A mother’s lessons: A grateful heart

Posted 5/10/23

The Copper Penny coffee shop had one of those tall rotating signs, visible from the freeway. It was a stone’s throw from our house across a busy street, next to a gas station.

One 1960s …

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A mother’s lessons: A grateful heart


The Copper Penny coffee shop had one of those tall rotating signs, visible from the freeway. It was a stone’s throw from our house across a busy street, next to a gas station.

One 1960s Mothers Day, Dad drove us to the Copper Penny after church. As we waited in the crowded lobby for our table, I became fascinated with the display case under the cash register with a collection of pennies and half dollars, with a short piece on the similarities between President Lincoln and President Kennedy.

After waiting in the lobby (forever) my mom’s patient smile never wavered as we were seated at the table to wait an additional half hour for our breakfast to arrive.

My dad’s gesture wasn’t lost on me. It was a special occasion to go out to breakfast, and to such a place with a clever name, a giant rotating sign, and something interesting to read in the display case. As I sipped my hot chocolate, I continued to augment it with the creamer on the table to extend its life until my pancakes arrived. Pretty soon the metal creamer container was empty. I thoughtfully considered the sugar packets.

Looking back, I think of the way my mom appreciated the simple things, like being honored in a crowded local coffee shop on Mothers Day with her family, as if it was a Michelin rated restaurant.

I learned gratitude, and patience.

On Valentine’s Day, Dad came home bearing a giant heart-shaped box of chocolates, and always remembered three smaller ones. After she kissed my dad, my mom opened her gift and offered the first pieces to my siblings and me, before we’d even opened our own boxes. Inside her larger, shinier red box were endless rows of chocolates. (Did she wonder if we’d choose her favorite ones?)

She taught me generosity.

My mom could change an ordinary day by magic. One morning, when I was three years old, I sat down at the kitchen table to my bowl of oatmeal and smiled to see a happy face made of raisins smiling back at me.

I discovered how a small act could make someone feel special.

Like your mom, mine was content with the broken cookie, the smallest slice of cake, insisting it tasted “just as good” (although I wasn’t sure I believed her.)

It would later occur to me she was teaching me to place others first.

If a siren blared, as Mom pulled over to the curb to wait for the emergency vehicle to pass, she’d suggest we say a prayer for the person who needed it. I wondered, what does one say in this situation, for a complete stranger? As if reading my mind (like moms do) she said, “God bless Somebody.”

I learned empathy.

When passing a nun in public, my mom encouraged us to greet her. It didn’t matter when I said she wasn’t one of the teachers at my school, so I didn’t know her name; Mom explained, “You always say, ‘Hello, Sister.’”

She demonstrated respect.

A camping vacation with three small children didn’t phase my mom. When we arrived at the campsite, she’d take a bucket to the campground faucet and return to wash down the picnic table before setting it. It was our temporary home, after all. A few days later when Dad announced it was time to pack up, she’d douse the table with soap and water, and scrub it again. I asked her why she did this, since we were leaving anyway. “We have to leave it nice for the next person,” she explained.

My mom’s heart extended to people she didn’t even know.

On Mothers Day, may we honor our moms by practicing the virtues they taught us.

Editor’s Note; An occasional contributor to these pages, Erin O’Brien is a resident of the Buttonwoods section of Warwick.

mom, mother


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