Opinion: Thankful for these three women who have made a difference in my life

This one's personal.

We have much to be thankful for in this country and in our overstuffed lives, and it would be almost sacrilege to use this space on Thanksgiving Day to opine on some pressing matter of nation, state or city.

So I will take this opportunity to say a word of thanks about the three women with whom I've been closest in this life. If this editorial aberration is not your cup of tea, check back soon when I'll be discussing the likes of the president, the state legislature or the slow grinding gears of local government.

› She's been gone eight years now, her life silenced appropriately on Mother's Day and a month before her 94th birthday. But not a day goes by that I don't think about the woman who gave me life, taught me right from wrong, showed me by example how to place others in front of me and never failed to be proud of me.

Stories about my mother, funny and touching and sad, could fill up this page, but I think immediately of two which reveal all you need to know about Betty Cooper.

The first occurred on a rainy day at least 50 years ago on either the Market Street or Walnut Street Bridge, when it was still traversed by cars. My mother was on her usual daily rounds as a saleswoman when, in front of her, a woman walking and carrying groceries fell, scattering her purchases everywhere. Instead of going on, thinking "how sad," my mother, oblivious of other traffic, stopped to help the woman gather her foodstuffs and, if memory serves, gave her a ride home.

The second happened perhaps 45 years ago when the daughter of our pastor found her beloved dog injured not far from our house. Instead of carrying the dog back home, she sought out my mother, who may have been within eyesight or was in our house close by. My mother, without another thought, helped place the bleeding dog on the back seat of her car, and sped them off to the vet. I don't recall the plight of the dog, but the girl, thankful for my mother's calming influence, dedicated a song she sang at the church talent night, "Mr. Bojangles," to my mother.

› We've been married more than 32 years now, but my wife constantly finds ways to be a friend. Oh, she's my friend, of course. Though she does little cooking herself, she knows where the juicer is when I need it for a recipe. She'll pick up a bonus cookie in addition to a sandwich a night here and there if I'm working late. And she'll replace part of the quilt back on me as I shiver in our cold house as the air conditioning and fan work overtime to keep her from being too hot.

But for as long as I've known Donna Cooper, she's remained a loyal friend to so many and has collected many others along the way in her jobs as a personal counselor and then a career counselor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. But when she retired in July, she did not put a period on those friendships. Indeed, she picked up a few.

And the ones I especially love are the three students in whom she has taken an interest. I don't know their particular circumstances, nor does it matter. But it has delighted her to have lunch with them, buy them little gifts and give them an opportunity to talk about whatever it is about college — and it could be a lot of things — that is vexing them on a particular day. And having been a counselor, she's a good listener. And as a licensed professional coach, she's also good with ideas.

When these girls march across the stage one day and receive their diplomas, I know one surrogate mom who will be as happy for them as the day her son got either of his two academic degrees.

› Just 16 months younger than me, she was my first friend and playmate. And when my sister and I are together, we still fall back into stories of our youth, the latest on the cultural kitsch of the day, or discussing, as John Denver once sang, "what's the latest thing the neighbors say."

Creative and frenetic like our mother, she can sew, cook, craft, teach, paint, garden, decorate and be ahead of the curve on what's cool. As someone once observed — with perhaps a hint of jealousy about all she could do: "That Jan — I just love her, I just hate her."

But also like our mother, she's taken on the role of sorts as den mother to her four brothers. Time for a family get-together? She'll host it. Need a hole in trousers mended? She'll stitch it. Have a doctor's appointment? She'll take you. Out of your house because of a tornado? She's got an apartment you can use.

Tales of Jan Cooper's wild 20s are still brought up when certain friends come around, but in between then and now have come two responsible, well-educated children. And now twin grandchildren are on the way. Just wait until they learn what a cool grandmother they have.

Today, I'm thankful for these three, and so much more. For whom are you thankful today?

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