On Tuesday, August 4, 2015, at precisely 1:25pm, my mother’s heart beat for the last time. A few weeks later, at her Celebration of Life event at Riverbend Church in Austin, I was fortunate to be able to reflect for a few moments on her beautiful life to those family and friends in attendance. What follows are my remarks:
Velma. Velma Jane. Velma Conklin. Velma Rawson. Mrs. Rawson. Mommy. Mother. Maus. M. Aunt Velma.
These are but a few of the many names that my mother answered to. But the name she most cherished, and the name we all knew her by over the last 35 years of her life was simply, “Mam”. If you knew my mother, I don’t have to tell you how lucky you were. If you didn’t know her, or didn’t know her well, I want to give you an insider’s perspective of the way in which she lived. And the best way I can convey that is to describe what I believe are her three most endearing characteristics. My qualifications are based on 53 years of experiencing the near-constant imprints she made on me, given that I saw or spoke to her almost every day of my life.
The first characteristic I would attribute to my mother would be Humility. Over the years, I have come to realize that humility is a wonderful descriptor of my mother. I read one time that a humble person’s a happy person. Humble persons can find joy in their life, regardless of what life holds, and simply enjoy what God has called them to do. That was my mother. Perenially behind the scenes, she never sought the spotlight. In fact, she hated the spotlight and would avoid it like the plague. For example, not many people outside of our family know that my mother was a nationally ranked long-distance runner during her middle-aged years. In fact, she won her division of the very first Capitol 10K way back in 1978.
This humility, however, did not apply to the stories she loved to tell. She was all too happy to convey her life narrative, and she was very adept at it. My earliest memories were made whole with spellbinding stories. Stories, for example, about a neighboring farm owned by a catholic family, the Casper’s, who she theorized were working to bear 20 offspring apparently in order to earn a free trip to the Vatican to see the Pope. I heard about my mother’s Uncle Amos, who was famous for evading an angry Steele county sheriff in the dead of winter, driving through corn fields using only the tip of his index finger to defrost the window during blinding snow, and then pressing his eye against the small hole in the windshield to navigate his way so as not to damage the money crop. I heard about the miraculous family doctor “Doc” Ertel who would make house calls any time of the day or night and fix virtually any ailment that might raise its ugly head. Apparently, Doc Ertel was much more than a country doctor, having advanced degrees in cardiology, orthopedics, neurosurgery, internal medicine and of course obstetrics. I surmised this, because according to my mother, there wasn’t an ailment he couldn’t fix in a well-lit farmhouse kitchen. And how could I forget about Hilltop District 82, the one room schoolhouse that educated my mother in ways that modern-day schools can only dream about. That little school gave her the confidence to leave the only home she had ever known at the ripe old age of 18 to serve her country in the United Stated Navy; it gave her the educational foundation to start a lasting career in nursing, and it gave her the necessary grammar tools to redline my masters thesis decades later in my own graduate school! Yes, these stories, which conveyed my mother’s humble beginnings, were a central part of my upbringing.
James 4:6 states that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” It’s no wonder my mother had Grace to spare.
The second characteristic I would attribute to my mother is her Lovingkindness. I don’t remember a day in my 53 years that my mother didn’t display love to me. The kind of love that envelopes you, immerses you, and embraces you. In fact, there was even evidence of this love before my earliest memories. I recently came across an article and picture in an old scrapbook, published by the Fort Worth Star Telegram way back in 1966; the article was about a regional skating competition in the Metroplex. And I quote the article: “The tots were about as graceful as a herd of day-old colts. But they won the hearts of the crowd with their mighty efforts at the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum. First on the floor was Brian Rawson of Austin, a blonde tot hardly old enough to walk. During the course of his number he fell repeatedly but kept grinning through it all. He finally finished his number, bowed, then rushed off the floor at top speed directly into his mother’s arms, where he dissolved in tears”. My mother embraced me many times over her life, and wiped away many of my tears.
Her lovingkindness wasn’t reserved for family, as was evidenced by the nicknames she gave folks whose names she couldn’t quite recall. Names like Stinky (a runner on the Hike/Bike trail), Slewfoot (my mother’s main running competition for many years), Chrome Dome (a neighbor without much hair), and Walker Texas Ranger and Coffee Mate (friends of our three sons). She was fond of them all, and they her.
The third, and in my opinion, the most endearing characteristic of my mother was her Servant Spirit. It is said that true servants focus on others, not themselves. It’s not that they think less of themselves, but they think about themselves less. Everyone who knows my mother knows this to be true of her. Everyone around her also knows that her servant spirit was the catalyst for all of us gaining weight because of her relentless passion to serve three meals a day, provide homemade snacks on the hour pretty much every hour, and craft probably the most famous Sweet Iced Tea in Texas, replete with half a pound of Imperial Pure Cane Sugar in every half-gallon.
She recently gave me an example of her servant spirit, and a lifetime memory. Two years ago, as I began a bicycling journey around the perimeter of the United States, my mother and father provided SAG support on the first leg of the trip, from Austin to Phoenix. I have vivid memories of her waiting on me around every bend of my journey with a cold drink to quench my thirst, a healthy snack to give me strength, an embrace to encourage me, and a pat on my rear-end to comfort me.
Yes, this was my mother, the pride of Ellendale Minnesota, the girl who served her country, the woman whose actions shaped countless lives, and most importantly the mother who cradled my heart from it’s first beat to her last. Velma. Jane. Conklin. Rawson. Thank you Heavenly Father for giving us the miracle we called “Mam”. Welcome Home my beautiful mother, Welcome Home.