Today, 'I feel so, so blessed' Thanksgiving: A Baltimore mother is glad to see the daughter she worried over starting out on her own.

November 27, 1997|By Debbie M. Price | Debbie M. Price,SUN STAFF

In the mud and the cold and the wet of Parris Island, S.C., slogging along on blistered and bleeding feet for 42 miles with a 50-pound pack and an eight-pound rifle, sleeping just three or four hours in more than four days, Danette Mathis -- Betty Franklin's baby -- thought about home.

Three states away, back in Baltimore in a smart little red brick rowhouse on Reverdy Road, Betty Franklin tried not to worry about "Dani" -- her little girl, soon to become a U.S. Marine.

Mathis survived boot camp and "The Crucible," the test that separates would-bes from Marines, and came home with her private first class' stripes. Franklin stopped worrying, as much as a mother ever can. And today when they gather around the glass-topped dining table in their home in Northeast Baltimore, they will say a special thanks for the good things in life and most of all, for the chance, once again, to be together.

"I feel so blessed," Franklin says, simply. "So, so blessed."

Thanksgiving -- the American holiday -- celebrates homecoming as much as it does the harvest. And for parents who have raised children to adulthood or nearly there, for moms and dads who wait for babies to return from college, from the military, from the big city or the country, there is no greater satisfaction than knowing that the seeds they have planted, the lives they have nurtured, have grown to maturity.

Rituals and recipes handed down from one generation to the next -- sweet potato pie, cornbread dressing -- backyard games of touch football and that moaning, groaning "I-ate-too-much" feeling are the trimmings on a day that, at its simplest distillation, is about families. Ordinary families.

These are simple families for the most part, people like Betty Franklin and her daughters, Danette and Kelli Mathis, who but for birth and death notices, and perhaps a wedding or anniversary photo, would never see their names in headlines or on the evening news.

Franklin, a single mother for most of her children's lives, drove a school bus and worked in every way she could to raise two girls who went to college and then joined the military to be able to pay for more college. Danette Mathis, 20, studied computer science at the Johns Hopkins University and wants to play the clarinet in the U.S. Marine Corps band. Kelli Mathis, 28, is in the Air Force Reserve and work nights at a hospital center for sleep disorders.

Until Danette Mathis left for South Carolina in August, she and her mother were never more than a short drive apart. Even at Hopkins, Franklin was popping in almost every day with laundry, goodies or just advice. The separation has been tough on both of them, but it's been necessary.

"I think of the birds. You have to teach them to fly away from the nest so they can be on their own," Franklin says. "It's always been very important to me that they could do without me, that I could know that they would be all right because parents don't live forever."

For Mathis, coming home after the privations of Parris Island, Baltimore looked "like Disneyland." She could drive a car, instead of walking everywhere. She could go to the store. She could listen to her station on the radio. And no more waking at 4 a.m. to brush her teeth before 60 other women rushed for the bathroom.

Such are the simple pleasures, that Mathis, like so many others at home on break, will savor for the next week until she returns to the Marines.

Franklin will cook all morning for her girls and her husband of two years, Reginald Franklin, and his children and his 93-year-old father. And then about 4 p.m. when the ham and the turkey, the macaroni and cheese, the white yams, the homemade mashed potatoes and the instant potatoes for Danette, the cornbread dressing and the Stovetop stuffing (again for Danette) are done, they will gather around the table and Franklin will pray.

"Thank you God for this food and bless us in your service. In Jesus' name, Amen." Silently, she will tick off the other blessings, dozens of them.

"I am grateful for my health, for two beautiful daughters who have never given me a bit of trouble, for a good husband who has given me a lovely home, for a job that I kind of enjoy, for this rTC opportunity for all of us to be together, again," Franklin says.

And Mathis, tall and shy, with a reserve that almost hides an impish humor, will be thinking, as she was a night earlier this week.

"I am grateful for private showers and that I get to wear my watch now.

"I am grateful for home cooking.

"I am grateful that Baltimore gets Utz potato chips.

"I am grateful to have survived the Crucible to become a Marine.

L "I am grateful for my family and to finally have them back."

Pub Date: 11/27/97

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