My mom passed away in 1998, and I think about her frequently and miss her always. She was an amazing and godly woman. (You can read my tribute to her here.)
So when the request was made of The Stand’s stable of bloggers that we consider writing something for Mother’s Day, I thought, I’m off the hook! My mom is in heaven – and I’m pretty sure they don’t read The Stand up there.
However, I started thinking about the mother of my children, and suddenly I had another hero worthy of my rather limited writing gifts.
This June 13, Dianne and I will have been married for 36 years. She was – and is – a Mississippi gal; I was a Yankee from New England. We met at Bible College in Dallas, Texas, and when I first laid eyes on her, I told my friend, “I’m going to marry that woman.”
He thought I was nuts, but, then again, I get that a lot. Dianne turned me down twice when I asked her out, but I was rather used to rejection by that point. I persisted. She finally accepted, surrendering either to irritation, morbid curiosity, or pity. It certainly didn’t matter to me.
We got married in her hometown of Morton, Mississippi, and as the wife of a minister, we moved our fair share of times. We had stints in California, Arizona, and Arkansas, but most of those moves have been around the Magnolia State. Since we married in 1981, we have called Mississippi our home for 31 of those years.
In some ways, being a pastor’s wife wasn’t easy for her. Her natural constitution is to be on the shy side of the personality scale. According to the pattern of a “typical” pastor’s wife, she didn’t sing, play the piano, or teach the women in Sunday school.
However, Dianne has always been in love with Jesus and a lover of people, which, in my book, made her the very best kind of pastor’s wife. She is the most compassionate person I’ve ever known and spent decades by my side holding the hands of the brokenhearted, praying for the sick and sorrowful, and counseling the confused and fearful. It was nothing for Dianne to surprise a woman of our church at her home with a handful of flowers or a half-gallon of her favorite ice cream.
Church came second, though, because her family was always first. Her husband and her kids were her first ministry. Dianne served her children and poured her life into them. She was their caretaker, their nurse, their counselor, and their first line of defense. She loved their souls and constantly sought God for their salvation and protection. Now she spends time being a good “Mimi” to her grandkids, and, honestly, when Dianne is with our littlest ones, she is like a kid at Christmas.
I have been blessed to have a great cook for a wife, too. When the tendency down here in the South is for people to prefer the foods they can either kill, catch, or grow, Dianne loves to cook food that is unusual – and typically spicy. Moreover, she long ago learned the art of making an amazing marinara sauce for my favorite food in all the world – pasta!
As anyone who knows her can attest, one of the things that most stands out about Dianne is her love for animals. Despite my most vigorous protests, our house has been a menagerie since I gave her a parakeet for her first birthday as newlyweds. Dogs, cats, fish, turtles, lizards, rabbits, potbellied pigs, pygmy goats, chickens, gerbils, hamsters, and birds of all sizes and shapes – these have all spent time at the Vitagliano zoo. It’s no wonder her nickname growing up was Elly May Clampett of The Beverly Hillbillies fame.
Many of these creatures were temporary visitors, because Dianne has never seen a hurting animal that she wouldn’t rescue. One day I came home from work only to discover a baby owl in a cage. Yes, an owl! She’d found it flopping around with a broken wing, brought it home, and called the Mississippi State veterinary school for advice.
If there’s a turtle trying to cross the road, she will stop to help it across so it doesn’t get run over. When I’ve warned her that she could get run over doing this, she’s assured me that she’s very careful. Somehow, I doubt that’s her top priority.
When her dad accidentally ran over a litter of rabbits in a field where he was bush hogging, my wife called me, panicky and pleading for the money to take a survivor to the vet. Of course, $75 and 24 hours later, we had a dead baby rabbit to bury. (Honestly, if I had all the money we’ve spent spaying/neutering puppies or kittens and rescuing yet another “poor little thing,” we could be retired on a Caribbean island by now. Or at least in a Florida condo.)
For a couple of weeks, we even owned a cussing parrot that she had purchased at a nearby flea market. An older couple had it with them as they tended their booth selling other items. Dianne was horrified to hear the woman brag about feeding the bird Pepsi, beer, and fried chicken. (Feeding chicken to a parrot – now that’s just wrong!) The mistreatment of the bird touched my wife’s heart, and she made an offer. While she didn’t know the parrot’s language habits at the time, she soon found out. And one day after work, as I was making my way to my home office, I found out too. Now, as a part-time pastor of a local church, we sometimes hosted the elders and their wives at our home. I might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I knew a profane parrot was a no-no. Soon after, he left our home and went to someone who either didn’t mind what the parrot was saying or couldn’t tell. I didn’t ask – and didn’t care.
Yes, Dianne is still the most beautiful woman in the world to me, but her compassionate heart is part of what makes her who she is – and I can’t help but love her for it. For all these years, she has been my “bestest” friend. I would rather eat at McDonald’s with Dianne than the finest restaurant without her. She’s my closest companion and confidant, and I have told her everything in my heart and mind for three-and-a-half decades.
So this blog is for you, Dianne. You were always beauty to my beast, a ray of sunlight piercing through the black clouds of a storm; to the woman who has stood with me through fire and flood and the parched lands of a thousand deserts, I love you.
Happy Mother’s Day.