I grew up in Eldersburg at a time when there were many pastures and no franchise restaurants. In the early years, cows grazed in the field behind my house.
Later on, the barbed wire that had once kept the cows confined simply stood between my yard and a field of corn. I climbed over that wire hundreds of times to look for a ball that had gone astray.
By this time of the year, baseball was the game of choice. Home plate and the pitcher’s mound were hard dirt; grass had long ago stopped trying to grow there, despite my dad’s many attempts.
I was the youngest and smallest of the group who played; most of the boys were friends with my older brother. Though I remember thinking I was a good ball player, I realize now that whatever team I was on had a disadvantage.
We played on summer evenings until we couldn’t see the ball anymore. Then, when summer faded to fall we put the bats away and changed the game.
When no one else was around, I would play football alone. I’d hike the ball to myself and drop back to toss a pass into the air. It would fly just far enough for me to catch it, and then I would run until an imaginary foe tackled me. I know my mom must have wondered how I got grass stains playing alone, but she never asked.
Those were the years when I learned to play, to use my imagination and to dream about doing something special. And as I braved the older opponents and all the risks that come with dreaming, my mother was always there, waiting for me to need her.
She had the perfect lap, the perfect smile and the perfect way of showing me the one thing we all need to know; I was loved.
When I began running in high school, I discovered the pure sport that exists between the lines that start and end a race. Most times, my mom was there to watch, even though I had begun to pull away.
I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but I remember feeling an instinctive need to rid myself of the emotional dependence. And, in perhaps the most heroic gesture a mom can ever make, she let me go.
In the years that followed, running deepened my personal identify. I grew stronger and more confident. Solitary runs gave me freedom. I formed values that I could believe in, values that still live today.
Now more than ever, I know her mother’s love is eternal. She never stopped worrying about me or wanting me to be happy. And, whether I needed her or not, she has always been there.
Someday, many years from now, I’ll finish a run just as dusk settles in the cool evening air. I’ll close my eyes and hear the laughter of boys still playing in the yard, and then her voice, calling me inside.