I am a lucky boy.
Gloria Byrd was my mother.
It will not be possible to put into words the depth, strength, and energy that made my mom who she was. All I can do is offer you a glimmer, a sketch based on my family's memory.
I have never met another person like my mom. She possessed the best qualities available to mankind.
What stands out to me most regarding my mom, is that she approached the best things in life - friendship, humor, beauty, love, humility, compassion - with an infectious enthusiasm. She approached life with a lightness and grace.
My mom had an appreciative enthusiasm for the simple joys in life that surround us every day. When my sister was a little girl, she would take her into the back yard where they would collect clover flowers. When they had collected enough, my mom would weave these clover flowers into a crown, placing it on my sister's head and pronouncing, "Look Amy, Your'e a Princess!"
When the back yard was full of lightning bugs, my mom would whip out the empty ball jars from the cabinets, leading us into the back yard to collect enough lightning bugs to create lightning bug lamps.
Being a passenger in my mom's car was a thrilling musical adventure. She would sing along with the songs that she enjoyed most. I remember her passionately accompanying Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World." She would sing "Jeremiah was a bullfrog / He was a good friend of mine..." She would tap my thigh to the beat, encouraging me to sing along as she sang "Give me the beat boys and free my soul / I wanna get lost in your rock n' roll / and drift away." And I would guess that her favorite song was Rod Stewart's "You're in my heart / You're in my soul / You'll be my friend / When I grow old..." I suppose she was thinking of my father when she sang this, and not the dutch girl that Rod sings about in the verse.
On trips to North Carolina, she took the whole family blackberry picking with her. We would collect many freezer-size ziploc bags of these berries. She would turn these delicious berries into huge, magnificent blackberry pies.
It was awesome.
My mom was fun and funny. She understood that if we kids didn't want to join her in appreciating the lightest side of things, we were the ones missing out.
On a Valentines Day, she gave me a wind up, jumping, plastic heart. The heart had a smile. The words "KISSY KISSY" were written upon it. She found that thing to be HILARIOUS! And she was going to laugh with me about it until I appreciated how hilarious it was.
My mom was full of love. She gave her all to her family. And she gave freely, never complaining of sacrifice, never asking for anything in return. When I was a little boy, she read to me every night from the Children's Treasury of Illustrated Classics. My favorite was a poem called "Winken, Blinken, and Nod." She read it over and over to me. And she sang me lullabies. Sometimes, she sang them 4 or 5 times when I demanded encores. My favorite was a ditty called "Too Rah Loo Rah Loo Rah." Her voice was the most beautiful voice I've ever heard. And to this day, when I'm trying to sing in a pretty voice in a song, I try to sound like my mother.
When I was sick, she tended to me in a constant vigil. She would bring me chicken noodle soup, ritz crackers, and a cold cola-cola on a white wicker bed tray. When I winced and moaned, she would say, "Awww, Bubee."
When I was acting like an idiot, she made that clear in the most subtle and charming ways. One day on a ski trip, the family was gathering for a family photo. I became impatient about waiting for the photographer. I began to tantrum and spaz out. She laughed at me, and took a picture of me to show me later. When I was hungover one morning in my teenage years, I moaned and asked for care. She said, "Sorry, no sympathy for a drunk." She didn't yell at me, tell me "shut up," or smack me; yet she made her point effectively and in a most graceful fashion.
My mother was full of compassion and respect for others. She was not controlling at all.
When she upgraded my bedroom, she asked me to pick out my own carpet color and wallpaper. I picked royal blue carpet. When I couldn't decide between clipper ships or pastel stripes for wallpaper, she suggested both: one wall could be ships, the other walls could be stripes. Moments like this taught me to respect others, and they gave me a sense of authorship, a feeling of creative initiative.
When she was 51, my parents adopted my brother's orphaned 1 year old pit bull. My mom came to love this dog, showering him with affection, and caring for his daily needs. When he was nurturing a baby kitten, my mom was right there with her camera to record the precious moment.
She loved tear-jerker movies like Places in the Heart, Terms of Endearment, and Fried Green Tomatoes. She would cry during these movies in which the human spirit triumphs over suffering, adversity, and injustice. Injustice and suffering would actually cause her to become nauseous. While watching documentaries about Martin Luther King, she would tear up. The killing of such a great man saddened her deeply. She had a deep respect for Dr. King, not just because she was a fan, but because the same distaste for injustice and human suffering that drove King was something that was also a part of her, something that is part of the very best among us.
My mother was drop-dead gorgeous, and she was raised like a princess by her father. Yet she never treated anyone like she was a princess, and she never acted "catty" toward her peers. She was a humble person. She was without "airs." She lacked a sense of entitlement. She was never snobbish, snooty, or condescending toward anyone. She treated others as her equal regardless of their income or social status. She never treated anyone as if they were "the help." She was a good friend to Isaac, our yard man. She would make him grilled cheeses, and Iced Lemonade. They would speak candidly about the most important things in their lives. When Isaac became sick with cancer, my mom was devastated. She cried profusely. My mom did not have a mean bone in her body.
My mom approached life with the best virtues available to human beings. She had a sense of glee and excitement. An appreciation for the simple things in life. And she didn't keep this appreciativeness to herself. She invited you to come along with her, to join her in camaraderie, to face hardship with laughter, jubilance, grace. Her parents named her "Gloria," the Latin word for "Glory." It means "the manifestation of God's presence in the world." They got that right.