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Some words many years overdue

By STEVE WILSON  

Dear Mom:

It's been 20 years since my last letter, and I'm sorry I've let so much time go by. I know you understand.

I've been thinking about writing you ever since reading a tender piece by Wallace Stegner addressed to his mother called Letter, Much Too Late. He wished he had written it years sooner. Don't we all.

I've tried to excuse myself because you left so suddenly, but it doesn't wash. You deserved to know more than I ever told you.

I remember the call from my brother on a Saturday morning in March. I was at work at the newspaper in St. Paul, Minn.

''Mother died at home overnight,'' Sam said. ''We think it was a heart attack. The only good thing is that she went quickly.''

A heart attack it was. You had passed a recent physical with flying colors and seemed in fine health. For all we knew, of course, you had all sorts of pains and kept them to yourself. That's how you were. You never wanted us to worry.

''When I go, I hope I just drop dead,'' you told us once in your typically plain-spoken manner. ''I don't want to be lingering and have you wondering what to do about me.''

Instead of worry, I have regret about words never spoken.

I need to say some of them today. I need to tell you that nobody ever had a mother more loved and admired. I need to say the things I value most in this life - honesty, fairness, genuineness, compassion - came from you.

Of all your traits, none was more impressive than your positive attitude. No anxiety, no trouble, no sadness would get you down for long. You had no time for self-pity and discouragement; you made the best of things. When I brought home a problem, you would say, ''Let's figure it out and get busy on it.''

Since you gave much of your life to the newspaper business, you probably find it no surprise that I've stayed with it. You had an amazing career, starting as secretary to the publisher at the daily paper in Rock Island, Ill., marrying a young reporter, becoming an editor there with him, leaving to raise three kids, then getting back into it as editor and publisher of a weekly newspaper.

I remember how you were a demon for accuracy, how a misspelled name would aggravate you, and how obituaries had to be letter-perfect. Families will save those forever, you said. There can't be any errors.

Even when you retired, you couldn't get away from newspapers. I remember when you were taking care of your ailing grandson one cold, snowy day. He had a paper route, and no one was available to throw it. So you did, eagerly. You were 66.

You were selflessly devoted to Nancy, Sam and me. I don't know if it was your Methodist reserve, but none of us recalls you saying, ''I love you.'' You taught us it's the doing, not the talking, that matters, and showed us unqualified love every day.

Somehow you were always there. You weren't familiar with today's notion of ''quality time'' - you didn't know any other kind. Whether I had a dead rabbit or a toothache or a term paper, you were there. You were 100 percent dependable and gave me a steady center.

You would like Paducah. In my short time here, I've found this river city a lot like our Illinois hometown. You would enjoy the natural beauty of western Kentucky and the blooming dogwoods. You would also like the friendly feel of the place. I know how much you disliked pretentious and stuffy people; they seem in short supply.

I'm not sure it's supposed to work this way, but I miss you more every year. My memory of the warm spring day we put you in the ground is still vivid. It was your birthday; you would have been 76. It's been hard to go back.

On this Mother's Day, I want you to know I am still guided by your example, your appreciation for the simple pleasures of each day, your resolve to work hard, do the best and nurture the goodness in life.

You showed what counts. I was watching.

Steve Wilson is executive editor of the Paducah Sun. You can reach him at swilson@paducahsun.com.

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