As a mother, Viviane Fotter has everything she wants.

She has five sons, 13 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, a home on the lake and beautiful flower gardens of which she is proud.

She also braids rugs, makes peek-a-boo dolls to give away and creates all sorts of Christmas decorations to fill her house during the holidays.

But the biggest and most important thing she does, according to her son, Steve Fotter, is love her family.

“Mom taught us all how to love,” he said. “Mom loves like no other person — and she cares.”

Steve, 57, is particularly protective of his mother, who is 82 but has the energy and will of a 20-year-old.

She moves around her Belgrade Lakes kitchen as if she doesn’t have a thing wrong with her, but we all know differently.

I know because she and I were hospital roommates 20 years ago when she had back surgery and had to lie flat on her back and I had intestinal trouble and could not eat.

We felt sorry for each other and lifted each other’s spirits by telling stories long into the night when we couldn’t sleep.

On Mother’s Day that year, Steve came to our hospital room with his guitar and sang to her. I remember I was so moved, I cried.

Eventually we parted ways but Viviane and I always kept in touch through Christmas cards.

And on Monday, I visited her for the first time in 20 years, traveling to her Long Pond home with Steve and his wife, Linda.

We sat around Viviane’s kitchen table and talked about everything under the sun, including that Mother’s Day in the hospital 20 years ago.

Steve calls his mother a miracle, having endured just about every surgery imaginable. He notes that her hands are gnarled from rheumatoid arthritis and she hurts all the time, but keeps on going.

I ask just how many operations she’s had.

“Well,” she says, “I had a hip replaced, and my back operations. I had rods and screws in my neck. I’ve had both of my shoulders replaced — reverse replacements. I broke my jaw, too, in the 80s. I have a plate in my jaw.”

But Viviane is not one to complain — she probably smiles more than anyone I know, and seems so happy.

“What’s there not to smile about?” she asks, simply. “If you go around with a sober face, that’s not very good. The Lord has been good to me, I’ll tell you. There are a lot of people in this world a lot worse off than me.”

I wonder aloud how she deals with the pain.

“I don’t think about it,” she says, matter-of-factly. “I just work around it.”

We talk about what it was like raising six sons (one passed away) with her late husband, Perham, whom she lovingly refers to as Pummy.

They were married 54 years until he died in 2002. They lived in Oakland when the boys were small and cleared the land and helped build the Long Pond camp, which later became their year-round home. There was always music in the house, as all the boys were guitarists and Pummy was a singer.

Viviane worked long hours at the Diamond Match mill in Oakland for 34 years. Steve remembers she came home with splinters in her hands and he’d help pluck them out. She even has a plastic knuckle on one hand because the real one became infected from a splinter they didn’t catch and had to be removed.

“She’d work all day, then come home and make supper, then make lunches for all six of us boys for school, then go to sleep and get up and do it all over again,” Steve said.

“Mom is the strongest person that has ever lived and I’ve been told I have a little bit of her in me,” he said.

He stops, tears welling up, then goes on: “There’s not a stronger person in the world than Mom.”

Our conversation eventually turns to Mother’s Day and I ask what they will do Sunday.

“We’ll come and either bring you breakfast or make it here,” Steve tells Viviane.

Then, they’ll all go to Old South Church in Belgrade where, among other things, Viviane will give thanks for her family. She smiles at the thought.

“This is what I live for — these kids of mine, and my grandchildren. I can’t understand people not having children. When they grow up to be my age, who have they got?”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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