Jim Bishop | Sending love letter to Mom compresses the miles

I zip around the corner to the entry door to my hair stylist (my style still leans towards an early ’70s look), and behold, a traditional bleeding heart bush rises up to greet me.
Seeing this floral display of petite pink flowers suspended on tender vines immediately stirred memories of my home place when our family lived next door to the Doylestown (PA) Mennonite Church. Mom had several pink variety bleeding hearts planted near a trellis in the back yard. Every year, the latter part of May, they would bloom profusely, a keepsake of an earlier, simpler time.

Ann Dayton Bishop, my 87-year-old mom, possessed a green thumb. I’m certain I received my love of plants and flowers from her. She no longer cultivates bleeding hearts or another favorite, box gardens of geraniums of various hues, but she still enjoys being surrounded by vegetative growth.

For years, I would give Mom an amaryllis bulb as a Christmas present and usually pot it for her. It was fun to get a phone call or a note that the giant Hippeastrum was putting on a dazzling display in the bleak month of January. Occasionally, the fast-growing plant would send up two giant flower stalks, doubling her pleasure.

These days, her small but cozy room at Rockhill Mennonite Community lacks space for a full-grown amaryllis, and I feel something’s missing now that I no longer make that special delivery. I’ve also stopped sending her copies of my “Friday Night Jukebox” radio program – she has problems operating her CD player – but every so often, I’ll dedicate a song on the weekly program to her – something by Pat Boone, her favorite ’50s artist; the Billy Vaughn instrumental, “Sail Along, Silvery Moon,” or organist Ken Griffin’s “You Can’t Be True, Dear.”

I don’t call her often, mainly because she has difficulty getting to the phone. Those times we do connect, I’m not always certain she catches all I’m saying – recognizing that I do talk too fast. No longer can I crack bad jokes; they don’t seem to register. But, she seems to relish bringing up fond family memories, and her ability to recount special events from yesterday is both remarkable and heartening.

I drop a Mother’s Day card in the mail to Mom with a personal message of affection, along with photocopies of several columns I think she might enjoy. She used to be my biggest fan, but reading is more difficult now. She watches the Nature Channel on TV and a telecast on Rockhill’s local access channel of the previous Sunday’s worship service at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church where my brother Michael Bishop is minister of worship and music. All three brothers and Uncle John Dayton, Mom’s brother, visit her regularly, and I am grateful for their faithfulness.

Mom reminds me every time I see her, which isn’t often enough, that she “can’t tell me anything,” because whatever family news is out there comes my way via electronic mail from my brothers. She had little interest in getting wired; I can’t fathom her doing text-messaging or becoming a “friend” on Facebook (me neither, Mom!). Face-to-face dialog suits her best – and me too.

Mom had a gift of hospitality – growing up, we had company in our home almost every week – and was a culinary artist who gave as much attention to presentation as to preparation of her savory fare. It sounds almost pitiable to say, but I find myself wishing that my siblings, my dad – who’s been gone 10 years – and I could gather around the family table for one more Sunday dinner, with conversation lasting into mid-afternoon, of roast beef (with parsley garnishing the plate), mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed peas, salad, rolls and ice tea.

Happy Mothers Day, Mom! I hope I don’t sound like a bleeding heart when I say that you always displayed wisdom, patience and unqualified love to all us Bishop siblings. You gave us solid footing to leave the nest and seek to do likewise in families of our own.


– Column by Jim Bishop

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