My mother’s life began in her parents’ home on a cold winter night on January 23, 1932. Her parents, Hyrum Eldoras and Lema Lucille Critchfield Smith gave her the name of Della Rae Smith. She spent her childhood and youth living in a small Southern Idaho town called Albion. She had an older brother Merl an older sister Edna and a younger brother Jerry. Her father was a carpenter, yet during the ‘Depression Years’, he did whatever jobs he could find. Her mother was a natural cook that could make everything she cooked taste like a bit of Heaven.
My mom was your average teenage girl of the 1940’s. She played the trumpet in her school band, was a cheerleader and was a natural at playing sports. She loved to be involved in anything and everything that was fun. Mom had a smile and laugh that made anyone around her instantly fall in love with her. I was told that my father Donald Barrett Danner, told my mother even before they had started kindergarten he was going to marry her, a promise he kept 15 years later on December 2, 1950. By the end of 1951 my father’s Marine Corp career had them living in Barstow, California and the proud parents of my oldest brother Donald Kay. Over the next 15 years my parents welcomed to their family my other brother Fred, and my sisters Joann, Theresa, and my baby sister Kathy. I came into the family between my sisters Theresa and Kathy.
In 1967 my father took a career opportunity that moved our family from Southern California to the Island of Okinawa which is south of the mainland of Japan. We would spend the next six and half years living there. My father’s job had him often traveling back and forth between Okinawa and Vietnam leaving my mother to take on most of the raising of their six children and working her full time job at the base credit union. During this time period my three oldest siblings graduated from high school, and all of us children were involved in many different areas that interested us, from Sports, to being in the school plays, in choirs, and learning to play different musical instruments. My mother supported each one of us and was our # 1 cheerleader. Her father passed away in 1970 and she went home for several months to help her mother and siblings to get his affairs in order. Whatever life sent our family’s way, my mother would tackle it, giving it her all and doing her best at each task she needed to deal with.
My parents always had an “Open Door” policy in our home. There were days, after mom had already put in a full 8 hour shift at her job, she would come home to get a call from my dad saying another group of young Marines or Sailors had come in and was on their layover going to the Vietnam war. Then he wanted to know if he could bring some of those who had nowhere else to hang out that night to our home for dinner. We were not rich in the sense of “Money” but when it came to love, and showing compassion for our fellowman my mother made sure our home was overflowing with this important kind of wealth. We always knew that anyone who needed a place to rest or just a place and family to enjoy that our mother would always have a place for them to come. This also included any stray dog or cat that my sister Theresa was famous for somehow finding and bringing home. Life was never dull at our childhood home.
Mom had no problem getting right in the middle of whatever silly, crazy things us kids or our dad would want to do. I remember one night when we had some young Marine’s over and my older brother, Don’s band was practicing for one of their upcoming events, they talked mom into being the lead singer for the song “Gloria”. She was rocking out and hamming it up as she sang to make us all laugh. Then to our surprise we looked to see standing at the front door, which was always open with just the screen door to keep the bugs out, some men from the church who had come to talk with my father. We all laughed so hard over how funny the expression on the men’s faces were over seeing our normally shy mother being so silly and outgoing.
“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity. She dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in her child’s path.” I don’t know who said this, but it is so true when it comes to my mother. She was a conservative, quiet lady in public. She was 5 feet tall and most of her life she never weighed much over 100 pounds. She was loyal, kind, hardworking, and a talented lady. She was someone you wanted on your side, but Lord help the person who was foolish enough to mess with one of her family members. When mom released her “Mama Bear” hold on, you were in for a wild ride, and trust me Mom always achieved whatever her goal was when she was in the “Mama Bear”mode.
I was a sickly child who was born with no immune system, so I spent pretty much the first years of my life in the hospital. This had to have been so difficult for mom, to have four older children needing her attention at home and a baby girl who cried anytime she had to leave to go home. When I could manage to break out of my “Oxygen Tent” I would tackle her as she was walking down the hallway trying to leave to go home to her other children. I remember her sitting by my hospital bed reading to me for hours on end. She would hold my hand threw the plastic cover area that allowed her to hold my hand and sing me songs until I fell asleep. I still have and cherish the plastic toy lamb that she brought to me when I was in the hospital when I was three years old.
Mom would make holidays so special and something I looked forward to. It was not the big grand over the top things, it was the simple things that made her children know she loved us. An example was she would bake our birthday cakes with a quarter that was wrapped up in foil, and we each were excited as we received our piece of birthday cake. We ate our cake very careful to make sure we did not eat the quarter by mistake, and could not wait to see who would end up with the treasure of the quarter. Back then a quarter was a lot of money to us kids.
I remember before I started kindergarten, and all my siblings were in school, Mom would give me some small chore to do in the morning and then before lunch she would pay me a nickel, and take me to the local store in Hinkley that was similar to our present day 7-11 stores. I could buy me a box of Cracker-Jacks and I would take it home and put it on the table. I would eat my lunch, and then take my nap. After nap time I could watch my favorite TV game show “Let’s Make a Deal” and eat my Cracker Jacks. For me, life just could not have been happier than those pre-school days of me, my mom, and my Cracker Jack snacks.
Mom loved to do crafts and make things to make our home feel cozier. While living in Okinawa my mom took classed to learn to make Japanese dolls, one of which I proudly displayed in my home in our music room. Mom learned to do Japanese embroidering and made many beautiful pictures, which I believe each of her family members received one. I ended up with the photo of a tiger coming out of the forest that I love, every time I look at it I think back to those childhood days as I sat and watched mom working on her needle craft art work. I am a left hander, making it difficult for everyone to try to teach me any crafts. My mom was very patient as she would sit directly in front of me and teach me how to crochets. It took me forever to learn how to do it, but mom never gave up on me. I remember her and me working to crochet flower roses or carnations and put them in nice vase displays so we could sell them at our church auctions to help raise money for needy causes. There were all kinds of cute crochet patterns my mom taught me to make. I would make the items and sell them and use the funds I earned to buy items like china and silverware for my “Hope” chest, so when I got married I would be ready to be the kind of mother my mom was.
I remember after we moved from Okinawa to Virginia in 1973, I had one of my lungs collapse and had pneumonia. I was deathly ill for several months. Mom made me a cot bed right by her side of my parent’s bed. She would get up every hour to make sure I at least got one tablespoon of water drank every hour of the day. Whatever one of her children’s needs were, mom would move heaven and earth to make it happen.
Sometime in mom’s late 40’s or early 50’s she was diagnose with Rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, and Lupus. In spite of the fact that we could tell she was in lots of pain all the time, mom would not complain or whine about her illnesses. She did what she could to control her illness but she did not let her illness control her. Mom stayed as active as she could and she loved to play her organ. Mom and dad moved back to their childhood town of Albion, Idaho when they retired. She loved it whenever anyone of her 19 grandchildren would come for a visit. She made sure to give them some money so they could ride their bikes to the local store and buy some ‘penny’ candy.
In the fall of 1995 my mother suffered a Brain Aneurysm while in California visiting her family and dealing with some legal matters with a case our family was involved in at that time. Luckily my aunt only lived a few blocks from the hospital and they were able to get her there fast. The doctor told my father that mom had died on the operating table a few times, but they had been able to bring her back. Despite the fact we were lucky she had survive this ordeal the family needed to prepare ourselves that mom would most likely be in a weaker state and might not be able to talk or know who we were. I lived in Texas at the time, my brother Fred was living in England, Kathy was in Idaho, Joann and Don lived in Utah, and Theresa lived in San Diego. We all went to Pomona California to spend some time with mom while she was in the hospital. We did not know it at that time, but it would be the last time our whole family would get to spend time together while all of us was still alive. Mom’s recovery at that hospital took many months. Yet the miracles we saw unfold during that time brought us closer together as a family.
While my mother was fighting for her life on the operating table in Southern California, her younger brother Jerry died in Idaho. When we found out about Jerry’s death we decided as a family that it was best not to tell mom because it would upset her too much, and in her weakened condition we did not want to chance losing mom too. Mom came out of her unconscious state a few days after her surgery. To all of our surprise mom was able to talk, and she knew who everyone was, except for me. For some reason even though she knew who her mother was, and even if both grandma and I were in the room at the same time, she still would say I was her mother too. It took mom some time before she was able to know who I was, but after what she been through, I felt God had been kind to our family to allow us to have mom with us still. Mom was not the same as before the Aneurysm, she was more childlike, and only talked about simple matters. A few days after moms operation, we were all sitting around her hospital room, and she started to tell us about what happened when she had died. She said in a matter of fact way, as if this was something that happens to everyone, Mom said, “Yeah, I died, and dad and Jerry (the brother who had just died) was there to meet me. They said they could not stay and that I had to go back to life, because I had some unfinished stuff to do with my family there. I said to dad I do not understand dad, why does Jerry get to stay, I want to stay too. Dad told me it’s not my turn and I needed to go back, but I would be with them soon enough.” We all looked at each other, and said “OK which one told mom about Jerry”. Before anyone of us could answer, mom said, “None of you, I just know because I got to say goodbye to him when I was with him and dad in Heaven.” I had heard of other “after death” experiences but had never know anyone personally until my mother. With me being the “Doubting Thomas” kind of person that would not normally have believed my mother’s “After Death” story, I became a firm believer that day of her “After Death” story.
We were blessed to have our mother for another three years. Many good things happened in those last three years. We all learned not to take life for granted, or our mom. As teenagers, we thought she was a mean, moody, controlling mother, as most teenagers feel about their parents during those years. As young adults with children of our own, we had learned how difficult being a parent really is. We stopped judging mom for every perceived fault she had, and started to see her for the strong, wise, woman she always was. Life had dealt her some difficult hands, and yet she could handle them far better than any of us. While mom was firm on her parenting skills, she always loved each of us unconditionally and she never gave up on us, when so many others had. When a stroke finally claimed mom’s life in 1998, she had lived her life better than most. It has been almost 16 years since moms death, yet her influence is felt daily by all of us who were blessed to know and love her. Each member in her family is stronger, and wiser, and able to love and give, because we have a mother that was not afraid to live life to the fullest, and give her all to those she loved.
To all the unselfish moms out there who traded eyeliner for dark circles, salon haircuts for ponytails, long baths for quick showers, late nights for early mornings, designer bags for diaper bags, and wouldn’t change a thing. Happy Mother’s Day!