Last weekend, I went to my hometown. My trip included a visit to the Great Bend Cemetery, where I took flowers and spent time at my mother’s grave. And for that time, my mind cleared and I reflected just how fortunate I was.
My mom was born and raised in Kingman, Kan., by Jacob and Olga Goering. Jake and Olga were devoted to three things: their Mennonite faith, their German heritage and their children, son Victor and daughter Ramona Jean.
Mom had one sibling, Dad had 11. Dad was Irish Catholic.
When my parents met on a blind date in 1950, no one could fathom eHarmony and certainly never entertained the notion of comparing scores on 29 dimensions of compatibility. Their upbringing was worlds apart, but they didn’t need a 10-page questionnaire to discern what a wonderful future they had ahead of themselves.
My parents had complementing and contrasting personalities that found a balance in the mix. While dad built his law practice with his older brother Bob, mom ran a more complicated business called home. She was the yin to his yang: Mom was the nurturing, reassuring presence who managed day-to-day events at 3616 17th Street.
Like all mothers, she was a constant presence. But she was there for everyone else, too. We lived on a lake and constantly had an entourage stopping by to fish, swim or do what today’s kids would describe as “chill.” Everyone was welcome. Our basketball goal saw furious pickup games. Our front yard was an invitation to home-run derbies, and football games would spill over to the adjoining convent grounds. Mom knew not just everyone’s names, but their parents, and in some cases, grandparents. “How’s your mother doing? Is she feeling better?” I heard similar inquiries all the time.
She was a great listener.
For most of 1968, we had three cousins from Alabama live with us and attend our schools while their mother — my dad’s sister — recuperated from a heart attack.
It was 1973, when mom and dad opened their doors to their 19-year-old niece, Kema, who had given birth to a boy in Wichita. She gave him up for adoption. The adopted parents named him Scott. “Your mom and dad let me stay with them at their house after Scott had been born and I had left Wichita. Mona was such a caring parent (yes, she was my parent during that time) and we talked and talked about Scott’s leaving and the chances of ever seeing him again. She did so much to comfort me during that trying time.”
Twenty-three years later, in April 1996, with mom’s help, Kema was reunited with Scott at his home in Dodge City. Kema and Scott have remained very close ever since.
In August 1975, when South Vietnam fell to the communists, our parish adopted five families, 27 in total, who came to our city. One of the children, Huang Mai, had a severe cleft lip and palate. He was a teenager. It hurt mom to even think about how much pain he endured growing up with that condition. She made his cause her cause, dedicating countless hours to his surgical repair, taking him to Wichita and ultimately, with the assistance of surgeons there, helping him gain normal speech and appearance.
Huang learned English, and then went to KU to study engineering. When I was a senior at KU I was entering Watson Library one day. My head was down when another student grabbed my arm and said, “Matt?” It was Huang. We reconnected and he said, “How is your mother? She was so good to me.” I remember calling mom that night and recounting the story. Her reply, was, typically, to deflect any credit. “He had wonderful surgeons,” she said.
On Sunday, my thoughts will return, once again, to Ramona Jean.