pat. She is getting awfully forgetful." And she was. What we first passed off as "absent mindedness" eventually became reason for concern. She obviously had trouble with her short term memory, and her behavior patterns were changing. She might mop the kitchen floor, and then come back a few hours later an mop it again - with no memory of having done so earlier. Losing her car in the supermarket parking lot became a more and more common occurance. That, and a combination of other circumstances over a period of time led us to decide that something was wrong and she should seek the advice of a physician.
When the diagnosis came back - Alzheimer's Disease, her life, and ours changed forever.
For Linda and I, the last 10 years have been a real mixed bag of joy and sorrow. We have welcomed four precious grandsons into our family, but we have also experienced loss. We lost her mother suddenly to death, and we are losing mine little by little each day. Now she is only a shell of the sharp, vibrant woman that I remember. Her eyes, that once sparkled with life, now seem strangely empty. She still knows Dad and each of us boys, and our wives, but she is now having trouble remembering and recognizing her grandchildren, and the great grandsons are just a mystery to her.
The one who once was the rock that anchored our family, now cannot tell you the name of the President, the day or year, or even her own age. She is unaware of my battle with cancer. She doesn't know that Dad had surgery and was hospitalized for seven weeks. Her days are spent in a fog like existence, alternating between long periods of silence, lots of sleep, and times of constant chatter, asking the same questions over, and over, and over again. What a cruel disease for such a dear lady to endure.
With Mother's Day arriving tomorrow, and Mom's 80th Birthday coming a couple of weeks later, I know that no gifts or flowers or cards that we give her will be remembered for more than a few minutes. I also know that the day will probably come when she will not even know who we are. But we will know who she is, and will continually thank God for giving us such a dear and precious Mother.