Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 17 May 2002 21:47:51 -0400

Mother's Days

RUNNING COMMENTARY 414

No matter how old we get and how far we stray from the family nest, we never leave our parents. And they never release their hold on us. They stay forever in our actions, if not always in our hearts.

I'm both my father's and mother's son. You longtime readers have met my late father, Jim, and one of his brothers, Chuck. Dad was a sprinter and jumper good enough to compete in college, but he retired before his 20th birthday.

Uncle Chuck was world-class before anyone used that term, sprinting a 48.6 quarter-mile when the world record was little more than a second faster. His running ended with college graduation.

I wasn't a sprinter, but whatever speed I had was a gift from the Hendersons. Like them I started fast, running most of my fastest races before turning 21.

My mother's family, the Kings, hasn't been properly introduced on these pages. It's time I corrected that, because they're an equal part of me.

From this side of the family came the gift of endurance. Uncle Bob King ran, and sometimes raced, into his mid-70s. He still hikes hefty distances at 83.

My mother, Virginia, never ran a distance race. I couldn't imagine her ever wearing running shoes, let alone shorts.

She never learned to drive and did much of her daily commuting on foot, always hurrying. I recall her near-running everywhere in our hometown -- in dresses and high-heeled shoes.

Arthritis has slowed her to a painful, cane-assisted shuffle now, but she has endured. She reached her 85th birthday just after Mother's Day.

Mom's official sports-playing was limited to the only sport available to girls of her youth. She played center in basketball -- at four-feet-10.

This was the era of the three-court game -- with forwards, guards and centers occupying separate zones. Coaches put the shortest players in the middle where they never had to make baskets at one end of the floor or rebound at the other. Centers weren't shooters or jumpers, but runners.

Dad grew to normal height but always seemed a little smaller. He was the quiet one in the couple, seldom starting a conversation.

Mom never seemed small. Both of her feet reached the ground, and that was good enough for her.

She has always been big in personality and voice. Professionally trained as a classical singer before dropping out to marry, her later performing was limited to weddings, funerals and Sunday church services. At home she could fill the house with the music she made.

She never thought of herself as a college dropout. Someday I'll complete that degree, she vowed. And she did, nearly 40 years after starting, and after working as a bank teller, postal clerk and college secretary to fund her four children's education.

Mom wasn't trained as a journalist, as her husband and three of her children all were. But she wrote as much as any of us as a correspondent for area newspapers.

Her most lasting writing has been a weekly family/friends newsletter. She took this over from her own mother more than 30 years ago, and it continues today. The "kids" now contribute, but Mom remains firmly the editor-in-chief.

The years have played bad tricks with her memory. Yet she remains a loyal fan of Iowa high school and Drake University sports.

Continuing a lifelong habit, she lets no one she meets feel like a stranger. A photo in my office shows her embracing Suzy Favor Hamilton as if she were a long lost granddaughter, though Suzy had no idea who this friendly little old lady was.

They met last year at the Drake Relays, a weekend that is bigger than Christmas in our family. This April, Mom opened her home to a crowd of 60 relatives and friends, who sat together at the track meet.

I haven't been back to the Drake Relays in too long, and I return to Iowa too seldom. I left home in the 1960s, but in a way have never left. I'm proud to say that I remain a mama's boy.

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