August 30th, 2010 at 1:43 pm
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A Labor of Love

by Devlyn Brooks

I never thought I’d see this again: It’s fall and my mother is scrubbing a nasty grass/dirt stain out of a pair football pants. Twenty years ago you could have seen this same scene had you peaked in the kitchen window of our little home. Despite the long hours Mom worked as a waitress, she always had time to make sure that us kids never left the house in anything but a presentable fashion.

And that included football practice pants.

I’d bring those white, cotton pants home a filthy mess a couple of times a week. And after supper, when I was settled in to work on my homework, my mom would fetch her scrub brush, bleach and detergent and attack those pants. I say “attack” because it’s the only apt description with which she undertook this job. It’s almost as if every dirt, grass or blood stain on those pants were a personal offense to her. She’d douse the stains individually with detergent and bleach and then set about brushing them until I thought she’d scrub through the fabric. After some elbow grease she’d hold them up to the light for inspection, mumble something that only she could understand and then vigorously rub two stains together. I never really knew what that particular action did, but I knew enough not to ask. She was a serious woman when she was clean football pants. And all her hard work paid off. I generally hit the practice field with as clean of pants you’d find out there. Not that I gave it enough notice then.

It wasn’t until years later that I understood my mother’s hard work. She could have very easily have brushed the crusty mud off those practice pants and tossed them in the washer. The pants wouldn’t have looked any worse than the pants on half the guys I played football with. But that wasn’t good enough for my mom. She wanted those football pants to gleam because she loved me. It was her way of saying, “Despite the fact that we live on modest means, you are going to look your best. You are going to put on these clean and shiny football pants and you are going to carry yourself high.”

Of course, that wasn’t a message I understood then.

But I recalled that feeling all over again this weekend when my oldest son brought home his football pants full of dirt and grass stains. Without a word, Mom scooped them up and headed to the laundry room. Twenty years later she used the same tools–a scrub brush, detergent and bleach–to clean my son’s football pants. He asked the same questions I did about why Grandma worked so hard to get out every stain, but I knew I couldn’t answer it adequately.

So I did my best: “Some day you’ll understand, son, but it’s because she loves you.”

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One Response to “A Labor of Love”

  1. Donna Clark

    Could not have said it better. I also remember that my mother had said “an unkept older man is known as an old man, an older man that is well groomed is known as a gentleman and walks with pride.” Before she passed away, she made me promise that my father be know as a gentleman. I honor her wishes fondly, she was one classy lady!

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