Ernie Pyle and His Mom

Ernie Pyle
Ernie Pyle

Had a flood in my house last week, so I’ve been moving furniture and possessions, steamcleaning carpet and other fun things of this nature. But the good news is I found my biography of Ernie Pyle, written by his boss and friend Lee G. Miller. It has lots of excerpts from his columns.

Here he writes about visiting his mother after her second stroke:

“Only you who have come from the intimate confines of a Midwestern farm community can know in what fear parents live of their children bringing shame and disgrace upon them. I was an only child. All my parents had was centered in me.

“I was young when I went away. They sacrificed to send me to school. I had gone from there into the world, and my visits home, though regular, were brief and far apart… But I had been good about writing, in later years I had been able to send a little money, but best of all I had never brought disgrace upon my parents.

“They had never seen me jobless or loafing, they had never had to swallow the bitter pill of gossip that their son was worthless, I had never been in jail or mixed up in scandal.

“And so, thinkingĀ of these things, I pictured in my mind my return to my mother’s bedside. I saw her lying there, I saw myself rush in and take her hand. I could hear her whisper, just in her last moments, ‘I am proud of you.”

William and Maria Pyle, with Aunt Mary Bales
William and Maria Pyle, with Aunt Mary Bales

It doesn’t turn out that way. It takes nearly a week for Ernie’s mother to recognize him. Finally his Aunt Mary wakes him up. “Your mother has just realized you are home,” she says. “She wants to see you.”

“So I jumped up, threw on my bathrobe and went to her room. Her worn face went into a small smile as I came in, and her eyes shone… Her words came with great effort, and I had to lean over and listen closely to make them out. And what my mother said, so white in her bed, laboring to produce each whispered word, was this: ‘Are… you… proud… of… me?’

“I could only squeeze her hand, give her a slap on the knee and say, ‘You bet I’m proud of you.'”

I was so proud of my mom in the last years of her life. Brave warriors face death without fear, but what is death in battle compared to dementia? What’s it like to see your whole world — your house, your garden, your memory — swept away in a tidal wave of confustion that carries away your ability to make sense of the world.

To face that prospect with equanimity and determination, to hold fast to love and friendship and good humor, to be able, in spite of it all, to make a new friend and have a good laugh, to me that’s real courage. You bet I was proud. I still am.