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

Sun, 2 May 2004 20:52:10 -0400

Mother's Days

RUNNING COMMENTARY 517

(rerun from May 2002 with updates)

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. My late father, Jim, was a sprinter and jumper good enough to compete in college, but was retired by age 20. I wasn't a sprinter, but was a fast starter too, setting my last mile PR at 20.

From my mother Virginia's family, the Kings, came the gift of endurance. She never ran a distance race, and couldn't imagine her ever wearing running shoes, let alone shorts. But she had stamina.

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.

Mama'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.

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

Mama 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, and in her persistence.

She left college in the 1930s without a degree but refused to think of herself as a 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.

Mama 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 enduring writing has been a weekly family/friends newsletter. She took this over from her own mother in 1970, and it continued through the end of 2003.

By then the 86 years had played bad tricks with her memory and her legs. Yet she remained a loyal fan of Iowa high school and Drake University sports.

Continuing a lifelong habit, she let no one she met 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 at the Drake Relays, a weekend that is bigger than Christmas in our family. Each April, Mama opened her home to relatives and friends, who sat together at the track meet.

I sat beside her at the Drake Relays in 2003, after too long away. A year later her seat was empty.

But she endured through that 2004 "holiday" weekend so family and friends, in town for the meet, could come to her hospice room to say good-bye. She died peacefully three days later, just short of her 87th birthday and Mother's Day.



Virginia King Henderson
May 17th, 1917 --
April 27th, 2004

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