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Life Lessons From Mothers of Faith: EXCERPT:

By Senator Harry Reid

We Can, We Will, We Must

Every generation makes the same promise.  We strive and struggle to give our children a better life than our parents gave us.  That includes sharing our values with them so they one day will work to make their children’s lives even better than their own.

That’s the promise of America and, for me, the purpose of public service.

I’m not quite sure when or where I learned that lesson, or who taught it to me.  I wish I could say I grew up in a house where we sat around the kitchen table, talked out our problems and talked about our dreams.  I wish I could say my moral compass as a boy had a true North.  But it wouldn’t be honest for me to say so.

Harry Reid's home until he was a teen

When I grew up in Searchlight, Nevada – a desolate desert mining town years past its prime – religion was as hard to come by as hot water.  You could count thirteen brothels and zero churches.  And inside my family’s tiny home, the closest thing we had to a religious symbol up on our wall wasn’t a cross – it was a pillowcase.

My mom hung a navy blue pillowcase, fringed in bright yellow, with a quote stitched in that same color.  It said “We Can. We Will. We Must.”  Underneath was the name of the man who coined the quote: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  That was our religion.

I’m not one to pity myself, but no one should have to grow up the way I did.  My parents drank and smoked and fought too much.  My family had little more than each other.  Looking back, we didn’t really have a lot to be confident or optimistic about.

But somehow, that’s exactly what my mother was: confident and optimistic when she had no excuse to be.  She raised a family in a shack made of railroad ties and chicken wire.  Until I became an adult and could afford to buy my mom a set of dentures, she endured the humiliation of a toothless mouth.  And no girl grows up dreaming she’ll take in the town brothels’ wash just to make a living.

My mom, Inez Reid, was as good to my brothers and me as she could be.  She loved being around people and people loved being with her.  She was social and supportive.  When I was nominated to be Basic High School’s Junior Carnival King, it wasn’t a popularity contest.  It was a race to see who could raise the most money.  My mom went door to door and from business to business.  Her grace and generosity didn’t just help me win that high school contest – she made her son feel like royalty.

She would come to my plays, watch my baseball games and cheer loudly when I played football.  I could often hear her, even under my helmet and pads.  It sometimes embarrassed me as a teenager, but I was always glad she was there.  And it wasn’t hard to notice that my dad wasn’t sitting next to her.

My brothers and I couldn’t count on my dad for Christmas gifts, either.  He had other uses for what little money he earned.  But my mom went far out of her way for her boys.

One Christmas she struggled to scrape together some money so she could buy us a present.  She ordered from a catalog and arranged to pay cash on delivery.  The gifts came, but she didn’t have enough money to pay for them.

Finally, on midnight of Christmas Eve, she rushed to post office, woke up the postmistress, and begged her to open the door so she could pay for her sons’ gifts.  Like I said, we didn’t have any religion in my house.  Without my mom’s loving effort, Christmas wouldn’t have meant much of anything.

More than 50 years later, I still remember the bicycle I got that Christmas.  But it was hardly the most memorable gift she gave me.  Her confidence inspired that quality in me.

I wasn’t the smartest student in my class, or the most handsome boy in town, and though I often hoped otherwise, I wasn’t the best athlete in school.  But you wouldn’t know it from listening to my mother.  She told me I was all of those things, and I believed her.  My mom wasn’t worried it would make me vain; she knew it would give me the confidence to believe in myself, to reach higher and to trust that I could one day enjoy a life better than hers.

Like so many others, my grandfather came to the Nevada desert looking for fortune.  But once the mines closed up around Searchlight, you couldn’t find much in my hometown.  It wasn’t the kind of place where adults could find steady work or young boys could find a lot of role models.  But I had my mom, and her love was all I needed.

I know I got confidence from my mother.  But I’ve often asked myself where she got hers.  I didn’t discover one of the pieces to that puzzle until much later in my life.

My mom was a good parent because she was a good person.  And I believe she was such a caring woman and such a loving mother because, as I was surprised to learn, she grew up surrounded by the love and care of the Church.

A friend introduced me to an early morning seminary class when I was in high school.  It was lead by Mr. Walker, the school’s Spanish teacher, who was also the bishop in the local ward.  He was a brilliant teacher and I enjoyed his classes.  I met many Mormon friends through him.  And through it all, my mother never said a word about the LDS Church.

After my wife, Landra, and I joined the church as young college students at Utah State University, my mom told her something I never knew: that she was baptized a member of the Church and grew up in the Church until she was 18 – only two years younger than I was when I joined it.  Added together, you could say my mom and I have lived a lifetime in the Church.

We may not have had religion in our home, but my mother most definitely had it in her heart.  Like the few dollars she scraped together on Christmas Eve, she somehow found the strength to look beyond her troubles and give me unconditional love.  As I look back, I wish things had been better for her.  She deserved it.  But no mother could have loved her son more than she loved me, and no son could love his dear mother more than I still do.

Inez Reid

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