ClarkCountyToday.com Editor Ken Vance shares his memories of his mother Donna Vance, who passed away in 2004
This is a very difficult column for me to write. Maybe that’s why it’s been five years since I’ve done so.
Mother’s Day is a difficult day for me, at least it has been for the past 14 years since my mother, Donna Vance passed away at the age of 76. It seems each day since (Oct. 22, 2004) has been more difficult than those that came before. I’ve said it many times, my world just hasn’t been the same since my parents died (my father Roy Vance passed away six years prior to my mother).
This is my story about my mother and how she impacted my life. Each of you have your own story and I’m sure many of you have one similar to mine. My life hasn’t been a bed roses, but I’ve been blessed. I’ve got nothing to complain about. I’ve received more than I’ve been given. The good times far outweigh the bad. And, when I count my many blessings, my mom’s finger prints are on nearly every one of them.
I was the fourth of four boys that my mom gave birth to. After I arrived, my parents finally gave up on their dream to have a girl. Raising four boys in a household of six, my father was essentially an adult boy, was no easy task for my mother. I shudder when I think about what she put up with, running a household almost by herself while my brothers and I were off pursuing our passions — playing sports, riding motorcycles, hunting and fishing, or getting into mischief by generally bending the rules as far as we could without breaking them (at least on most occasions).
I can’t remember my mom ever sleeping longer than I did in the morning. She usually went to bed exhausted before I would finally call it quits each night, but that was because she spent nearly every waking minute of each day doing for others.
Ours was a lower, middle class household. That might only be my impression, because my mom did everything she could to shield us from the financial burden that she carried as much of as she could without exposing it to the rest of us. I remember going to the grocery store with my mom one time when I was young. When it came time to pay for the groceries, she tried to hide from me the fact that she was paying with food stamps. I remember being so embarrassed that I was silent when we got the groceries loaded and were seated in the front seat of our car together. She knew the selfish emotions I was feeling and she felt compelled to apologize to me. I can’t imagine the emotional weight she was carrying at the time and yet she felt she needed to apologize to me!
I remember one year when it was time to go back to school. I was in junior high, a time in each child’s life when peer pressure seems at its greatest. My mom told me she could only purchase one new pair of jeans for me to go back to school with but she promised she would wash them every night so they would look new each day.
My mom was the most selfless person I’ve ever met. I seriously can’t recall a single thing that she ever did for herself. Her days were consumed with doing for others, mostly my brothers and my dad. She always had a job, often times working more than one job in an attempt to make things a little easier for our family. In addition to that, she almost single-handedly ran the household with painfully little help from the rest of us. She also sewed her own clothes, canned fruits and vegetables and each year made the best blackberry jelly I’ve ever tasted.
If selflessness was her greatest quality, loyalty might have been her second greatest attribute. My mom would support us, and defend us, no matter what. Participating in sports was a large part of my youth. I remember my mom being at almost every one of my sporting events over those many years. I recall one basketball game during my senior year of high school. It was to be played on a Tuesday night in Castle Rock, which was a two-hour drive from our home in Carson. She apologized to me that she wasn’t going to be able to make it to the game, which was completely understandable considering she had to be at work the next morning bright and early. I’m not sure if she missed any other games that season. My mom was also loyal to my dad during 47 years of marriage. I love my dad as much as any son loves his father, and I won’t go into details, but staying married to him for nearly five decades was no easy task.
Another of my mother’s many qualities was that she was incredible likeable, dare I say loveable. She truly was one of those people who you would have to search far and wide to find a single person with a negative word to say about her. As long as I can remember, my mom worked as a cook at two elementary schools in the Stevenson-Carson School District. The students loved her, not just my friends during the years that I was attending the school but even years later when I was older and people would come up to me unsolicited and tell me how much they liked or loved my mother. There were strict rules in her job about portion sizes and food costs, etc. But, my mom always did whatever she could to make sure no child went hungry. If an extra portion or seconds were needed, she found a way to make it happen.
I will never forget a conversation I felt compelled to have with my mother (and father) when I was about 21 years old. I was finally mature enough that I saw my childhood through a lens very similar to the one I’m using to look back through now. I was very emotional as I apologized for not being a better son, for taking them for granted, for being consumed with my own needs and not sympathetic enough to theirs. I could tell my mom appreciated my heartfelt words, but she did everything she could to ease the burden of guilt that I obviously felt.
I found out a lot about my mom in the final six years of her life, the years she lived after my dad died. My father’s death, obviously, had a large impact on each of us. I lived about an hour’s drive away from my mother. I worried about her, even though I had brothers that literally lived across and down the street from her. You see, being the baby of the family, I was always the momma’s boy. My brothers were best at taking care of all her needs — mowing her lawn, doing maintenance around the house or on her car, etc. — but my concerns were always more about her emotional state.
I remember one time I made the familiar drive up the Columbia River Gorge to visit her and take her to a routine doctor’s appointment. While in the waiting room, we ran into a high school classmate of mine, who was there with her son. My friend said, “isn’t that nice that you’re taking your mom to the doctor.’’ My mom replied with a big smile, “and, he calls me every day.’’ That memory brings me joy.
I also remember the years after my maternal grandmother — Elsie Bryson — passed away. My mom’s family had a reunion each Mother’s Day Weekend for many years. It was held in the Yakima Valley where most of my mom’s family resided. Even though it was a little bit of a jaunt, my brothers and I knew that was one event we absolutely couldn’t miss each year. My duties as a reporter covering the Portland Trail Blazers often took me out of town for the NBA playoffs on Mother’s Day Weekend. Each time that happened, I made sure to send my mom flowers and call her on Mother’s Day, often from the press table of a playoff game that I was covering, which meant she could look for me on TV while she was on the phone with me. I liked that the small gesture on my part made her happy.
During my life, my parents didn’t have much of a social life. I always knew that was my dad’s preference and that instinct was proven to be true after he passed. My mom loved my dad and she missed him dearly after he passed away, but those last six years of her life were very happy for her in many other ways. She truly blossomed. She became very active in her church. Among the many ways she contributed was to be a key member of a quilting group that not only made sure every graduating senior had their own quilt to take away to college (or wherever they were headed) but the group also made as many quilts each year as they could to send around the world to those in need, specifically young mothers. My mom also made sure before she died that every member of our family had at least one of her own handmade quilts to remember her by. To this day, I still have two of her quilts on my bed and a couple more in my closet.
In those final years of her life I was also blessed to spend a lot of quality time with my mom. I invited her to everything I could think of — Trail Blazers’ games, concerts, vacations, an annual summer trip with friends to the Oregon Coast, etc. I don’t recall that she ever said “no’’ to any invitation. She was willing to try anything new and to experience everything she hadn’t experienced before.
Selfless, loyal, lovable and fun — just a few of the many qualities that made my mom special. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there. May you be blessed and honored for all that you do!