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She Loved Where She Lived

A son recalls the ways in which his late mother loved her life

By Scott Saalman

In 2021, my mother was buried at We Love Where We Live cemetery in the river town that she was moored to her whole life.

The cemetery's official name is St. Mary's, but Mom and I gave it a nickname due to the town's official roadside welcome sign (catchphrase: "We love where we live!") having been erected beside the boneyard's western border.

A mother holding up an older photo. Next Avenue
Scott Saalman's mother  |  Credit: Courtesy of Scott Saalman

Seeing "We love where we live" so near tombstones was not lost on our shared sense of humor (dark), nor was the farewell message, ripe with reincarnation overtones, on the other side of the sign: "We hope you come back."

A parent who loses a child often becomes the ghost.

My baby sister's body was delivered into the dirt there during the 1960s. We used lightheartedness to cope with darkness. The nickname was not a dig against the town. Tell City, Indiana was Mom's heaven on earth. If anything, it was simply commentary on unfortunate sign placement.

Tombstones are nothing more than postage stamps for a different kind of delivery. I recall brotherly pride while holding my baby sister for the first (and only) time, a moment that, in hindsight, foreshadowed a life lesson: sometimes the first time is also the last time.

Loss of a Sisterly Presence

Mere hours later, my sister was rushed to the emergency room, vanishing for good, returned to sender, due to a medical gaffe (admitted by the doctor). The resulting emptiness, the void of a sisterly presence, has deepened as I've aged. Often, I have tried to fill the hole, perhaps explaining why nearly all my friends are female.

How my parents felt about their loss, I try not to imagine, what with having a son and daughter of my own. A parent who loses a child often becomes the ghost.

I imagine my sister grown now, looking over my shoulder as I write this, her face reflecting from the computer resembling my mother's face. This brings a chill to my spine, a burn to the eye. Halos and holes. Holes and halos.

My Mom, the Consummate Host

I didn't cry at Mom's funeral home service, nor later at We Love Where We Live. I was too busy welcoming visitors. One trait I gained from Mom was a compulsion to be a consummate host. She loved introducing people to one another, point out commonalities and forge connections. She greeted Walmart greeters before they greeted her.

Old photo of a mom and young son. Next Avenue
Scott Saalman and his mother   |  Credit: Courtesy of Scott Saalman

Mom was a diner hostess, a role she loved and shined at. I was fond of watching her smile and joke with customers and offer advice as guests aired personal angsts while picking at blue plate lunch specials. Like Lucy van Pelt manning her 5-cent psychiatric help booth, the "doctor" was always "in." Though Mom lacked a college degree, she did re-up her annual subscription to "Psychology Today." Many people reported to me how she had helped them through a difficult time.


As a teen, Mom aspired to attend college. She actually saved enough money from high school jobs to attend fall semester at a business college in Evansville, as well as pay rent on a ramshackle apartment. On her first day at the apartment, she unpacked her suitcase, but never returned, not even to retrieve her things, feeling too out of place in an urban environment.

A rich Evansville couple who owned a large department store learned of her housing plight through the college and invited her to live in their large home. They threw her a welcome party, inviting their rich friends, but Mom, mortified by the attention, failed to show. Ultimately, a woman running the local YWCA took her in, and in return, Mom babysat for her child.

Mom did well in secretarial courses, especially shorthand writing. During the semester, though, she became pregnant and was married on New Year's Eve. Pregnant, too poor for a second semester, she quit college.

A mother and son smiling outside. Next Avenue
Credit: Courtesy of Scott Saalman

Living Her Dream

Twenty years later, in 1983, she sent me to college via the wages and tips she saved, entitling me to the dream she once aspired to for herself. In 2022, my daughter Delaney earned her bachelor's degree in English. Mom was excited knowing Delaney enrolled in college. Unfortunately, she died before Delaney earned a diploma. I imagined Mom proudly applauding from the rafters during the graduation ceremony.

For graduation, I gave Delaney a business school shorthand pin that Mom earned for an "80 WPM" milestone, which Dad had discovered after her death. That Mom secretly kept this pin for nearly 60 years is a testament to her college dreams.

I finally cried on the evening of Mom's funeral, oddly enough, after deactivating her Facebook account.

I finally cried on the evening of Mom's funeral, oddly enough, after deactivating her Facebook account.

I had created her account years before the Stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis. She loved Facebook and the many get-well wishes and prayers posted by friends during her five-year cancer war.

I sobbed not only because of a sudden surge of remorse, which I expected, but also due to an unexpected sense of guilt for believing I had hammered the proverbial final nail into her coffin. Yes, she died from a cancer detected far too late, but it was that final Facebook click I made and the subsequent erasure of her social media existence that represented the permanent deactivation of her earthly existence.

Her death, which had seemed so surreal, suddenly felt most real. Mom would want my reflections to end in positive light, so I'll end this with two truths, both of which I'm most certain: She loved living her life, and she loved where she lived.

Scott Saalman’s new collection of humor columns, "Quietly Making Noise," is available on Amazon. He can be reached at scottsaalman (at) Read More
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