Mother’s Day is coming up. Last year, for Father’s Day, I wrote about my special memories of my dad. I guess this year is Mom’s turn.
When I think of Mom, back when I was a child, I think of: red lipstick, a pearl necklace and gold hoop ear rings in her dresser drawer, and a red, heart shaped, Valentine’s candy box. Then I might think of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books up on a shelf or her reading us Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories”. My favorite was always “How the Elephant Got His Trunk”.
As my mind flips through the channels of jumbled childhood memories, I see her exercising with Jack Lalane on the black and white television screen and her playing her electric steel guitar with it set up on top of the ironing board. With five children born between 1955 and 1962, she had her hands full with us and yet she still had a garden to take care of, clothes to wash and iron (no permanent press in those days), bread to bake, meals to make and canning to do.
As she did all these things, she taught us how to do them too. We learned to prepare and plant a garden, raking the soil after dad ran the plow and disk through it, then planting the vegetables. We put radish seeds in with the carrot seeds because the radishes would be more visible than the small carrot sprouts and they would help thin the carrots. We planted the corn in individual diggings with three kernels in each. And the seed potatoes were planted in ‘hills’ dug out with the hoe. After planting, of course, came the weeding, lots of weeding.
As if that wasn’t enough, she also fit in some means of earning a little extra money doing things like harvesting wild rice, planting trees and cleaning cabins. The only one of these that she involved me in was the cabin cleaning. She took me with her to help when she cleaned cabins at Bear Paw Lodge. It made me feel very grownup to be going ‘to work’ with her.
Mom was never afraid to teach us things and then turn us lose to do them on our own. Sometimes that meant having to fix our mistakes, like the first time she had me make the batch of bread (9 loaves) in the big aluminum pan she used. I’d helped her with it many times so I was quite confident about what needed to be done and how. Everything went fine until I went to let the dough rise in the large pan. It sat for hours and didn’t rise at all. When Mom finally realized that there was a problem she went back over the instructions with me (knowing full well what I had forgotten). I realized it as soon as she said it, the yeast! I had forgotten the yeast. It wasn’t the last time I forgot an ingredient or an instruction but even when she was very frustrated or upset she seemed to take it in stride and didn’t take away our adventures in the kitchen.
Mom also taught us to sew. By the time I had my home economics course in junior high, I had already sewn a blouse with a zipper and fitted sleeves at home. She taught us how to read and lay out a pattern and how to use the old treadle sewing machine. Years before she had already taught us how to do embroidery on dish towels and whatever else we chose to decorate with bright colored thread.
As I let the memories roll by some more, I think of night time snacks of popcorn or homemade doughnuts. When I think of it now, it seems like making doughnuts would be quite a chore, but we sure had them often enough. I guess it was something she always had the ingredients for. Mom always liked to play games, and still does. She taught us how to play card games like Rummy and Hearts, and loved to play them with us.
When I was thirteen she became pregnant with our youngest sister, Rebecca, eight years younger than my youngest brother. She didn’t ever actually tell us that she was pregnant that I remember, but we started to figure it out as she started to shop for baby clothes at the rummage sales we’d go to. She had just come home from the hospital with our new baby sister a day or so before, when one morning my dad told me that I would need to stay home from school to take care of the baby while he brought my mom back to the hospital. He didn’t tell me what exactly was going on but I knew it was serious or they wouldn’t have left in such a hurry. It was a very sobering experience for me. I’d never taken care of a new born baby before, it seemed like a huge responsibility, and the situation with my mom going to the hospital was very scary to me. I slept on the couch with my baby sister in her bassinet right next to me. I don’t think I got much sleep because I was jumping up to check on her every time she made a noise. It wasn’t long before Grandma was there to help me and in a few days my mom was back home again and doing fine.
I don’t think you ever really realize what you put your parents through while you were teenagers until you are the parent of a teenager yourself. At the time you always see them as invincible grownups. Never really occurred to me that they might actually be worried about me if I was out late, I thought it just made them mad. Sorry about those times Mom.
Mom was the one who watched out for the little details for me as I moved on into independence. It was practical ones, like buying me basic cooking utensils for my first utility apartment, that she provided when I graduated from high school, and the thoughtful one of sending me money to buy a new dress to wear when I decided to get married.
I was both surprised and touched when she showed up in my hospital room the night my first baby was born. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask her to come, and since it was my first baby and her first grandchild, I really didn’t know what the normal protocol was for such things.
As the difference in the age gap continues to shrink as we get older, we’ve had the opportunity to do things together like sharing in retreats and flying to my nieces wedding together.
Thanks Mom, for just being Mom.