What I learned from my mother

Sister Barbara Ann Mayer | June 21, 2017

My mother is an inspiration to me. She had only a grade school education and worked as a maid and a housecleaner, but she had a courage and a faith that put me to shame.

First of all, she married a man twice her age and left her family in Germany to come to America with him. She knew no English and when my father died five years later, she was left with two babies to raise on her own. She also fought to keep her children when her two stepdaughters tried to declare her an unfit mother in order to adopt her children. She tried to return to Germany, but it was 1936, and conditions were deteriorating in her homeland so she could not get a visa.

I have no idea how she scraped together the money to feed and clothe my brother and I, but we never went hungry or looked shabby. After my mother remarried 10 years later, my stepfather was retired and we lived on his small pension, Social Security, and my mother’s housecleaning jobs which at that time paid only $5 a day. Through it all, we went to a Catholic school and Mass every Sunday. I can still remember Mom putting 50 cents in the collection, saying her rosary, and praying from her German prayer book.

My mother made many sacrifices so that her children could have what they needed to succeed. People always commended her on her well-behaved children. We weren’t that obedient at home, but we usually did well in school. We didn’t always appreciate what she did because we couldn’t go on vacations and to ball games like other families did. I’m sure we caused her a lot of grief during our rebellious teens. But she was very proud when my brother was ordained a priest and I became a nun.

As I look back on my early days, I am grateful for the lessons I learned from my mother. First of all, I learned the importance of prayer and living simply. My mother used to say, “Ein Gott, ein Rock.” (One God, one dress). She took pride in mending and darning to make things last. I also learned cleanliness and hard work. We mopped our front porch and scrubbed the floors every Saturday. And laundry was an all-day affair, with wringer washing machines and hanging sheets and clothes outside on the line.

Life was not without its bad times. I ran away from home once because I thought my mother was too strict. I used to hide under the bed and read when I didn’t want to do my cleaning jobs. And I fought with my brother because I resented his being treated better. (He could play ball or go fishing when I had to stay home and help Mom.)

But I developed a work ethic and a desire to serve others. I learned that people were more important than things. My mother cherished her German friends and loved playing cards with them. She visited neighbors and often brought them homemade cookies or pies. During the Second World War, she sent food and clothes to her family in Germany, refraining from buying things for herself. My mother was not perfect, but she taught me how to be a good Christian, more by example than by words.