|R.L., Ethel, and Bobby Downing, 1943|
fourteen siblings. They were both 21 years old when they married. Within a year or so, the new couple moved to Baytown, Texas, where it was said jobs were in abundance. In the next fifty years together, they managed to carve out a living, create a home, and see four children born into their family. When her first child was born (her first and favorite one...namely, me), she quit her job and became a full time professional mother and home manager. Throughout this period, Mother remained loyal to her husband, cared for her children, and established a home where there were standards of behavior and conduct. Meals were home prepared, and dining in a restaurant was usually reserved for Sunday after church. We children never worried about food, clothing, shelter, accidents, or love because mom was always there. Dad was there, too, and played an equally important role. Although he brought home the bacon, Mom cooked it. Honesty and integrity were just two of many high expectations in our relationships with one another and our acquaintances.
Mother was a bit of a disciplinarian and expected...demanded...that her children behave properly both at home and away. She did not flinch from the observed need to give one of her kids a swat (after a warning) to remind the child (probably one of my sisters) that she was being pushed to the limit. She was sort of the first line of defense when it came to discipline, however. If the situation really went south, that was when she called for backup (Dad) to establish order. I knew I was in deep trouble when I saw Dad removing his belt or, if he was outside, reaching into his pocket for his pocket knife and cutting off a low-lying branch of a tree and stripping it of its leaves. Bleeding heart liberals today would yell "child brutality!" at such actions, but the discipline worked...I behaved...and I never doubted my dad and mom loved me. Usually with just a few minutes of the perceived torture, we were all happily engaged in whatever activity going at the time.
I do remember, however, one time when I was a little older...around twelve or so, I did something to deserve a swat from Mom. Sure enough, she popped me with whatever...and I laughed and said, "That didn't hurt!" To which she replied, "Let's wait till Dad gets home." I knew I had just committed a cardinal sin and was about to reap my judgement which I did a few hours later when Dad got home. After that, I grimaced whenever Mom disciplined me whether it hurt or not.
In 1950, Mother and Dad were introduced to Pentecost and in a matter of weeks were baptized,
|Easter Sunday, 1950|
There's an old song that states:
"If I could only hear my mother pray again.
If I could only hear her tender voice as then.
How glad that I would be!
It would mean so much to me!
If I could hear my mother pray again."
In 1990, Dad passed away, and Mother's loyalty to his memory never wavered, and after 52 years of marriage, she never really recovered from his loss. She would live with his ever-present memory for another 14 years.
On December 24, 2004, the family laid Mom to rest in a simple, elegant ceremony at a small farming community cemetery in her home state of Oklahoma. She had survived the Great Depression, World War II, and 87 years of life. I was reminded of the admonition of Paul to the Philippians in his epistle to the Church:
"Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord."
Though she has been sorely missed, she lived a full life, faithful to her husband, her children, and her God. And today I can rejoice in the Lord…..because Ethel Mai (New) Downing was my mother.