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A son’s parting words for his mom

I’m a momma’s boy.

There, I said it.

It seems like I spent much of my early years trying to avoid that label, but my mom died a week ago, and the least I can do is to publicly acknowledge that she was the person most responsible for shaping who I am.

Barbara A. Hawkins, 80, died in her bed in her Peoria home surrounded by her family — as she would have wanted. Her death came less than a month after she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

No matter what you think of me, I believe you would have liked my mom. Most people did. She had a warm smile and made an effort to connect with everyone she met.

As I said in her eulogy, everybody thinks they have a great mom, but as kids, we KNEW we had a great mom because everybody else told us so. She mothered all our friends who came into the house, even those with perfectly good mothers of their own.

I was her first born, the oldest of five children. A mother pours a lot into her first born, starting with expectations, and mom would have expected me to write about her now — as I did with my dad when he died almost 13 years ago.

Mom kept score on such things. My parents were divorced. She always taught us to love and honor our father, but I always thought she would have preferred for us to love her a little more.

Mom held the family together and raised us under difficult circumstances — and understandably wanted her children to recognize that. But no kid wants to choose between his parents, and I resisted letting her hear what she wanted.

From such a dynamic come complicated relationships.

I always wanted to be more like my dad, as most boys would, and thanks to the gene pool, everybody always said I looked just like him. My mind works a lot like his, too.

But everything that comes from the heart, the real essence of me, and pretty much everything important that I learned as a youngster, that’s my mom.

She’s the one who made sure I never went through a day of my life doubting that somebody loved me or doubting that somebody was proud of me.

Her values form the basis for mine, most of them drilled into me with time-worn sayings such as “Honesty is the best policy” and “Can’t never did anything.”

It was mom who taught me to read from the headlines in the newspaper, and look what that started.

I don’t know that I ever expressed any of that to her just that way, maybe because it hadn’t clarified itself in my mind.

Oh, I thanked her plenty and always told her I loved her, but I was hesitant to write about her. I once wrote a column about her corny sayings for Mother’s Day, and even though I’d say it still holds up today as a heartfelt tribute, I don’t think she liked it. She thought it oversimplified who she was.

Mom could be hard to please like that, or easy to please — with just one good story to share about her grandchildren.

As proud as mom was of us, she always liked to leave room for us to make her a little more proud, which was her way of pushing us to achieve.

A week ago Thursday I moved up my plans to head down to Peoria to take my turn looking after her. My idea was to get into town and write a column about her dying, making the points about her influence of me, then read it to her.

But she suddenly took a turn for the worse, and the weather turned a three-hour drive into a six-hour drive. It was all I could do to get there before she took her last breath.

I always called my mom on Sundays to exchange family news. That’s no longer possible. I could never have told her I was a momma’s boy, which is why I’m telling you.