Floye Josephine Joan Vogel Omness Eilers, my mother, fell asleep in Christ thirty years ago, today. Arriving in the world in August, 1923, she departed this vale of tears when she was only sixty-two years old.
I wrote about her a year ago as 2015 marked her being gone for exactly half of my life. I am writing again because I have so many more readers now and, truly, I want more people to know my mom.
Mom was notable for many things. I’ll get the sad ones out of the way, first. The reason she was “Omness” before “Eilers” is because she married Lowell, known as Pike, before my dad (who was a childhood neighbor and friend of Pike, and served as a pallbearer at his funeral. “Dad, way to go picking up a chick at her husband’s funeral!”). Pike died of cancer when they were married only a year. Certainly, Mom didn’t take that as an omen for the rest of her life, but it sure seems like one.
Soon after marrying Dad, Mom was pregnant with my brother, Jim, the first of what Mom always said was “ten pregnancies in our first eleven years of marriage.” Jim was born healthy but, as an infant, contracted whooping cough, was not properly medicated, and his brain was damaged to where his eyes became permanently crossed, and he never was able to walk or talk. (Despite this, he’s still alive, just turning 64, so he outlived Mom.)
Very quickly came Tom and then Sue. Two miscarriages later, Mom was carrying me. Jim was now five. Mom could not see how she could care for Jim’s intense needs with three other little ones. Dad and Mom made the excruciatingly difficult decision to have Jim made a ward of the state. Easily, this was the single-hardest thing of Mom’s life. I know this is true by how she spoke of it.
After me came Dave, then two more miscarriages, and, finally, Mark. Nearing forty, she went to her priest for relief. “Floye, you have done your duty. Yes, you may use contraception.” We kids always cringed when Mom spoke frankly about things that make kids cringe, but I am thankful that she did, including the sex talk after Dave asked what those two dogs were doing in the street. Sheesh.
Mom had her mother’s feet, which is to say: FLAT—so flat that before she turned fifty she was forced to wear the ugliest support shoes. A few years before that—I think it was the spring of 1967—she was diagnosed with cancer. I was nine. At the news, I vividly remember thinking that my mom would be dead in a year, and ran up to we boys’ bedroom and bawled. In true Mom fashion, she came up and scolded me.
She had surgery in late March. On April 1, her doctor came into her room. “Floye, you do not have cancer. You have diverticulitis.” Mom’s reply? “It’s April Fool’s Day. You’d better not be messing with me.” Yeah, she was a pistol.
I’m sure my Swister, Sue, will remind me of some that I missed, but I’ll take a stab at all of the maladies and tragedies Mom suffered:
• Early widowhood
• Jim’s debilitating condition
• Four miscarriages
• Flat feet
• High blood pressure
• Thyroid trouble
• Type II diabetes
• Breast cancer
• Bone cancer (she died of heart failure just before she was to begin chemotherapy for this)
• Bad nerves (I am quite sure that “I need my nerve pill” was heard more than “I love you”)
Oh, and five very active children at home, hence the nerve pill.
As a father of four, I wonder how mine compared with we kids when we were growing up. We drove mom to exasperation, and she commonly croaked these cracks, comebacks, and conclusions.
• When feeling used and abused: “I’m just a fixture in this house.”
• When spanking us: “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”
• When so frustrated that she couldn’t remember a name, she ran down the order. For me it was: “Jim! Tom! Susan! Greg! You know who you are! Get in here and get in the bathtub!”
• When we were slow to mind her orders: “I’ve told you umpteen times . . .”
• When we whined about our given name: “We gave you kids good saints names.”
• When something bad or wrong occurred: “It never seems to fail.”
• When we finally reached the end of her patience: “I’d leave you kids if I wouldn’t be arrested for desertion.”
She never left us. We continued to treat her like a fixture.
Speaking of fixtures, she kept them clean. And the floors. And the clothes. And everything else. “This house looks like a cyclone hit it,” would be heard when a friend came over and there was ONE THING out of place.
• Laundry day? Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
• House cleaning day? By her: any/every day of the week. By us kids? Every Saturday, despite nothing being dirty because she had already cleaned it twice that week. (I did NOT inherit the clean gene.)
• Supper on the table? 5:05 p.m. Every day. When Dad got home from work.
• Grocery shopping? Each Friday.
Mom was the hardworking housewife equivalent of Dad’s bring-home-the-bacon husband, yet, somehow, Dad would appear at home at odd times when Mom was all caught up and watching her “stories” or playing with one of the games she stored at her chair. “I just sat down! It never seems to fail!”
Swis and I, as we daily chat online, love to quote Mom’s goofy sayings, some already noted but there are so many more.
• When that last sliver did the trick: “Every little bit helps, said the lady as she peed into the ocean.”
• When playing cards: “It never seems to fail. I need runs and all of my cards are in sets.”
• When we did something dumb: “Your head would fall off if it weren’t connected by your neck.”
• When we couldn’t find something that was an easy find: “If it were a snake, it would have bitten you.”
• When she caught us in a prevarication: “You lie like a rug.”
I never once heard her say, “Wait till your father gets home.” Nope. No need to. Mom took care of business. One time, Dad cracked wise and called Mom “Sarge.” She was not happy. So what did I do? I called her “Sarge” the rest of her life. Honestly, I think she liked it.
Without trying, Mom taught me many lessons. It certainly is possible that the result of Jim’s treatment would be found as malpractice, yet my folks, never with money to spare (“Tomorrow is payday and I have one dollar left.”), could have made a haul. “Money would not fix Jim,” she always said. “The doctor did his best. We never considered suing.” When my son, Johnathan, died after taking ill on the day of his birth, several folks asked why we didn’t sue. Because of my mom, it was a no-brainer that we would not be doing that.
“Mom, why do you shop at both drugstores in Montague, and all three grocery stores in Montague and Whitehall?” “Your father is the city manager. It is important to patronize all of the businesses.” As a pastor, I did the same, and always tried to shop in town, even paying a bit more to support our local businesses.
Mom was impetuous, generous, ornery, and long-suffering. She had a great sense of humor, was a splendid singer, and loved to dance. She was just plain fun to be with. Sometimes, she even was cool. When ABBA hit the scene in the mid-‘70s, Mom loved “Waterloo.” “Who is this?” “It’s ABBA, Mom.” “Let’s go buy their album.”
Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, Mom took care of her family. Sure, I could have lived with fewer spankings, but I could have tried harder not to earn them. Since “I wouldn’t be spanking you if I didn’t love you,” I know that she loved me a lot!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I’m often thankful that you didn’t have to see the suffering of my past few years, even as I’m sad that you didn’t get to know all of my kids or see me become a minister or adore Julie as I know you would. When I went into the ministry, you should have seen Dad! He was so proud! On the day I received my first call, he was so giddy that he wouldn’t stop talking. I was always so tickled at how sweet he was, always asking me how things were at church.
I knew you well, Mom, so I know how it would have gone with my gender dysphoria and then transitioning. I know, because you showed me when your teenaged niece got pregnant. You told us kids, “Your cousin made a mistake, but we aren’t going to make it worse by judging her. We are going to treat her as always.” By that, and by everything else I knew about you, I am confident how it would have gone with us these past few years since I fell apart.
First, you would have hurt for your son’s suffering. Then, you would have learned about my condition. Finally, you would have accepted my transition, even understanding that I needed to make “Gina Joy” my legal name, despite the good saint’s name you had given me, which I will again be in the resurrection. You would have adapted to my new name while you struggled with changing the pronouns. “It never seems to fail! I’m sorry I called you ‘he.’” “It’s okay, Mom. Thank you for trying so hard for me.”
I miss you, Mom. Often. Deeply.
Hey, I’ll see you soon—whenever the Lord calls me home to heaven where you and Dad worship Him. Because of our Jesus, whom you loved through faith, whom you taught us to love in faith, and through steadfast worship and daily prayer, I’ll be there. There’s nothing more important to me than being a Christian, Mom. Nothing.
You know what? I still say the bedtime prayer you taught us. Of course, I adapted it to my stage of life, always praying for my kids and their spouses, my grandkids and my siblings, and concluding it as we did when sitting on the bedroom floor: “Help me to be a good person, have a happy home, and stay healthy.” I suppose I’ve prayed that over 15,000 times.
When I next see you there will be none of the crying that I am doing right now. We will smile! And laugh! And rejoice forever, because our Jesus gave His life into death so that our deaths would lead to eternal life.
I can’t wait to say, “Hey, Lord Jesus! This is my Mom! And this is my Dad! Thank you so much for making me their child, and their taking me to you!”
With the deepest affection, love, and gratitude, to a woman who simply could not have been a better mother,
Gregory John/Gina Joy