Archive for May, 2011

Dorie Underwood

Chocolate Milke and Lemonade

This column first appeared in the May issue of Forsyth Family magazine:

As I was growing up, my mother gave me many gifts.

Years before I learned to read, I had my own library card. My mother would take me downtown to the Children’s Room at the public library. We would pick out a pile of books, and, when we came home, she would read them to me. When I turned 5, public-school kindergarten didn’t exist. She organized a kindergarten at the church where my father was the minister. (I spent a fair amount of time in the hall that year because I talked back to her in front of the other kindergarteners.)

Every Sunday, we went to church. After Sunday School, I went to the sanctuary and sat with my mother and younger siblings on the second-row pew. As long as I was quiet during the church service, I could draw or work on holding my breath as long as I possible.

From early on, my mother – and father – included me in the process of making decisions that affected me. Rather than just tell me what was going to happen, we would talk through the pertinent aspects, and they would ask me what I wanted. (When it was hard to figure out the best choice, I would sometimes wish they would just tell me what to do and be done with it.)

At the time, it was just my life, and I didn’t recognize that not every child received such gifts.

I was ever alert, though, to perceived injustices such as the time my mother made me pay for my sister Dawn’s Barbie doll when I smashed it by throwing it down the stairs even though she hadn’t made Dawn pay for my flashlight from the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago when she broke it. (After I pointed that out, my mother did allow me to deduct the cost of the flashlight from what I owed my sister.)

It was only as an adult that I began to understand just how much my parents had given me by providing a solid foundation in the life of the spirit, an understanding of the importance of treating others with respect and an underlying sense of being loved. My love of books grew into a desire to write things that others would want to read. Even paying for that blasted Barbie taught me about taking responsibility for my actions.

My mother – Dorothy Louise Parker Underwood – won’t be here Mother’s Day. She died in August, some years after dementia began dismantling her mind.

Even in the depths of dementia, though, she continued to give gifts. Sometimes, we would be riding along in the car, and she would say, “I don’t think I have ever seen such a beautiful spring.” More often than not, my first thought would be, “That’s just because you don’t remember any other spring.” But then I would look around, and I would see, in a way that I wouldn’t have if she hadn’t said something, just how beautiful the world can be.