In the early morning hours of March 16, my mother died. Carolyn Rita Gerding Boudreaux was 69.
Five years ago mom was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. This nasty disease turns lungs from life-sustaining breathing organs into fibrous waste material. Fortunately, Mom’s quality of life until her final few days was reasonably good. Portable oxygen machines, modern medical attention and medications allowed her to live longer and more comfortably than would have been the case had she contracted this disease 30 or 40 years ago. And I am grateful to have had her in my life for nearly 50 years.
She was, of course, special to her friends and loved ones. But my mother will receive no footnote in any history book. No monuments will be built to her. No holidays will mark her life. No boulevards will bear her name. Two or three generations from now, no one will know or care that she existed.
Yet she was a good and great woman. Along with the countless other good and great people like her, she was vital to civilization. Remove the likes of my mother from our world and we become barbaric, brutal and dishonest. The capacity for civilized interactions outside of families disappears. Society collapses. My mom (along with my dad) contributed to civilization in the best way that anyone can hope: She taught her children to be civilized.
Such was not her conscious goal in raising her four children. Consciously, she wanted to be only a good mother, a woman who raised each of us to realize our potential. She herself was raised to understand and respect the difference between right and wrong.
For my mom there was never any excuse to do wrong. Professional philosophers will, and should, explore the meanings of right and wrong and debate questions of ethics. But these esoteric musings cannot possibly improve upon the ethics of persons like my mother.
When I was about 5, Mom took me with her to visit our next-door neighbor, Miss Jane. While at Miss Jane’s home, I helped myself to a fistful of rubber bands that she kept around a doorknob in her kitchen. Mom discovered my pilfered booty only after we returned to our house. She grabbed my arm, pulled me back to Miss Jane’s and made me return the rubber bands and apologize for stealing. And that’s what Mom called it: stealing.
I explained that I took only lowly rubber bands. “It doesn’t matter, Donald!” she rightly replied. “Stealing is stealing. And you stole. I’m ashamed of you.”
To this day, I remember that incident vividly. I remember being ashamed of myself.
Do not picture my mom as being a stern disciplinarian. While she was tireless in dealing with us when we misbehaved, my mom’s demeanor was always gentle and loving. Chiefly through the way she lived each day of her life, Mom made us want to be good.
Both my mother and father were born into working-class families, and Mom and Dad were working-class until they retired — Mom from clerking in a hardware store, Dad from fitting pipes in a shipyard. Not once did I hear either of them express as much as a whiff of resentment that their incomes were below average.
It simply did not occur to them to envy wealthier families or to suppose that other persons’ wealth was extracted from our family’s hide. Whenever my siblings or I complained about the poor quality of our family’s car or the cramped conditions of our home, Mom and Dad always said, “Be grateful for what we have and work hard so that you can have more when you grow up.”
Note the optimism in this reply. Work hard and you’ll achieve. As politically incorrect as it is to affirm, this statement is true.
Also politically incorrect was my parents’ visceral hostility to victimhood. I recall many times as a child blaming others for my misfortunes — say, for my poor grades in school — and each time my parents insisting that the only person to blame was myself. How many times back then did I sulk in anger at my parents’ refusal to indulge my excusesâ¢ And how many times today do I thank them for those refusals?
My father and mother raised four children to be responsible, honest, nonenvious and hardworking adults. To my mom’s memory — and to the countless other mothers and fathers in our world who’ve done and do the same — I give my most heartfelt thanks.
Mom, you lived your life well. Very well indeed.