"All My Mother's Babies"
“A mother’s love is like a candle lit and carried through the night.”
Those words crossed my mind as though they were a banner
over my mother’s doorway when I returned to live with her a few months
At 76, Mom’s feet falter a bit and she needs my helping hands.
But, as the days pass, I find that I am the recipient of the greater gift.
Mom grew up on the north shore of Chicago one of six
children; music was her gift and passion from early in life; she graduated from
New Trier High School in 1950 and won a music scholarship.
From there it was off to the University of Arizona and
the Tucson Symphony Orchestra to pursue her dreams of a career in
But destiny walks softly when it doesn’t wear its name or
when its identity is hidden in the immediacy of a moment.
Without a doubt, Mom did not see her destiny walk through
the door of her dormitory with her first date with Dad.
After a rapid romance with this young Marine, she married
Dad in the early 1950’s.
That’s when mom’s life jumped the tracks entirely; she
went from college to marriage to motherhood.
In 1952, my sister was born; our mother’s dreams of a
career in music dimmed into diapers and a backyard clothesline.
Fifteen months later I arrived, and then two sisters’ and
a brother joined us while dad was still a student.
When our father graduated, he took a job in Miami; two more brothers and a sister followed until moms flock filled out at eight.
Eight was enough.
In 1963, mom’s life turned upside down again; our parent’s marriage folded and collapsed.
When a marriage breaks up, the pieces can scatter and
fall everywhere and so it was with Mom and Dad; at age thirty, Mom found herself the single mother of eight kids under thirteen.
Our future was shaky and unclear, but Mom’s love held
steady and true; we were her eight- fold destiny.
Life in Miami was filled with heat and hardship; our
central air conditioner was broken more often than it ran; we only had one room with a window air conditioner.
On nights it was too hot to sleep we gathered up our bedclothes and settled down on the floor under the stream of cool air.
Mom sat in her grandmother’s rocking chair and read to us
from classics of children’s literature.
Her love for books and her children ranked even higher
than the heat; we flew on the pages of the London wind with Mary Poppins and her magic umbrella.
We went to the moon, to the center of the earth and “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”with Jules Verne.
There were so many books we read together that I don’t
remember them all, but there was one that reached through time and space to snag me forever.
“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle is as clear and vivid to me as it was in 1960’s.
It is a science fiction story about three children searching for their father through warps and wrinkles in time.
I never forgot those children; the search for their missing father stayed with me all the years of my life.
We traveled the universe on those hot nights; mom reading
to us in the special effects of the authors own words; eventually ,we fell asleep on the cool terrazzo floor with our sheets and pillows tumbled and tossed in all directions.
Long after the covers of the books were closed, I thought
of those hot nights and the stories we read and I knew that love is a language; there is light in its words.
When I looked into the light I saw the candlelight of my
mother’s love and that it carried all of us through the night.
Mom told me once that throughout the years she could not
go out and leave us alone it was books and her music that saved her
She was a late night student of history, knitting books and murder mysteries.
Many nights, long after were all in bed, mom sat down at
her piano and filled our house with the sounds of the music she loved; Chopin, Beethoven and Mozart visited us those nights and left their melodies on our lives.
These were the most difficult years of Mom’s life.
In 1965, she decided to move north to Orlando in search of new
beginnings and a full time job.
The moving van left ahead of us and we piled into the station wagon.
Mom switched on the ignition and announced, “We are off
like a herd of turtles”, and that is exactly how we traveled through life for the next 20 years.
Mom got a full time job in the insurance business right away; the brothers and sisters and I settled into
our new neighborhood and
schools quickly; the upheaval of our lives was buffered by our sheer
There were so many of us that we didn’t have to troll the neighborhood looking for kids to play with (or fight with).
We made up our own entertainment committee; eight was
enough to form two teams for any backyard ball game.
Occasionally, on a Friday and Saturday night, we threw ourselves an all night slumber party.
If we pooled our change, we had enough money to buy a big bag of potato chips and sour cream dip for everyone.
We poured the chips into giant bowl; dragged the ratty monopoly game out of the closet and set it up on the center of the living room floor.
We divvied up play money like high rollers in a Las Vegas
casino and then circled our cars and ships around the game board in a closed circuit of endless fun.
We brokered our properties with glee and counterfeit greed, passed ‘Go”, got out of jail free and stayed up all night.
Unlike many other parents, Mom knew where her kids were at night and what we were doing.
Long after we were grown, she confessed that her deepest
fear was that we would fall prey to a drug culture that was snapping up one young life after another.
But, in fact, we were children of our times, and it was
troubled generation; flower power, war protest and drugs were
What mom never knew was that all of us sampled the cash crops of the 1960’ and 70’s.
We assembled under the roof of the carport a few times, a family united with a small bag of costly herbs.
Yes, we did inhale, but we quickly exhaled; nothing that
went up in smoke that fast was worth our scare minimum wages and lawn mowing money.
There were times when mom didn’t know what we were doing
while she was at work; but we always knew where she stood.
Whether or not she was there, she taught us the
difference between right and wrong; lessons that live on in all of us as an enduring moral compass.
The new era in Orlando kept rolling out of the 1960’s.
In 1966, mom took an account of the fact that we had never been on a family vacation.
Determined to give her kids a vacation before we all grew up she called a motel on Orlando’s main strip.
It was a few years before Walt Disney World came to
Orlando and rate discounts abounded; at a special price she was able to book oneroom for two days.
We loaded up the station wagon with swim fins, water
wings and bathing suits and hit the pool on arrival with eight joyful, carefree splashes.
The maids whisked away a tornado of wet towels while mom
read and rested.
We dined in the motel restaurant two nights in a row; we
didn’t know we were the guests of honor.
Although it was nowhere to be seen on the menu, the
waitresses brought platter after platter of hot, fresh fried chicken to our table.
Soda glasses were filled and refilled.
Looking back on this “conspiracy of kindness” I knew that
someone in that motel knew a single mother on a shoestring budget was trying to give her kids a summer vacation.
In the years we were growing up Mom had so little money
that she only committed one excursion into fashionable extravagance.
At the time, the ultimate signal of wealth and status was a mink coat.
With the cost of groceries, school clothes and doctor bills there was no money for an expensive coat.
But minks were still high fashion; one day mom saw a
cheap, irresistible fake fur looking at her from a store window.
She brought the poor thing home and then made the mistake
of modeling it in front of her fashion dense kids.
One of the brothers said it for all of us; “Mom, you must have killed a thousand polyesters for that coat!”
I remember when the coat bit the dust and thinking that
it wasn’t the shine in the fake mink that brought out her beauty; it was her overcoat of loyalty and persistence.
Mom went to work every day and came home each night to the eight kids she loved.
She gave us all her time, her working wages, even her college
With nine people to support, mom couldn’t take us to the
regular “sit down” movies, along with the popcorn and three dollar
But movies have always been big business, after they made
money on the first sweep through the box office; they came to the Drive In theatres on the second circle.
“Drive In’s” were cheap, they were everywhere in the 1960,s and early 70’s.
The shows were illuminated in grainy images after dark on
giant outdoor movie screens; sound was piped in through a metal intercom box stuck in the front window of the car.
An occasional “second pass” movie was affordable; all nine of us and every mosquito in town could get in for a dollar a car load.
In the 1960’s, Beatle mania was sweeping the nation.
We waited months for the famous Beatle movie “A Hard Day’s Night” to come to the drive in movies.
The night finally arrived; as soon as it got dark we
loaded the car with a two gallon jug of Kool-Aid and a bucket of homemade popcorn.
We jumped into the station wagon, drove into a gravel parking space and hooked up the Beatles.
I will never forget the generosity of that hard day’s night.
There was mom, the classical musician sitting in the
driver’s seat of the station wagon surrounded by eight kids, droves of hungry mosquitoes and the Beatles coming in through the window.
We grew up in Orlando over the next twenty years, rotating in and out of our teens in solid secession.
One after another we learned to drive, dress cool and date.
Mom survived sixteen year old drivers, boys with long hair and the 1960’s without shock white hair or heart failure.
But the years came and went quickly; mom’s nest emptied as fast as it filled.
The day came when she set a final crock pot full of dinner on the table and asked our youngest brother “Where is everyone?”
He replied, “Mom, I am everyone”
In the 1980’s, John joined the Coast Guard; for the first time since 1952, mom was on her own.
Typically courageous and not knowing a single soul, she
packed up her life and relocated to Dallas, Texas with the promise of a better job.
She worked hard, saved her money and finally retired,
returning to Central Florida with her beloved Kerry Blue Terriers, Vic and Seamus and memories of her good friends.
Although Mom is in her late seventies, I still hear people ask her in disbelief, “How did you ever raise eight children by yourself?”
Her answer is always the same; “I don’t know, I just put
one foot in front of another.”
These footsteps were my mother’s finest moments; they
were the steps of a long and difficult journey.
But she preserved and found her way in the light of a mother’s love.
In the light my mother’s love, I see that destiny does
not always fall to fate but to courageous choices and a kind of perseverance that never blinks its eyes.
Mom’s destiny is now written across the lives of
twenty-four grandchildren and eight great- grandchildren.
They visit often, but most of the time it is just mom and
We go to the store, the bank and the pharmacy together;
if other customers notice us at all they might see an older lady with thick grey hair and a faded face.
I know they don’t see her garment of grace or recognize
that it is woven of hardship and seismic shifts in her life.
The days are passing quickly now with the warning that
once a day is gone it is gone forever but love is times redeeming
It is where the mistakes every mother makes fall away as
if they never stood.
Someday, when I find myself at Heavens Gates with my
inheritance in hand,my deepest desire is to hear the words as my mother before me
“Well done, my good and faithful servant”
After “All My Mothers Babies” was written, I saw that it
had already been written in Heaven.
I walked around the story several times and noticed there
were many missing pages where my memory failed but my mother’s love did
I saw eight lives and mom’s signature written across each
life; for these are all my mother’s babies; we are her eight fold
Peggy J. Symons © Copyright