May 11, 2012
By Rebecca Gladden
Mother’s Day is this Sunday.
I hope you’ll pardon me for being a bit self-indulgent with my column this week.
As some of you know, my mom passed away on January 1, New Year’s Day, just a few hours after midnight. New Year’s Eve had been her wedding anniversary. Thirty years later, it became my anniversary, too.
Last December 31, I sat by her bedside until about 11 p.m., knowing that she was dying, but not knowing how much time she had left. I headed home and fell asleep on the couch, just after the clock struck midnight, ringing in New Year 2012.
At about 2 a.m., I received the phone call that she had died.
Throughout her life, one of my mom’s most notable traits was her love of learning. She was an avid reader and had an amazing variety of interests - from astronomy to politics, religion to world events, and so much more.
Mom was 81 when I began writing this column in 2004. From the onset, she was not only my biggest supporter, but also my proofreader, critiquing every article I wrote for the first several years.
Though never a harsh critic, she didn’t hesitate to let me know if she thought I’d missed the mark on something or if a particular passage needed clarification or could have been better expressed.
She especially pushed me to make sure each article had a crisp, clever ending.
A writer herself, my mom’s command of grammar, syntax, spelling and vocabulary was superb. While reviewing my articles with a critical eye, she also provided plenty of encouragement.
In short, she made me a better writer.
Mom was not a NASCAR fan when she started proofreading my articles, but she quickly became intrigued by the sport and its personalities.
Her favorite drivers were Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
She called them her “cutie pies.”
She adored Darrell Waltrip. She felt he had a gentle kindness that shone from within.
After her stroke, as her health gradually deteriorated, mom was no longer able to proofread my articles. But she still loved to read them, or have me read them to her, and never lost her enthusiasm and inquisitiveness.
When we talked, she always asked how the NASCAR season was going and who won the most recent race.
If she saw a commercial featuring one of her favorite drivers, she would remember to tell me that her “cutie pie” was on TV.
Mom was a psychologist with a Master’s Degree in the field, as well as a Marine (WWII) and a New York City probation officer. She had an interest in psychic phenomena and topics like handwriting analysis, which she was quite good at. She seemed to combine the basic techniques of handwriting interpretation with her own (psychic?) intuition, arriving at amazingly accurate perceptions of people’s personalities.
One night, several years ago, we got on the topic of NASCAR drivers’ autographs. Mom began commenting on the way various drivers formed certain letters and what it said about their personalities.
Her observations were so insightful that I told her we should write a book on the topic. Sadly, we never followed through.
Photo Courtesy West Valley Care
Dr. Kleven, my mom's Jeff Gordon lookalike
For what it’s worth, the one signature that puzzled her was Kasey Kahne’s. She said that he guarded his feelings closely and didn’t want anyone except those closest to him to know what he was really like. His handwriting was enigmatic, she said, and so was he.
Mom never liked going to the doctor and was a big believer in alternative healthcare practices, decades before they became fashionable. Over the past few years, when it became necessary for her to see an allopathic physician, we visited several before she found one she trusted.
Why this one?
Because he reminded her so much of “cutie pie” Jeff Gordon. And she told him so.
Eventually, he became her hospice doctor, and cared for her until the end.
In February 2011, less than a year before mom passed away, I had the opportunity to interview Darrell Waltrip at an event in Phoenix. It was a small, fairly informal gathering, so I did something we in the media are cautioned never to do. I asked for his autograph -- not for me, but for my mom. I told him that she was in poor health and that it would mean the world to her.
DW didn’t hesitate. He not only wrote his signature, but personalized a message to her with her name, Janina, and a get-well wish.
And he said he would pray for her.
In February of this year, I saw Darrell again at the same event. I reminded him of our conversation last year and told him how my mom’s eyes lit up when she saw his note - how she kept it on her bedside table so she could look at it every day - and how much she appreciated his prayers.
I also told him that she had just passed away.
For a moment, DW’s eyes welled up with tears. He said he was sorry for the loss, but was glad he could do something special for her.
And he meant it.
Last year, I wrote an article entitled, “NASCAR Touches More Lives Than We Will Never Know,” with a few examples of everyday people whose lives had been changed for the better by a connection to the sport and the kindness of some of its participants.
Looking back at that article, it seems more than coincidental that it was posted on June 3, 2011.
That was my mom’s 88th birthday and, sadly, her last.
I wish she was here now to help me come up with a crisp, clever ending to this article.
I guess I’ll just say, Happy Mother’s Day, mom.
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