Mom Was A Servant

Cindy With Smiling Eyes

Cindy With Smiling Eyes


I indulged myself last Saturday. Rich was buried in work and my toenails were scuffed, so I scooted off for a pedicure. It’s rare for me to sit for a whole hour while someone else serves me. I found myself studying the manicurists, listening to the clients’ chatter, trying to guess what color polish the fashionable young woman beside me might choose.

Cindy, my pedicurist replies me when I ask her name–the question seems to startle her. At first I take her for a young woman, but as I study her I see the middle-aged sag in her smooth skin, the lines webbing the backs of her hands. She sits on a stool in front of me, washing, then massaging, my feet and calves. I try to imagine how I would feel after a day spent squatting on a stool, washing and massaging other people’s feet.

Cindy washes my feet.  

She doesn’t command much English, so we speak little. She knows the words she needs to do her job:
Too hot? 

Polish color?

Good enough? 

Beyond that, she smiles.

Cindy washes my feet.  

I’m not used to being served, to being handled and touched by someone I hired. It feels odd, to pay this woman to file and shape and polish my toenails. It feels like false intimacy.

Thoughts of transacted “intimacy” make me squirm. I tip my mind over, searching something else to consider. Cindy, I realize, reminded me of someone. But who?

Cindy always smiles, unless I catch her in a moment when she doesn’t see me watching. Then I see the fatigue unfurling, a veil draping itself across her weary face. When she says too hot? and I nod, she cools the tub water, smiling.

Cindy, I realize suddenly, reminds me of Mom.

Cindy washes my feet. 

Now I’m thinking of my sister, at that reception we hosted just days after Mom died. She surveyed the room, my sister did, taking in the generous contingent of friends who had gathered, the food we had numbly ordered, the flowers and cards. You know what Mom would say? She’d look around and say, All for me?

Cindy washes my feet. 

Now I’m four, I’m small, my hair is still fair, and Mom bends over my navy blue Keds, double-knotting my laces.

And now it’s just a few weeks before she dies, and I’m creeping into my parents’ house in the middle of the night after a long drive across the dark dark desert. From her hospital bed in the living room the voice I still hear today calls out, “Hi, Honey! How was your drive?”

I see in this instant how her heart was a servant’s heart, how she made us her business all her life, how she guarded her unsmiling moments from our tender eyes, how determined she was to love us well right up to the end. 

I remember the verse the pastor cited at that reception five years ago, saying Marilyn lived this: 

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (ESV)

I give Cindy a gigantic tip and blink as I emerge from the nail shop into the stark sunlight. 

In loving memory of Marilyn Lee Downs Seiler, my mother.

August 20, 1936 to September 30, 2008

My Daughter, My Mother, My Grandson, Me.  Mother's Day, 2007.

My Daughter, My Mother, My Grandson, Me.
Mother’s Day, 2007.


  1. Sweet precious picture. Wonderful remembering too.

  2. There is no sweet without bitter.

    Beautiful. Any less pain, and it wouldn’t set the joy in such stark relief. I love this because it reminds me beauty is in that contrast.

    Losing her made you re-member what was is what now is: Love, sweet and bitter.

    Thank you for opening yourself to it and for the bravery of your witness.

    • Thank you, Mick, for finding something to support an insight. You are so kind that way–and well-gifted to edit, might I add.

      My daughter has been in California with her three littles, ages 6, 2, and 11 months. Watching her mother them, I see that my mother lives on.

  3. Beautiful, Sheila. Simply beautiful.

  4. Through tears … so beautiful.

  5. So beautiful! Your mom, the post, the new Lyla-site. I believe all pedicurists should be tipped generously simply because they do literally wash our feet. I’ve only had three in my life, but they were all amazing.

  6. So lovely, Sheila! Love the photo of 4 generations – so glad you have it. And yes, pedicurists do deserve great tips – it is exactly what you describe. . . surprisingly intimate and a true act of service. I now get one every 4 weeks – I’ve seen how terrible my mom’s and my MIL’s toes have gotten in their old age and I’m doing what I can to keep my feet and nails healthy for a long time. I’ve found a pair of sisters who are just plain inspirational to me – they are part of a large family who slowly immigrated to the US from Vietnam, the whole family devout Catholics and committed to education for their children. I consider it a privilege to have Julia and her sister Kim in my life and to be able to help them educate their kids. Julia does a FAR better job on my feet than I could ever do for myself, that’s for sure.

  7. Oh Sheila, this is just so beautiful. I am having to hold my own tears in to keep from bolting from the room here at work. The very same thing could (and will) be said for my Mom. I am so glad I still have her, but she is 84……time is precious. Lori

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