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A timeless classic about a tireless mother — here's to you, Mary Margaret Plaschke

A timeless classic about a tireless mother — here's to you, Mary Margaret Plaschke
Mary Margaret Plaschke, mother of L.A. Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke, lives in Louisville, Ky., where she helped her son become a journalist. (Courtesy of the Plaschke family)

She was my first reader, my first editor, even my first publisher, her weary fingers tapping out my first words in a darkened basement in the middle of the night.

I was a 13-year-old sportswriter who couldn't type, so my mother would type my stories for me.

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It was always Sunday, always late. She had to report for work at the Ford plant early the next morning, but she would wait up for me to scribble my youth league baseball game story into a little blue binder. Then she would take the binder and walk down the steps to the rickety tray table that held the whirring Corona electric typewriter.

Once there, my dreams always her dreams, she began to peck away. She didn't love sports. She didn't understand everything I was writing. But she pursed her lips and hunched over the keyboard and diligently copied my cliche-ridden sentences as if recording the greatest story ever told.

I would stand next to her the entire time, holding my breath, watching, waiting, hoping for even the smallest reaction. She knew it, so she would occasionally stop typing, glance up at me, and smile.

"Looking good, Billy,'' she would say.

"You're almost done,'' I would say.

But she was never done.

When she finished typing, I would carefully place the pages into a large manila envelope. We would then walk upstairs and climb into a rattling Pinto, which she would drive through deserted streets across the east end of Louisville, Ky., eventually pulling up at the storefront that housed the neighborhood weekly newspaper. I would jump out and slide the envelope into the mail slot. I would return to the car to find her sitting at the wheel with her eyes closed. I used to think she was deep in thought. Now I know she was just tired.

We would quietly return home and she would disappear down the hallway for a few hours of sleep. Four days later, my little story would miraculously appear on the pages of the Voice-Jeffersonian.

Except the miracle wasn't the newsprint, it was my mother, the strongest person I know, maybe like a mother you know, one of those powerful women who never stop carrying us.

This year, Mary Margaret Plaschke finally reached an age — I wouldn't dare tell you what age — where she has at last agreed to allow me to honor all mothers by celebrating her with a Mother's Day column.

"At this point, you better hurry up,'' she said.

I talk to her every day. I'll call her cell. She rarely picks up. I'll leave an intentionally long and slow message. She'll call back in the middle of that message.

"Found it!'' she shouts triumphantly.

Mary Margaret Plaschke tells her son, Bill: "You have to wear a tie. Otherwise everyone sees your fat neck."
Mary Margaret Plaschke tells her son, Bill: "You have to wear a tie. Otherwise everyone sees your fat neck." (Courtesy of the Plaschke family)

While I have spent the last 38 years traveling the world as a sportswriter, she lives in Louisville. While I have written more than 6,000 stories for the Los Angeles Times, her greatest treasure is a scrapbook containing my faded and yellow clips from that neighborhood weekly.

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She is still a mom. Age has softened her stature, but nothing can stop her from being that mom. She is still that feisty redhead who scolds me to work harder, nags me to be stronger, and listens to me forever.

"No, you first,'' she says when we both start speaking at the same time, me first, always first.

In a way, we are still working together. Only now, she hunches over her laptop and pecks away at The Times website in search of my byline. When she fails, she asks me to email my column. I'll forget, and she'll ask again, and make some crack about sometime this year, and finally I'll send her five stories at once.

At which point, I'll receive five texts from her, one per story, all of them with the same familiar tone.

"Looking good, Billy.''

Mothers are lifetime cheerleaders, true believers, the ultimate homers.

Mothers are also reality checks, truth-tellers, trash-talkers who always have the last word.

The best part about being a panelist for the long-running ESPN show "Around the Horn'' is that it allows my mom to see me at least twice a week. She sets up in front of the TV with a glass of wine and calls it her "happy hour.''

Yet she has the same comment about every show, and it's never about my arguments, it's always about my clothing.

"You have to wear a tie,'' she insists. "Otherwise everyone sees your fat neck.''

She's pushes me like she has always pushed herself. She grew up in a household of nine in Louisville's depressed west end. Her father, Willie, worked on the railroad. Her parents never owned a house or a car. She shared a bed with two of her brothers. Her early life was filled with hardship, but you'll read no more of it here, because she's a proud woman who asked if her son could, for once, go easy on the melodrama.

"Do not make this story sad,'' my mother commanded. "This is not about poor me.''

No, this is about triumphant you.

Bill Plaschke's mother, Mary Margaret, got a business degree at 55 and sold real estate until 75.
Bill Plaschke's mother, Mary Margaret, got a business degree at 55 and sold real estate until 75. (Courtesy of Plaschke family)

My mother started working after her high school graduation to help the family pay rent and never really stopped, setting a wonderfully empowering example for me and my three siblings. She got her business degree from Southern Illinois University at age 55. She sold real estate until she was 75. Her specialty was, no surprise, finding homes for financially struggling couples.

She married my father, Grover, when she was 21 and they remained married for 63 years until his death in 2016. She's buried a husband and all six brothers and she's still the most hopeful person I know.

"You have to make hay while the sun still shines,'' she said.

She plays bridge almost every day. First place is six bucks. She battles for those six bucks. When she started losing, she enlisted the help of a bridge coach. Yes, there are bridge coaches. She is so active with church and friends and card games that, when writing this story, I asked her for her shoe brand and size. I was going to make a metaphor about her being the best athlete I know.

"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard,'' she said.

OK, so, um, I'll be visiting her in Louisville this Mother's Day, and I hope I can be standing next to her when she reads this column.

She didn't type it, but she wrote it. She's been selflessly writing it for my entire life, and this time, I'll be the one who glances down at her and smiles. This time, finally, it's my turn.

Looking good, Mom.

Get more of Bill Plaschke's work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke.

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