My mother died last year after 85 years on this Earth. She passed quietly in her sleep at an assisted living facility where she had lived for the final years of a her life.
Amy and I spent Mother’s Day at her apartment with a dinner we prepared at home and brought. Sbe opened her gifts slowly and her mind, as it did often in those final days, wandered off. I remember thinking this could be her last Mother’s Day.
Those who knew Ethel McPeak Thompson Bolt recognized she had a varied, interesting and often exciting life. After graduation from Willis High School she and her best friend Gaynor traveled the country to places both had read about in school. Ironically, one of the places they visited was a Mississippi River town in Illinois — Alton, where she and Gaynor spent the night at the Mineral Springs Hotel. Many years later, I would take a job as a reporter for the newspaper there. The Mineral Springs had closed but later reopened as an antique mall.
Mom moved to Norfolk to work for the Navy Yard during World War II. She was in charge of the gas rationing office there, handing out coupons and deciding on those who needed more than their normal allotment. One of those who asked was a young sailor who wanted extra gas to ride his motorcycle home to Tampa, Florida, to visit his parents after his ship put into the yard for repairs.
Mom also rode a Harley Davidson and granted him the extra coupons. When he returned, they started dating and, after the war’s end, decided to get married. Before dating my dad, mom dated Norfolk native Joe Weatherly, who later became one of the early stars of NASCAR and who later died in a crash at Riverside, California.
Her parents were shocked when their daughter, dressed head to toe in motorcycle leathers, rode home with her husband to be — each on a bike. They hadn’t known about her riding exploits.
Then she climbed aboard that bike and rode, by herself, from Meadows of Dan to Tampa to meet her future in-laws. They rode together after their marriage and performed in motorcycle thrill shows. She continued to ride after my dad died in an industrial accident in 1949. After she died last year, I had planned to take her ashes on my bike, along the same route, to be with my dad in Tampa.
But an accident of my own — an encounter on my motorcycle with a cow on U.S. 221 at the bottom of Bent Mountain — delayed that trip. It will have to wait until I am fully recovered and cleared to ride.
But we will make the trip, mom and I, sometime in the near future. It will be her last ride home to be with my dad.
Happy Mother’s Day mom. You are missed.