As we transferred our mother, Sylvia, to Niagara Hospice via ambulance, I couldn’t believe the brilliant sunset and picturesque cloud formations that greeted her. My thoughts were on the pearly gates preparing for a grand entrance. If anyone deserved to walk the stairway to heaven, it was my Mom.
“When I find myself in Times of Trouble, Mother Mary comes to me …”
Like the saying goes, behind every successful man is a good woman. The saying couldn’t be more true than in our family growing up. When she married my dad back in 1955, it was a different time. The outdoors became an important part of our life as we camped in the Adirondacks on family vacations every summer. My first camping trip was at 6 weeks old. As dad became more involved with the outdoors and the outdoor writing scene, it was mom who held down the fort. She ran a tight ship, as best she could with three sons and a daughter. If life was an orchestra, she was the maestro. If we violated the rules, though, we were given to dad for disciplinary purposes.
“Speaking words of Wisdom, Let it be.”
When we traveled across the country to attend outdoor writer conferences, with a Scotty travel trailer in tow, she was the cook, organizer, co-pilot, nurse and mother all rolled up into one – the conductor.
Along the way on trips to Colorado, Idaho, Saskatchewan, Maine, Florida and Louisiana, she helped the time pass as the social director. Some of this was documented in the book “Wheels of Joy,” written by another matriarch of the family, Dorothy Hilts of Sanborn, my late grandmother. Yes, writing runs in the family. Even mom penned some outdoor columns along the way.
On the cooking front, Mom was a mentor of sorts. She started out as a novice (like we all do), but with the help of her mom, Adelia, and some pretty amazing friends she met along the way, her culinary talents catapulted by leaps and bounds – especially in relation to fish and wild game.
She was the reason for my cooking obsession and I would often turn to her for recipes or advice when it came to cooking something from the wilder side. While my specialty is any kind of food on a charcoal grill, I love to dabble in different fish and game dishes in the oven or on the stove, trying different concoctions along the way. It’s a way to gain personal satisfaction, at the same time share the rewards of our adventures in the woods and on the waters. Give me someone who doesn’t like venison and I will try to change their mind. My percentage rate is high for the conversion and I owe it all to her.
“And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me …”
She also helped to plant a seed for reading and writing. In the early years when I won a contest for a fire safety essay and an English classroom challenge on a story about being stranded in the wilderness for a month, she worked closely with me on making it the best it could be. I did the work but she guided my path. She instilled a sense of pride and a desire to achieve at a higher level.
She encouraged us to play outside growing up, to be physically fit, mentally fit and compete fairly through good sportsmanship. As we grew up playing baseball and hockey, she couldn’t always be there at our games because of her “Mom” role for my siblings. However, the support was always there behind the scenes, where she seemed to prefer to be. The only exception to that was with her singing passion.
When I made the decision to play hockey, she would bring me to the pond and help me with my skating skills. It started out with a pair of figure skates but gradually it progressed to my first pair of real hockey skates. It opened up a whole new world for me.
The summers were long (for us) and she let us go off on adventures. We would carry our fishing rods to try to locate secluded ponds, exploring the local Cambria area to find unsuspecting fish in murky waters. The only thing she would ask is that we stay safe and be back by dinner. Like I said, it was a different time.
We were lucky growing up when we did. Things just aren’t the same today. Author Richard Louv (“Child in the Woods”) calls it a “nature deficit disorder” that is affecting the health of today’s children. We need to rectify the situation as quickly as possible. I’d like to think we turned out OK, but what does the future hold for the next generation of stewards to our natural resources? Moms (and dads) must come to the rescue due to changes in the family hierarchy.
I don’t mean to imply that our dad wasn’t around. He worked full time for the New York Power Authority for much of my life and he also attended a tremendous number of meetings for writing associations, county federations of sportsmen’s/conservation clubs, New York state Conservation Council meetings and, for 25 years, representing the State Council to the National Wildlife Federation as the state delegate. I started hunting and fishing early because of him. However, someone had to watch the kids and Mom was always there to keep the home fires burning.
“Speaking words of wisdom, Let it be.”
She did enjoy a fair amount of traveling with dad when the kids grew older and she really enjoyed it, a chance to get away and expand her horizons. Spouses are an important part of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the New York State Outdoor Writers Association. Special friends were made.
Mom’s unwavering Christian faith also influenced our values and attitudes. We grew up attending parochial schools in Bergholz, Pekin and North Tonawanda until eighth grade. I can actually say I attended a one-room schoolhouse as a child in first through third grade. There are some pretty interesting stories that go along with school, but that’s for another time. I really wasn’t that bad.
As her last few hours on this Earth slowly slip away, we realize a mother’s love and support cannot be replaced. You only have one “Mom” and I was one of the lucky ones. Many of my friends lost their mothers at a much earlier age. I was able to keep mine around for 62 years. If you still have your mom around, give her a hug and tell her you love her. She won’t be around forever.
Love you, Mom.
“And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me, Shine until tomorrow, Let it be.”“Let it be,” The Beatles