Eighty-nine years ago today, in a small but growing town in Central Florida, the first child of Willie and John Peck was born. They lived with Willie's parents, youngest sister, and brother, the only ones still at home of a family of eleven children.
Her father, John, was a seaman and had already seen much of the world, although he would see even more in the years to come. Her mother, Willie, was a seamstress and had owned a store when she was a very young woman. She loved them both, but had a special devotion and affection for her father, remembering him always as so much better than he really was, and cherishing throughout her life the times she spent with him.
She would have a hard life - raped at 14 and forced to marry a much older man; then falling in love with and marrying a good-looking, sweet-talking man who never grew up; years during WWII working on airplanes and traveling between Florida and Maryland, leaving her baby son in her mother's care; contracting polio as a young mom, pregnant with her third child; and raising three children as a divorced woman in the 50s, selling door-to-door cosmetics, encyclopedias, automobiles - whatever it took to keep her family together and provide for children all but abandoned by their father.
Through it all, she kept faith - in herself and in her God. Surely she must have shed many tears and wondered many times how she would ever manage; but her children never saw those tears or heard the fears of her heart. She could make hot dogs for dinner seem like a feast ("We're having meat tonight, kids! Don't eat too much or you'll get protein poisoning!"), and somehow she could always scrape up the cost of a ticket to the high school football game to see her son play.
She was mistress of a home filled with love and laughter. Her daughters' dates often ended up sitting around the kitchen table, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, talking until it was too late to go anywhere. Their friends nearly always preferred visiting her to spending time at their own homes. Even after her kids were all married and moved away, old boyfriends would stop by to see her, bringing their wives and kids to show off.
She grew old quickly. Polio had taken its toll, and osteoporosis was the final insult. At age 72, the doctors said she had the body of a 90-year-old. Still with that irrepressible humor - and with a breathing tube down her throat - the intensive care nurses told her and her children that they needed to keep the laughter down: "There are sick people in here!" and, "We'll just close this door so you don't disturb them."
In 1992, just 13 days after her 72nd birthday, she died. I miss her every day.
Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.