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A mother’s voice

By Jefferson Weaver

I was talking with a dear friend the other night, one who lost her mother a few weeks back. Kelly told me how she kept hearing Miss Karen’s voice; not in a ghostly way, but she heard her, nonetheless, directing or reminding or reassuring.

I had to tell her I knew the feeling.

Lois C. Weaver was born in 1929, and died Feb. 14, 2004. She was my mother.

And yes, I hear her voice sometimes, too.

Miss Lois loved music; she was always singing something. She sang out of joy, sadness, loneliness, anger, boredom or to comfort a child, regardless of said child’s age. She loved almost all kinds of music; I think she knew everything recorded by Roger Miller, almost every Broadway musical, the entire Broadman Hymnal, and possibly every country song recorded when country was worthwhile. She wasn’t much into rock and roll, but she was harmonizing on The Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road” before she finished hearing it the first time. She said Pink Floyd was weird, and Three Dog Night was too loud, but she secretly enjoyed singing “Joy to the World.”

When she and the Old Man were moving into the house on Cutchin Street, I went by one day to help. The first thing I heard was my mother’s voice echoing across the plaster walls she had repainted and across the wooden floors she had polished.

I will always remember the sound of my mother singing, but that was just one part of her voice.

When we were kids, Miss Lois would do her best to care for anything we brought home. I reckon I could blame her for igniting Rhonda’s passion for saving baby wildlife.

Miss Lois had a hand with young things; I hear her sometimes when Miss Rhonda is feeding an orphaned squirrel, possum, bird or rabbit. A fledgling thrasher pooping on Mother’s shoulder was something to laugh about. She conducted newspaper interviews with a nestling squirrel sleeping under the ear opposite the telephone.

One of the first critters “we” – meaning Miss Lois – rehabilitated was a barred owl.  I heard joy in my Mother’s voice when a bureaucratic snafu left Rhonda caring for a barred owl long after he should have gone to a rehab center.

Just as Rhonda would call for Horace when the evening’s gloaming settled into the pines at Lagoon, Miss Lois’ voice would sing softly for Barney in Erwin. He would often come when she called, lighting in the big maple tree, clacking his beak in greeting. Mother never made animal noises – she just talked to the critters in her normal voice, as she would any of her children.

I heard my mother’s voice when I was in the courthouse the other day, as a lady of a certain age befriended a scared little kid whose parents couldn’t get along. The lady wasn’t related to the child – she just happened to be sharing an elevator, as was I – but she had the little girl smiling before the elevator doors had really closed. Miss Lois was famous for her ability to calm a little human who was having a bad day; it didn’t matter if she was in church, a grocery store or sitting in a murder trial, she was happiest when she could softly talk a little one.

Mother and I were in a grocery store once when a harried Latina mother came down the aisle toward us. Her baby was crying and the other kids were being kids. Mother didn’t see color or anything else when it came to little kids (or anyone else, for that matter). Miss Lois couldn’t speak a lick of Spanish, and the frustrated mom couldn’t speak more than a word or two of English, but the mothers made friends over a fussy baby. The little one stopped crying, stared, then started smiling at the gray-headed white lady who kept talking nonsense to her.

Just as I have fond memories of my mother’s voice, I still hear Miss Lois sometimes when I screw up, too. Sharp, strong but never shrill. Mother was scary when she was angry or disappointed, but she was no harpy.

She had a happy voice, too, a laugh that rang out unashamedly, sometimes a little too loud, a laugh that made others want to be happy, too.

My mother had another voice I still hear sometimes, when someone stands up for a something important. When she adopted a cause, she didn’t quit. The Small House Arts Center became her baby almost as soon as she and Papa moved to Clinton. She was just as committed to the community theatre, and one of the proudest moments of my life came when some of the folks up that way contacted me about a scholarship that had been named for her. When the N.C. Symphony was considering not returning to town, she worked the phones and convinced the community – and the symphony – that they needed to be there. I sometimes thought Mother could have made a great living as a lobbyist, except she was too honest. You heard that in her voice, too.

I hear all those voices sometimes, as well as the one that read “Listen, Rabbit” time and again as we sat on the porch of the little house in Keener. It was similar in tone to the same voice I heard when I needed advice, whether it was over the telephone or sitting at the kitchen table at 2 a.m. drinking yet another cup of coffee.

Mother didn’t speak while she was dying; the dementia had robbed her of that, although just a few weeks before, she would break out in a few discordant bars of a song in the nursing home. At the end, Miss Lois was in a different place, one where we couldn’t go. We didn’t heard her voice again after the first few days.

The only sounds in the end were from those of us in her hospital room and her determined breathing. Her eyes were sharp and dark and snapping, her mouth set, but her voice was gone.

She followed the advice of the poet, and refused to go gently into the night. She fought to the very end, as she did when she was a child and a forest fire threatened the farm, or when she and grandmother were taking care of the entire family during an epidemic. As she did when one of us was giving up, she refused to quit.

It was appropriate that she went home on Valentine’s Day. My folks never failed to do something special on that day, even when Papa was working. I heard them say I love you a lot. There was never any doubt she meant it when you heard Miss Lois say those words.

I need to tell my buddy Kelly that she eventually won’t hear her mother’s voice all the time, but in the worst moments, she’ll hear her clear as day. When her kids need her the most, they can always count on the sound of a mother’s voice.

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