Between the Rows: Mother Knows Best

Published online: May 04, 2021 Between the Rows Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This column appears in the May 2021 issue of Potato Grower.

Michelle was always smart. Quiet and often shy, but wicked smart. She grew up the oldest of six kids on a little dairy farm in the deep-snow, awesome-fishing, gorgeous summer climes of northern Idaho. And while it’s probably not completely honest to say she loved every minute of her childhood, we can safely posit that she was comfortable and happy with her identity as a farm girl.

Michelle went off to college with every intention of graduating at the top of her class and moving on to veterinary school. But her plans, as plans often do, changed when she met a young cowboy from Utah’s Uinta country. They fell in love, got married, and a year and a half later welcomed the most beautiful baby boy the world had ever seen into the world. That little angel was none other than yours truly. Mom finished the last year of her undergrad, but decided full-time motherhood was an important enough calling to put vet school on hold. And I’ve gotta tell you, I’m eternally grateful for that decision.

Over the ensuing years, four more kids (slightly less angelic than the original, I’m inclined to believe) came along, and Mom was always there in all the best ways for every one of us. Like most mothers, her efforts — the fights, the tears, the silent smiles, the sleepless nights, the bare-her-soul prayers, every single trial and triumph — largely went unnoticed and unrequited. But there was never any doubt that she would be there to catch us when we fell, the immovable rock of the family.

Look, I know my mother isn’t perfect. But that doesn’t preclude her status as an absolute angel, and I will fight anyone who suggests otherwise. Mom has never known everything, nor has she ever claimed to. Yet there were instances in my growing-up years (and in my adulthood) when I couldn’t help but marvel: Where in the world did Mom learn to do that? There aren’t enough fingers and toes in all of farm country to count the times Mom has whipped out some crazy skill of which I was previously unaware, but I’ll try to provide a fair sampling.

She can splint a chicken’s busted leg well enough for the bird to not only heal, but thrive and produce perfect brown eggs every day for another five years. She can tube-feed an ailing baby calf until it gains enough strength to keep up with its mama.

I’ve seen her stand up for her kids when teachers and coaches treated them unfairly, yet vehemently defended those same authority figures’ actions when she knew we were just being whiny snowflakes. I’ve seen her throw a breathtakingly gorgeous wedding and reception for well under $1,000. I’ve seen her devour a 500-pound novel in a single evening and emerge with near photographic comprehension of the story. She can make a PB&J that won’t soggy in your lunchbox, no matter what.

Once, she more or less volunteered as an assistant coach for a high school cross-country team just because they needed a second adult, then proceeded to become an expert on the sport.

Mom can conjure perfect breadsticks, Navajo tacos, maple bars, pitas and dinner rolls from the same bread dough recipe. She can turn old pallets, hog panels, discarded two-by-fours and a hundred yards of baling twine into a garden fit for a Jane Austen novel and bountiful enough to sustain several families for several winters.

“Mother knows best,” so the saying goes. Does that mean she knows exactly what to do, all the time, every time? I’m not a mother myself, so I’m not altogether sure what kind of a handbook they get, but I’m going to guess the answer is no. But I can confidently say that most mothers with whom I associate are the best at knowing stuff. My mom, my mother-in-law, my sisters, my drop-dead gorgeous saint of a wife, countless other women who have touched my life — somehow, when the chips are down, they know exactly what to do, what to say, how to be a hero, how to lift everyone else up and catch them when they fall.

Maybe Mom was winging it the whole time. Maybe she still is. Regardless, I can confidently say Mother unquestionably knows best.

Mother’s Day is May 9. If you’re like me, expressing tender sentiments is not your forte. That doesn’t matter. Make sure, at least one day of the year, she knows just how much you appreciate the miracle she is to you.