The young boy wept as silently as he could, lying on his pallet on the floor. It had been a traumatic day, and the fact that his mother was working the night shift for the first time didn’t help much. He cried, realizing that no comfort would come, but to an eight year old boy, facts don’t change feelings. As the tears flowed, the sobs gradually grew louder until even his father in the living room below heard it and came to the foot of the stairs. “Quit that crying now. You know it won’t change a thing. Your brother is in your bed because he has to get up early in the morning for summer school and he needs his sleep.” Small comfort, that. As the sound of his father’s footsteps faded away, the sobs also subsided, but the tears and sniffles continued unabated. And, it was too bad his mother wasn’t home. She would have known that all he needed was a quiet voice of assurance and a warm hug to be convinced that all was well and the storm clouds would have rolled away. But the tears just kept coming. And, it reeked of smoke up here!
Mere hours before, the young man had his own bed to sleep in, and the thought of Mom being gone for the night was not a problem at all. That had all changed in a few exciting moments that hot summer afternoon. As the family sat and did various activities in different parts of the house, the young man was in the state he was frequently to be found in; engrossed in a book. Sprawled across the couch, he skimmed the words on the pages being turned as quickly as he could. As always, the “fluff” on the page was getting in the way of the action, so he skipped past the unnecessary words and interaction to get to the exciting parts. Two of his older brothers stomped noisily down the stairs and he glanced up, annoyed. They were nothing but a distraction and it was a pretty sure bet that they would be picking on him any minute now. Sure enough, the teasing started within moments. “Man, he’s moving those pages quickly. Do you suppose he’s reading any of it?” “Naw,” came the answer. “He doesn’t do anything but skim the books. He couldn’t even tell you the names of the people in the story.”
The tormented reader opened his mouth to protest (even though it was all true), but was interrupted by his Dad, sniffing the air and shushing them. “Do you smell smoke?” He rushed to the stairs and looked up, to see the air on the landing filled with it, billowing from the room above. “Call the Fire Department!” he called, as he ascended the steep stairway. Within moments, he was yelling down the steps, “There’s a mattress on fire up here! Somebody hand me a hose through the window.” The boys rushed to comply, as their mom frantically dialed the telephone to reach the fire dispatcher. The hose handed high above their heads outside to their dad, who was waiting with the screen unhooked and shoved outward, they attempted to re-enter the house and go upstairs too. He refused to allow them to come up the stairs, so they watched from the back yard, as he worked feverishly inside, spraying water from the garden hose on the flaming mattress and papered wall, which had also burst into flames. Probably none of the boys will ever forget the sight of their father sticking his head out the window, gasping for breath, gagging and choking on the smoke; all the while directing the stream of water on the flames inside the bedroom.
The fire was out by the time the fire trucks arrived, but that didn’t lessen the excitement in the neighborhood. They had roared down the street, lights flashing, and sirens screaming. It couldn’t have been any finer. They were coming to his house! The little boy just knew he’d have a story to tell for days to come and bragging rights with it too! Anybody can talk about the fire trucks coming to the neighborhood. He and his brothers were the only ones who could boast that they came to their house. The big firemen pushed past the crowd and on into the house, checking to assure themselves that the danger was truly past. The ruined mattress was flung out the window to the yard below and then the inquiry began. How could this fire have occurred? Recalling that the two older brothers had just come down the stairs moments before it broke out, the questions began with them. It didn’t take long to clear up the mystery.
The two delinquents had been sitting on opposite sides of the room, “shooting” matches at each other. You remember matches? Those wooden sticks with red caps on them, that you struck on the side of the matchbox to ignite? Well, these young adventurers had figured out that if you held a match with your fingertip on one end of the stick, forcing the business end downward onto the striking surface of the box, you could flip it with the index finger of the other hand, driving it across the room as it blazed into life. If you were unlucky enough to be struck by the lit match, you might get a small burn, but it was exciting and fun to see who could sit still as the burning piece of wood approached. Almost like the game they used to call “Chicken”, it was pretty fun, even though they knew it would earn them a spanking if they were caught. They didn’t really worry when they couldn’t find one of the matches after it reached the other side of the room, figuring that it had just gone out on its own. Tiring of the game after awhile, they headed downstairs to torment their younger brother. He was always good for a laugh; until he went whining to Mama. All too obviously, the one errant match had not extinguished itself, but had smoldered in the bed sheets until it blazed up and quickly was out of control.
Fast forward to bedtime that night. The oldest boy was without a bed to sleep in, but while all the other boys were out of school for the year, he was making up some work in summer school and had to get up early. It was decided that the youngest would sleep on the landing area of the stairs upon a pallet made up of blankets. Mom said her goodbyes as she left for her first shift of taking care of patients as the night nurse at the old folk’s home across town. The trauma of having no Mom in the house was the last straw in an already very trying day, and the waterworks began.
Is there a point to all this? Just one. Never send a man to do a mother’s work. My father was just fine for fighting fires and could leap tall buildings with a bound. He was perfectly competent when he was taking control of situations in the light of day. He was even pretty good at keeping the teasing of older brothers to a minimum. But there is absolutely no substitute for a mother’s love. No amount of Daddy’s logic could approach the calming effect of just a touch and the knowledge that Mama was near. Dad was great when you needed a strong take-charge hero, but it was Mom who calmed the troubled spirit and chased away the night-time fears.
I miss those days. I’m fairly confident it was just the same for my children as they grew, and now for their children as they are getting older. Maybe it was even the same in your house. It’s a pretty good system. Am I a sexist? I don’t think so. I would say that I’m a realist. God gives us different roles to play as parents which we’re uniquely equipped to perform. I hope all of us can continue to live up to the example set by both of our parents and theirs before them.
If your mom is still living, tell her thanks and give her a big hug this week. Hug her even if you’re not the hugging kind. She’ll get over the shock. If your mother isn’t alive, why not honor her by keeping her memory alive in the minds and hearts of your children? You’ve got memories to share and a story or two to tell. Your kids will cherish them for the rest of their lives, too.
“Motherhood. All love begins and ends there.”
(Robert Browning~English poet~1812-1889)
“Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also, and he praises her.”
(Proverbs 21: 28)