It was on Valentine’s Day in 1961 that she gave birth to me. I loved to tease her when my birthday came up every year, saying I had to be her best Valentine’s Day gift, but she said the childbirth part wasn’t that nice.
Her name was Aletha Gay (Hopkins) Gilliland, and she left that life on January 2, 2021, after a long battle with a multitude of illnesses.
I know most people like to say their mom was the best, but if yours was better for you than mine was for me, well, you were extraordinarily blessed.
My parents didn’t have a lot of money, especially in my early years. But if there was something that my three siblings or I really wanted, within reason, they found a way to deliver it.
It’s hard to express exactly how I feel about my mother, but knowing that you are loved beyond measure is an invaluable gift. And I’ll carry this gift from her with me for as long as I live.
I probably cost him a few years of his life by the end of my high school and college days – sowing my wild oats and doing things like destroying every piece in a large collection of family glassware when I helped spill a hutch while on vacation (and my brother and I thought we were too old for such family excursions). But she was always there for me, any day, anytime, anywhere.
There was a day when I was young and my dad would take me to a Little League baseball game. I had done something to upset my mom, and on the way to the game, dad looked me straight in the eye. âYou better straighten up,â he said, âbecause your mom would give you the shirt off her back. “
I did not quite understand what he was saying at the time. But I am doing it now.
My mom was a sharp dresser, and when I had a dance or other formal occasion coming to high school, mom would take me wherever I wanted to shop. This usually meant a trip to J. Riggings in the Dayton Mall. I always left with what I wanted, knowing that I would be dressed as chic as anyone else, right down to a gangster hat, with feathers on one side, I wanted to match a costume that she m had bought for a high school ball.
Thinking back to the pictures of me wearing the hat, I’m not sure I looked so good, but I felt really cool back then.
When the track season rolled around my senior year, I was determined to have the best and latest track shoes available. I don’t remember how many stores in how many towns mum and I traveled to, but it was a bunch. Finally, I found what I wanted. They were royal blue with big neon green stripes, and let me tell you, they looked really adorable with my red and white uniform.
Earlier in my senior year, I got my first pair of Nike basketball shoes. In a game early in the season, I planted my right foot to make a cut to the left, and the right side of one of the Nike’s tore back and forth. There I was, with a high shoe tied around my ankle, and a sock-covered foot on the floor. I finished the game with a Nike and a Converse that I borrowed from a guy on the reserve team.
Anyway, the same week a girlfriend and I attempted to bring the Nike’s back to the store where mom bought them. We were treated rudely, I said they wouldn’t let me swap the shoes.
It didn’t suit Mom. A few days later she made the long trip to the store and I got a brand new pair of Nike.
My mom did a lot of things like that, probably a lot of things we didn’t even know.
This week I received an email from my first year basketball coach Ric Allwood. âYou only have one parent group and you were very lucky to have yours. I can’t think of one without the other. They attended all the events you attended. They were always togetherâ¦ âhe wrote.
He was of course right. They witnessed everything we were involved in, even when I didn’t deserve their presence – unless it interfered with the church.
I could go on, tell you how around Christmas Mom made tons of cookies and candies that we all delivered to church members and friends; how she took time for her grandchildren, nieces and nephews, often visited her siblings and other family members; sets three meals for her family each day, whether she has a job or not (and you how we were supposed to be on time and seated with the rest of the family around a table); or how she and my dad got us pizzas and soft drinks after every Sunday night church service, even though in those early years they sometimes had to scavenge for coins to get enough money.
We might not have had a lot of material things, but I wouldn’t trade my childhood for the world.
Life was not kind to my mother in her later years. She has been ill for a very long time, including the last two years confined to a bed, able to do nothing for herself. It didn’t feel right to someone who had done so much for so many people.
She probably should have been in some type of care facility, but my father chose to take care of her on her own and she passed away peacefully in his home.
If you can somehow hear these words, Mom, please know that you are always with us in our hearts. You always will be. You left us with this priceless gift of knowing that we were loved beyond measure.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of the Times Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.
Jeff Gilliland Staff Columnist