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A Mother's Day tribute

My momma would not buy me white go-go boots in the fifth grade. She said they were a fad that would fade. Of course she was right about that, and so much else.

As Mother's Day approaches May 13, here's a tribute to the perfect mom for me: Mary Hill Gaston Flagler of Gastonia, N.C.

Somehow, my mother managed to make raising my three sisters, two brothers and me look easy. But the truth of the matter, as she once told me, was: "I looked down and I never looked up." She always kept up with the laundry, cooking and grocery shopping without complaint. She loved to have her "machines" going -- the washer, dryer and dishwasher. Time to herself was out of the question.

It has been nearly six years since my mother died at age 81. Her simple parenting guidelines, the ones that worked for our big family decades ago, still hold true:

*Rise above the chaos and the noise.

*Use common sense.

*Have home-cooked dinners together.

*Keep a stash of chocolate.

*Avoid coddling your kids.

*Loosen or tighten the reins as needed.

*Pick your battles.

*Be thankful for what you have.

*Let your kids make some of their own choices.

*Don't do your child's homework.

*Don't hover and fret.

The bottom line: Work toward everyone being "safe, warm, dry and well-fed," as my mom used to say.

Looking back, it's hard to see how we made it: We had one station wagon with no seat belts, and one phone line with a batch of teenagers. Plus -- no pizza deliveries, takeout food, microwave or baby sitters. But Mom managed.

We kids pitched in, of course. In fact, one of the best gifts I ever gave my mom ended up being a lot of work for me. In second grade, I made a dogwood tree out of construction paper and gave it to her for Mother's Day. It had petals for her to pull out, each one with a chore written on it. I loved making the pink petals, but I overdid it and wound up with way too many jobs. She made me complete them all.

Mother's Day was always special. Mom had a rose garden right outside our back door, and on Mother's Day, she clipped a white rose to wear. My sisters and I wore pink roses, and off to church we walked like ducks in a row. Momma always loved to have her ducks in a row.

As a little girl, I didn't understand why she always picked a dull white rose to wear from among the pinks, reds and yellows. Later, I found out that white was a tribute to her mother, who had died of cancer when Mom was 3. Her father died unexpectedly when she was 13, and her brother was killed in the Battle of the Bulge while she was in college. She rarely talked about it, but her even keel and desire to have a big family were born of her immense losses.

What I miss these days: her fried chicken sizzling in a black skillet. Sweet tea with sprigs of mint. Fudge icing that we were not allowed to touch while it was cooling. Playing Scrabble together. The way she said my name. And most of all, the feel of her hands -- so soft, even after all that work.

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