Bertha Coleman 1925-2017

My mother-in-law passed away Saturday at the age of 92. Bertha Coleman was the matriarch of a family that includes 10 children, 24 grandchildren and 28 great grandchildren. To suggest that there will be a gaping hole at the top of this large family tree would be a huge understatement. She will be greatly missed.

Many would suggest that Bertha was a simple homemaker. I would change the word simple to extraordinary. The single most important yet often unappreciated “job” in the world is being a mother. Bertha treated the bumps and bruises associated with her children growing up, but she also instilled in them life values. She did this by establishing rules, offering sound advice and mostly by being a role model. Bertha treated everyone with kindness and respect. If you know any or all of her children you know that she did her “job” very well.

Another way to show what a wonderful woman Bertha was is to share a story that has been passed down by family members for years. When her young children asked Bertha what she wanted for Christmas her answer was always the same. “All I want for Christmas is good kids” she would say. Needless to say she always had a Merry Christmas. Every year.

My memories of Bertha are many. When I first started dating Anita I was often asked to stay for dinner. Every time I did so, a favorite side dish or desert item of mine would find its way to the table. Translation: This guy seems to be very important to my daughter, ergo he is important to me.

I also ran afoul of this incredible lady. One day I stopped briefly to tell Anita something. When I entered the house she shouted at me to come upstairs. I did so and left shortly thereafter. The next day Anita pointed out to me that we had broken one of her mother’s rules. None of her children were to have members of the opposite sex in their bedrooms. Despite the fact that we were both in our mid 20’s and I was there for only a minute had nothing to do with it. We had broken a rule and it better never happen again.

I understood.

Bertha and I shared a passion for working the crossword puzzle in the A-T. When we got together we would discuss the degree of difficulty or a new word that we had discovered. One of those words sticks out very vividly to me because we laughed about it for years afterward. Look up the definition of “raree” and you will see why we chuckled so much.

Bertha was a strong woman with a keen wit. In her later years time robbed her of her greatest character traits. She had difficulty remembering names and faces, but occasionally her sense of humor surfaced. On one trip home from a holiday family gathering she sat in the front seat of my car. When she asked me for the third time who I was, I patiently told her again. Then I asked her the same question: “Who are you?”

She laughed softly and said “Oh, I’m just me, but I’m lost sometimes.” It was a very poignant moment.

A couple of months ago another one of those moments took place. My wife had gone out to St. Francis to visit and asked her mother this question: “Mom, do you know who I am today?” Bertha responded quickly. “Why you’re Anita. Who are you on other days?”

In the nearly forty years that I have known Bertha I never once called her mom. Though many of my brother and sisters in law do so, I did not. It certainly was not a lack of respect for Bertha that made me choose that path, but more out of deference to my own mother. I wasn’t comfortable calling someone mom when she was not my mother.

Bertha understood.

The view from my seat suggests that we now must say farewell to a cherished family member. I know my mother would understand when I say to Bertha. Rest in peace, mom.