MOMMA'S BOY – A Mother’s Day Reflection
By Tom Gumbrecht
When I was growing up in the late 50s and 60s, being labeled a Momma's boy had a decidedly negative connotation to it. It meant you couldn't handle things on your own, that you were always dependent on someone else to fight your battles. I was called many things in my youth, but never a Momma's boy, and I was proud that I had avoided that moniker.
My dad was stoic; cool. He never asked anyone for help that I can recall. He was a tradesman, and we took care of any and all repairs and improvements in our little post-war house in Glen Cove ourselves. I learned the basics of everything to do with construction from him, and lived for his very reserved nods of approval. Dad had artistic talents as well, but his painting, mostly realism, was a very private affair to him. He would create in private and then bestow his work on whomever he though might appreciate it most.
My mom’s name was Helen, and she was into the arts. She was a professional ballerina, and later a teacher of ballet in a small studio Dad built in the basement of our home. She was also a lover of animals, the importance of which was lost on me until much later in life. She had the heart of a rescuer, if not always the means and the opportunity. It was obvious that I was my father's son; I had learned a trade, was reasonably adept at it... and I did everything I could to avoid asking for help.
I always liked animals, but they were in the background. I would play with the neighbor's dog, fed my mother's cat, and occasionally dog-sat for an employer or a friend, but shied away from the responsibility of having a dog of my own. Then a niece with whom I was close offered me a puppy from the litter of her German Shepherd that I had developed a fondness for. We named the puppy Jessie, and in raising her our lives were changed forever. We lived then in a beachfront community in Centerport, with winding streets and charming little homes with pleasant families of which I had made the acquaintance of exactly two. Then Jessie came into our lives, and in walking those streets she made friends with everyone and took me along on her cuteness tour. The private beach that was formerly just a pretty view our our back window was now a place for Jessie to meet neighborhood kids, chase frisbees, catch a ball and learn to swim. I was 43 years old and felt like a kid myself.
Several years later a business project placed me at a show stable for several weeks, and I found myself attracted to the horses so began to take lessons and ended up pursuing horsemanship with a passion. How did a woman who had never been involved with horses give me the gift of horsemanship? It was a randomincident a few years ago which helped to crystallize the images in my mind of the influence she has had on my life all along. I was sitting on the deck of a close friend who I had met through riding. Caryn is a wildlife lover and has rehabilitated many squirrels and prairie dogs over the years. To sit on her deck is to be immersed in a Disney movie with squirrels coming up on laps, looking over shoulders, hanging from screen doors: a real sensory overload for the uninitiated. On this afternoon, we were feeding them nuts, and I was in awe of the connection I felt to the wildlife. That's when it hit me: my mom had been totally immersed in the wildlife on our little 60' X 100' plot, feeding and caring for squirrels and birds of all description. She took care of a neighborhood cat who wandered in and never left, for 20 years, and she made our tiny yard into a botanical garden. We made fun of her squirrel stories as adolescents, but now the memory of them was pulling me closer as I reflect on my voyage of discovery into my own identity.
With the clarity of hindsight, I can easily see how so much ofthe quiet shaping of the man I was to become, had come from my mom:
• I got my entrepreneurial spirit from Mom. Dad was a skilled and hard worker but it was Mom who hung her own shingle and put herself out there in the world at the ballet studio which inspired me to a self-employedcareer which allowed a horsey lifestyle for 30+ years.
• My love of animals definitely came from my mom. Dad tolerated them and was never unkind, but they brought pure joy to Mom, as they have to me in later life. She saw responsibility as a gift, not a burden.
• Mom was a person of faith, whereas Dad was a little jaded by the sometimes harsh experience of inner city Catholic School life in the early twentieth century. I went through the motions as a child, but fully embraced my spiritual side in later life. Mom never forced her beliefs on me, but possessed that quiet assurance that I wanted for myself and eventually accepted. She communed with her Creator in the quiet splendor of nature, and her example inspired me to do the same. She believed that the joy she got from her animals was evidence that her God loved her and wanted her to be happy. I find that I am closest to my Higher Power when in the company of my horses.
• My mom had a spirit of adventure, and I definitely inherited that from her. Starting in my early twenties I flew small airplanes, sailed boats, did semi-extreme off-reading and rode horses. Mom supported and occasionally joined me in all of my hobbies, including riding one of my horses at age 84. Dad was the official photographer, offering support and interest but from a safe distance.
I grew up with two great parents, who both taught me life's important lessons, mostly with me never realizing I was being taught. While she was not a horsewoman per se, the horseman I became was as a direct result of the influence of my mom. Mom has been gone for some time now, yet she is with me every day.She never did teach me to dance, but I think she would have been pleased to see me dance with my horses in the dressagering at our eventing competitions.
While I would have cringed at the thought of being a "Momma's Boy" in junior high, I now wear the title proudly.