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Lessons from my mother, who taught me to think

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I was raised by goodly parents in an often stern environment. My mother was the disciplinarian, like her mother before her, and possibly the photos of my great-grandmother revealed similar characteristics of a former generation of no-nonsense toleration. Yet, had it not been for my mother’s tight rein, I might have ended up in far worse circumstances than being grounded for a month or having liberties taken away.

Growing up during the years spanning the Great Depression was not easy for my mother, and it did not get any easier as her first son died three days after birth.

Mother insisted that I learn to think. And that is just what I did as I realized as a youth growing older that my friends were advancing in their Scouting program and I was not. The local Methodist Church my family attended did not have much support when it came to Scouting opportunities, and so I began to look elsewhere. That search led me right to the doorstep of the LDS Church and the attainment of Eagle rank as a Methodist, in the LDS troop.

It was my mother who single-handedly ended our high school tradition of "initiating" those who lettered in sports, after she discovered my bruises and cuts when I arrived home late one night from such an initiation.

I often reflect on the day when I announced to my parents that their little boy who had learned to think was being baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was not a happy day for my mother. She felt betrayed somehow. Her basic instincts to fight for her children when she felt they were in danger kicked in, and she did everything humanly possible to dissuade me from taking this action. And when all else failed, she and my father left town during my baptism day on Dec. 22, 1962. When I returned home that night, I found their note; it read, "Have a Merry Christmas."

What does a mother do when she feels abandoned by her child? Well, this one forgave. At least for a year. I again rocked my parents' world by announcing I was pulling out of college to become a missionary for the church I had joined. This time they pulled out all the stops, reminding me of the scholarship I would forfeit, offering to raise thoroughbred horses together and discontinuing any financial support whatsoever.

I look back now, having seen the change that came to my mother as they offered me a choice of a mission or a college education, and I chose the greatest education a young man or woman could obtain by serving a mission. I saw the blessings that flowed to my parents. I saw my mother overcome an addiction that held her captive for so many years. Yet, somehow the blessings of a son’s missionary service entered her life, and when her own mortal strength wavered, an unseen hand gave support and encouragement to overcome.

When I chose to marry in the temple for all eternity, my mother stood outside and waited, her heart again broken but somehow pieced together with dignity and composure. She would again recover. My church callings have provided her an opportunity to sit in sacrament meeting, unsettled and unsure — except that she believed in her son and taught him to think and to accept responsibility for his choices. Her role, she taught, was to support and to love. She did both so very well.

When the word cancer is spoken in a family, it has a ripple effect. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, we thought this was the end. Yet, as she lay in one bed at the Mayo Clinic, undergoing treatment, and my father dying in another bed from the spreading of cancer into his bones, she would again rally whatever marvelous forces she could, and somehow, miraculously, defeat that dreaded disease so she could attend to my father as he made his way from this world to the next.

She lived less than 10 years following my father’s death, succumbing to effects of long term-smoking and cancer treatment. Yet, her legacy is solid among her family and those who knew Dorothy — or Dot. She was a fighter. She was a survivor. She knew Jesus and often told me so. She was so wise. She knew when to guide, when to put a foot down, and she later learned how to forgive and to change her thinking, although the pathway was rocky and uncertain. I believe we call that faith.

Charles “Chuck” Malone is a member of the Durango Ward, Gilbert Arizona Highland Stake.