Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cheril Kay Burbage (1934-2013)

My mother passed away last night. She was 79 years young.

She grew up the eldest of seven children. Her father told her that she was unattractive (homely, I believe was the word she would use when she told us the story) so she had better go to school. He thought she had better become a music teacher to support herself because she would die an old maid.

My grandfather was an idiot. 

My mother did go to college and studied music; not to become a music teacher, but to get away from her parents. She was doing fine on her own until she met a friend of her cousin's while she was working as a waitress at a Howard Johnson's restaurant.Those crazy kids fell in love and decided to marry as soon as he was out of the service and she had graduated. However, her father heard about their engagement and decided to stop paying the bills. Norman suggested that they get married earlier so his GI benefits would kick in and finish paying for her school. They were married on Groundhog Day February 2, 1957. According to my mother, *her* mother told people they moved the wedding up because my mother was pregnant.

My sister Connie was born in March, 1958. Just in case you're keeping track. She was followed by my other sister JoAnne in August 1959. After a few years to catch their breaths my brother Brad was born in February 1963. And the way my dad tells it, he was so happy to have a boy that by the time I came along, he seriously didn't care what I was, one way or another! When I "bookended" two girls and two boys he said he was the happiest man on Earth.

By the time I was old enough to go to school, my mother was getting her Masters in education. She eventually became a teacher and taught elementary school. She was a teacher for more than twenty years.

Growing up surrounded as she had been by small minds filled with racism and anti-semitism, she embraced friends of all creeds and colors, and taught her children to do the same.

My mother loved music. Although she did not want to teach it, she did play the piano and insisted that all of us play some musical instrument. I played the clarinet and then the violin through junior high school. She also had all sorts of musical albums around the house. I learned about Frank Sinatra, Mitch Miller, Tom Lehrer, Rogers & Hammerstein, Victor Borge, and countless other groovy acts besides Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, and Gilbert & Sullivan.

My mother was a veracious reader. She read constantly and wanted all of us to know books as our friends. She taught me how to read personally, and I still remember the very first book "we" ever read together. It was about Casey The Horse.

My mother was a strong female role model. She helped my two sisters to grow up to be independent. And she tried to make my brother and I appreciate strong, intelligent women.

When I came back to the United States in 2001 my mother was beginning to exhibit a mild case of dementia. In the past twelve years it got progressively worse. It never got to the point where she did not recognize me or my siblings, but she *did* forget who my wife and daughter were. Several years ago she had a long conversation with my wife about living in Japan, then told her, "My son is married to a Japanese woman. You should all get together." That about broke my heart.

My mother finally started to forget to eat and drink. She was never a big woman, and never had much of an appetite. She did like good food, but not much of it. Recently she was never hungry, and forgot to eat and drink regularly. She developed severe dehydration several times in the past few years. When I last saw her at Thanksgiving she was admitted into the hospital because she had fainted due to dehydration. She rallied for the past few days, but last night, after nearly 80 years of adventure, her body simply gave up.

Good-bye, Mom. We'll miss you.



  1. That was an amazing story about your mom.....I am sorry to hear about her passing. Sending ((hugs)) and prayers! Lisa Simmons

  2. I'm so impressed, Russell.
    My parents are around the same age as yours, but I wonder if I know their lives as much as you do.
    RIP, Cheril.

  3. Beautiful tribute, Russell. Her values and spirit definitely live on through you and your daughter.

  4. A wonderful tribute about your mom. She was a "mom" to all of us..Sorry I couldn't make the funeral. Thinking of all of you. Our condolences. Art and Karla

  5. Russell, I am so very sorry! I lost my own mom on January 18th of this year, so believe me when I say I know what you must be going thru. All I can say is hang in there and hold tight to the memories