The imperfect mother taught me to laugh, learn and pray

Some call her Ruby. Friends call her Dolores. I call her “Mom”.

But don’t you dare call her “Tootie”. Only her siblings called her that.

The name she is most proud of is “Valedictorian,” her high school class of four of 1952. With that honor, she crossed town to enroll at Baylor University. A year later she broke through with my father for life as a pastor’s wife.

Four years later she was struggling with two toddlers when I became her third child in diapers.

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Mom wasn’t perfect.

She wasn’t my best friend, my confidante, or my heroine.

She never taught me how to cook, how to match my clothes, or how to manage my emotions. To this day, she doesn’t often express her pain.

She told us she loved us, but it seemed like she had more of this merchandise for my brother and less for my sister. She still maintains this preference.

She could set fire to the house with her Baptist swear words like “dadburnit”, “by cracky” or “dadgummit”! From the next room she yelled, “If you kids don’t get along, I’ll throw that damn TV in the yard!”

It’s funny now, but not so much then.

But as I grow older, father of four, I see how Mom taught us to laugh, study and pray.

If you met the 88-year-old, you would understand my column humor better.

For example, if you get on an elevator and the occupants ask, “Up or down?” My mom might reply, “Up or down depends on whether you turn around and change your behavior.”

I’ve been known to use her pun humor when I meet a new minister. They are amazed when I ask them, “What abomination are you?”

Learning was one of the biggest expectations Mom had of her children. She had studied to be a teacher, so spelling, syntax and grammar were her strengths. (That’s why she proofread almost all of my columns.)

Somehow Mom managed to get dozens of Dr. Schedule Seuss books along with subscriptions to Popular Science, Highlights, and Jack and Jill. Every week she added a new volume of the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia to her shopping cart.

She passed this love of learning on to her children and grandchildren. When her granddaughter Sara started the Chispa Project to bring libraries to Honduran elementary schools, Mom signed up to be a monthly donor (more on that below).

But my mother also guided my faith. As early as I can remember, she would dress her three children in Sunday clothes and seat us in the pews of the churches my father pasted—twice on Sundays and again on Wednesday evenings.

Happy Mother's Day

As a young child, I would rest my head on my mom’s lap while she sang songs like “Amazing Grace” and “It Is Well With My Soul.” Hearing the lyrical notes pierce her diaphragm and erupt with an operatic tone gave me a peace that my life was guided with purpose.

Twenty years after she left Baylor, I almost broke her heart trying to enlist as a military air traffic controller instead of studying to be a minister. She broke down in tears and Baptist swore she would find a way to send me to Baylor instead. She did.

But what she did two months later changed my life forever.

She visited me in New Mexico where I was doing a summer job in a Baptist camp. Spotting Becky’s name on a bulletin board, she commented, “You went to daycare with that girl. You should meet her.”

I did, and four years later, Becky became my wife.

Actually, I think Mom is my heroine after all. Happy Mother’s Day, mom!

Mom’s contribution will go a long way next week when I take 12 volunteers to Honduras to set up a library focused on girls’ literacy. It’s a joint effort with the Chispa Project and another non-profit organization, Niña/. Learn how you can help at or

Visit to learn more. Send comments to [email protected] or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or by voicemail (843) 608-9715.

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