by Rich Stringer
It took a year and a lot of convincing to get Momma to come off the mountain and move to Florida to be near the rest of the family after she became a widow. An Army Brat as a child, as an adult she had settled down and become rooted to the community where her parents had been raised. After getting moved into her beautiful Treasure Coast home, a sense of isolation overcame her.
Visits from the grandkids meant a lot, and having her sons over for dinner on a regular basis would always lift her spirits, but the hours of the day seemed to drag by for her in a place that didn’t quite yet feel like home. Mom (I call her both Mom and Momma, depending upon my mood, sort of like she always used to call me by either my nickname or both my formal names together – with a stern tone of voice - depending upon my behavior) needed something to do.
I reminded Momma that she had raised us with the belief that the joy of giving is the greatest gift to receive and, after she thought it over a little while, we began to explore the many opportunities for volunteer work in her new hometown. One of the best ways to develop an attachment to a place is to learn its history. Maybe some time at the Heritage Center in Vero would help her get to know her new home. She told me that the idea had merit – what else did I have in mind?
Well, not long after she moved here, I had gotten Mom to go with me to a live musical production, a bittersweet romantic comedy; something that you don’t get much of a chance to enjoy in the mountains back home. I told her that the Treasure Coast is a real artsy place, and there were lots of ways to contribute whether as a volunteer behind the scenes in the theatre at either the Riverside in Vero, Sunrise Theatre in Ft. Pierce or the Lyric in Stuart, or in front of the lights acting with the Vero Beach Theatre Guild. But I could see a wistful look in Momma’s eye, and I knew that I had lost her focus.
It had been her reaction to the word “artsy” that reminded me of the times when I was young and she would sketch me. I stumbled across some of the drawings when we were moving her things, and my childhood recollections of how impressive they were proved to be entirely accurate, not just the hero-worship admiration of a child for his mother. She once told me that before she married and had me, she had been accepted to a prestigious art school. Motherhood changed those plans. I guess love and the added burdens and worries of the years had suffocated her muse.
I took her hand. “Of course, Momma, there is always your kind of art.” I told her about the sterling reputation of the Vero Beach Museum of Art. How the local artists were active in the Vero Beach Art Club. The Cultural Council of Indian River County sponsored lots of events she could take in. Her eyes were still far away as she hesitantly whispered “Well, maybe” with a tone that betrayed her uncertainty at trying to go back to an old love – fearing that it just wouldn’t be the same.
I changed the subject. “Remember how you always out-fished us when we went camping as kids?” I told her there was a group called the Sebastian Fishin’ Chics that hit the local waters for fun and to raise money for different charities. I knew some of them and they were a bunch of fun women. At that point Mom looked me in the eye and confessed that she had only fished to spend time with us; she actually always felt a little sorry for the fish.
Ah, yes, her love for animals. I should have realized that the obvious place to look for opportunities to volunteer for a woman with six dogs in her house was with agencies focusing on God’s non-human creatures. Hoping to nurture an affinity for the unique aspects of Florida living, I suggested the Manatee Observatory & Education Center in Ft. Pierce, and the thought of helping save the gentle-natured mammals did have some appeal for her. On the other hand, all her little-girl dreams of galloping along on the back of Black Beauty could be reawakened assisting in therapeutic horse rides for the physically and emotionally challenged at Fully Involved Farms in St. Lucie County.
In the end she decided that, if animals were going to be her focus, she would take a broad-based approach and work with the United Way for Animals as a way of funding a number of non-profits at once. But, I reminded Momma, spending time with animals is not much of a change-of-pace for a woman with six dogs and, since one of them is a St. Bernard, even the novelty of horses will be somewhat diluted. Maybe her nurturing nature could be directed to the plant kingdom. With the inspiration of either the McKee or the Heathcote Botanical Gardens, she could redeem her long history as a human herbicide.
Mom laughed. She said it might do her some good, but it probably wouldn’t be so good for the plants. Gardening was her mother’s love, not hers. So I asked, what in life have you loved most that you now find missing?
She told me that, once my brother and I moved away, she had really missed being around kids – especially now that the grandchildren were growing up and seemed so much more interested in hanging with friends than spending time with the family. I had to admit that her mothering instinct has always been on overload. One thing I knew, though, was that finding a way to help children in our area is EASY.
The options can be as simple as helping raise money for education like the Sunrise Theatre is doing with its upcoming “Life on Mars” program for the Charter School of Ft. Pierce, to a more intense commitment like developing a personal relationship with a young person through the Youth Guidance Mentoring and Activities Program. Interesting, Mom said, or she could go to the opposite end of the spectrum and volunteer with the Senior Resource Association. Then she might finally believe me when I say that, in her early sixties, in these parts she is hardly even considered a “real” senior citizen.
Mom remarked that we were on the right track in looking at activities that helped people, but instead of focusing on her interests, it would do her spirit more good to bring relief to those that truly need it the most. I told her about the Esther's House Thrift Store that funds services for women with HIV, and she noted that there was always Habitat for Humanity to consider. We agreed that there are so many worthy causes.
Mom said I had given her a lot to think about. Then she told me that she was proud that I had listened when she told me that giving is the greatest gift. “But son,” she added, “didn’t you go off and start a nonprofit on your own?” I told her that I only did that because I was hard-headed and preferred to be in charge. Mom smiled and said, “Where do you think you get it from …
As she walked off to the kitchen to make some coffee, she told me to quit worrying about her, it may take a while, but she’ll figure out what to do with the rest of her life. I could only nod. After all, I’m kind of doing the same thing myself.