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Pictures of Mom

As you celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday, picture your mother in your mind. Where is she? My mom could be inside or outside, and she was always busy.  

              Using a needle and thread, she made clothes for herself and me that were finer than those sold on 5th Avenue in New York City, and the living room drapes she sewed hung with perfect pleats. When I heard Mom and Dad discuss money matters and major purchases, I knew that she held the checkbook and it balanced to the penny every month. 

            Mom grew beautiful flowers, especially irises and roses, and even though, Dad, my brother, and I worked in our yard and vegetable garden, Mom was the general.  She made flower arrangements for Sunday church services, and when I was a twelve she opened a flower shop in our home’s basement.  Her skills and talents to create and manage money made the business successful.  So successful that its profits paid for my brother’s and my college educations.

            After retirement, Mom and Dad took up golf and most Wednesday and Sunday afternoons, they and my aunt and uncle were on the golf course.  Those were also the years that Mom began making quilts, all pieced and stitched by hand, one for each of her three grandchildren.

            Many pictures of Mom float through my head, but most vivid are those of her in her kitchen.  She’s wearing an apron, made from a twenty-five-pound flour bag, tied around her waist.  Using her green-handled pastry cutter, she cuts Crisco into Martha White self-rising flour, then adds buttermilk, and stirs just enough to moisten the dry ingredients.  Then she dumps the dough onto a flour-covered pastry cloth and kneads it a few times, rolls it gently with a rolling pin, and cuts out biscuits.

            Mom uses that same biscuit dough to make a favorite wintertime dessert, butter sticks.  While butter melts in a big glass casserole dish in the oven, she cuts the flattened dough into rectangles about the size of a small candy bar.  Then she coats both sides of each piece of dough with melted butter and places them in the dish.  The dough gets a good heavy-handed sprinkling of sugar and bakes while Mom, Dad, my brother, and I eat supper.   

            A big black skillet sits on the front stove eye, and Mom pours oil into it.  She dips chicken pieces in milk and then drops them into a brown paper grocery bag that holds a mixture of flour, salt, and pepper.  Mom hands me the bag to shake and she sprinkles flour onto the oil to test if it’s hot enough for frying chicken.  With tongs, she gently places each chicken piece into the hot oil.  After a few minutes, she turns the chicken to brown to other side and she knows, just by looking, exactly when the chicken is done – crisp on the outside, juicy tender inside.

            There aren’t printed photos of Mom cooking, maybe because it didn’t seem like anything special, but now, I know it was.  Her cooking not only fed my body, it nourished my soul. ####

A Day with Mom

My memories of time with Mom are jumbled. Playing cards. Waxing floors. Working in vegetable and flower gardens. Learning to sew and cook with Mom at my shoulder. There are a few clear pictures, and one is a day fifty years ago when Mom and I shopped for my wedding dress.

The time and place for our wedding were set. He’d wear a white jacket, with a black bow tie and black pants. I’d wear a long white dress and short veil. His attire would be rented, but Mom would make my dress because the cost of a ready made one was exorbitant. She’d save money and make my dress fit perfectly.

Mom and I planned a shopping trip to Nashville. I’d try on dresses and we’d pick our favorite part of each. Mom carried a drawing pad to sketch details: necklines, sleeves, waistlines, skirts, even hemlines. We’d shop at Cain-Sloan, Harvey’s, and a Church Street bridal store. We’d eat a late lunch at the B&W cafeteria, and agree on the dress style and fabric. Our goal was to come home with a drawing, a pattern, and fabric.

First stop was Cain-Sloan. After choosing a few dresses, we were led to the dressing room. The only problem was getting the sales clerk out of the room so Mom could draw and make notes. We probably hurt her feelings, but she left us alone.

I put on a dress that we’d chosen for its silk organza sleeves and overlay skirt, both with wide tucks. While standing on a circle platform surrounded by mirrors, I felt like a princess. The dress fit well and the sleeves and skirt and lace bodice were beautiful, but I wished it didn’t have a high neckline. Mom said she could make a jewel neckline, and we’d need to find the lace for the front bodice.

I tried on other dresses; none compared to the one with tucks. I put the dress on again and loved it – even the neckline was okay. Mom handed rejected dresses to the sales clerk who then came into the dressing room and, of course, oohed and aahed that this was my perfect dress. Mom asked the price. $160. The dress was discounted because it had make-up smudges on the neckline. But $160 was a lot of money in 1969.

Left alone again, Mom and I discussed that she could make fewer tucks and change the neckline. I didn’t want to take the dress off. Then Mom shocked me. “Maybe we could buy this dress, “ she said. If she’d turned somersaults in the middle of the store, I wouldn’t have been as surprised.

Mom paid for my dress with two $100 bills, and she had more in her billfold. Only then did I realize that she had hoped to buy a dress, and not fabric. We did buy tulle and lace for a veil, and our shopping was finished.

This day is my one of my fondest memories of time with Mom. I hold it close to celebrate Mother’s Day.


Nobody Loves us like our Mothers

Recently, a friend shared her grief while mourning her 90-year-old mother’s death. “After all,” she said, “I knew this was going to happen and I visited her every time I could. So why do I feel so lost and upset?”

“Nobody loves us like our mothers. Nobody,” I said. When our #1 cheerleader isn’t here to encourage and praise and help us keep our rudders straight, it takes time learn to live without her. Even when our own children are adults and we are over fifty years old, we miss Mom.

My friend and I agreed we are fortunate to have been raised by mothers who loved us and we will never forget them. My mom passed away in 1991, and rarely does a day go by that I don’t think of her.

It’s a comfort to use Mom’s things. Like a metal measuring cup. It sits on my cabinet shelf beside a shiny, newer measuring cup, but Mom’s has indentions that are easy to see for measuring ¼ and ½ and ¾ cup. And I often wonder how many twenty-five-pound bags of Martha White self-rising flour Mom measured to make biscuits.

I learned to make cornbread with Mom standing beside me. To this day, I never consider cornbread making finished then until the mixing bowl is washed, dried, and put back in the cabinet. Mom said if the cornbread batter is left in a bowl, it quickly becomes stiff and sticks to the bowl, but it slides right off when the bowl is immediately washed.

As I child, I grumbled about setting the table. My family ate almost all meals at home and I had to set the table with placemats, plates, knives, forks, spoons, and a paper napkin. Many years later, I lived with Mom and Dad for two months before Husband’s and my wedding, and Mom told me, “Set the table and your family knows a meal will be served.” The food could be leftovers, a sandwich, or a home cooked meat-and-three meal. No matter, set the table. I still think of Mom when I put plates and silverware on our dining table.

And Mom unknowingly gave me advice for raising teen-agers. I was an 18-year old college student when I did something dangerously stupid and later told Mom how scared I had been. I’d made a mistake and probably felt confessing would ease my guilt. After a discussion about what I had learned, Mom told me, “If you know I’m not going to like it and it’s already happened and you’re safe, don’t tell me.” She stressed I should still talk to her and tell her about experiences., just don’t tell her things that had already happened and she’d worry about. I learned mothers don’t need to know everything.

Mother’s Day, a day children appreciate their mothers’ unique love and the lessons mothers taught us. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers.

Mother’s Day Reflections

As I think about Mother’s Day, I think of things I did. Things I would have denied I’d do as a mom, as an adult. I’d never mow the yard to seek sanctuary. Never eat a sandwich made with molded bread. Never lock children out of the house. And I didn’t know mothering was for life.

My children were four and six years old when I discovered the solitary joy of mowing the yard. Daughter and Son played outside and knew to stay far from me as I walked behind our gas-powered lawn mower. And I didn’t walk fast. For at least an hour, my children dug in the sand pile, rode bikes, just played outside within my sight, and they knew not to come close to the lawn mower. I had my thoughts, my relative quiet time, all to myself.

I wasn’t finished mowing one day and it was near lunchtime so Daughter, then about age seven, waved her hands frantically to get my attention.   She offered to make lunch. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Daughter and Son carried a tray with sandwiches, apples, and pitcher of Kool-Aid lemonade to our outside picnic table. After I ate the last bite of my sandwich I said, “It was the perfect lunch. Thank you!”

“The bread looked kinda’ funny,” Daughter said. I asked what she meant. “It had some green spots. They didn’t look good so I just put ‘em on the inside.” The sandwich was delicious.

It makes sense to lock the doors when children are inside the house. But when they are outside? One cold winter day, when my two were young teenagers and arguing about something insignificant (I don’t even remember what) and I refused to get involved in their squabbles, I went outside to our deck and called them to come to me. I said, “I don’t want to hear your argument. Stay out here until you settle it and can be nice to each other.” And then I went back in our house and locked the door and said through a closed window, “You can knock when you are ready to come in.”

BC, (Before Children), I thought parents raised children to 18 or 21 and then sent them on their way. I learned differently while mine were still young. Grandma Gladys, my maternal grandmother, spent the last years of her life in a heath care facility. Rarely going outside, even to sit in a wheelchair, she watched the seasons change through a big window across the room from her bed. I walked into Grandma’s room one January day, just as my mother was kissing her cheek and telling her bye. “Put your coat on. It’s looks cold outside,” Grandma said to her 65-year-old daughter. Grandma’s nurturing instinct was strong even when her mind and body weren’t.

Mom looked up and saw me. “She’ll always be my mother. That’s just how it is,” Mom said. Mothers always mother. Always.



Lessons from Mother

imgresIn 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. A day to serve Mom breakfast in bed, take her out for lunch, and give her a homemade card, flowers, and jewelry.   My mom wore every scatter pin I gave her on her lapels and dresses. Even the one with a missing rhinestone.

Like most young children, I thought Mom was perfect. And like most teenagers, I sometimes resented her advice. As a young mother, I followed her examples and sought her advice. And some things Mom taught me I still follow, especially at suppertime, although she’s been gone twenty-five years.

I was nine years old when Mom taught me to make cornbread and it was my supper chore. I put a dollop of bacon grease in a black skillet, the one with a broken-off handle and used only for cornbread, and placed the skillet in the oven set at 425ºF. The recipe was simple: two cups Martha White self-rising cornmeal, one beaten egg, and enough buttermilk to make the right consistency. Stir with a wooden spoon until all ingredients were combined. If the batter was too thick, add buttermilk. Too thin, add cornmeal. When the skillet and grease were hot, pour the melted grease into the batter and stir two or three times. Dump the batter into the hot skillet and bake for 20 minutes.

But my job wasn’t finished. Making cornbread included washing the bowl and wooden spoon, and that didn’t mean, swish and rinse. It meant hand washing with detergent, rinsing, drying and putting away the bowl and spoon. That has stuck with me through these many decades. Occasionally, I rinse a cornbread bowl and stick it in the dishwasher and I see Mom’s smile. Her closed mouth grin and tilted head tells me, “You could wash it in a minute.”

When I was young, supper was the meal when Mom, Dad, my brother, and I sat down together. It was eating and visiting time. Mom taught me two tricks: always set the table before calling everyone to supper and always serve hot bread. A set table looks inviting and everyone knows a meal will be served. Oftentimes our table was set with placemats, plates, folded paper napkins, and utensils – a knife, spoon, and fork – by late afternoon. It was a promise of food and an expectation that all would gather and linger.

Even if the meal was leftovers, hot bread and butter whetted our appetites. Most often, it was cornbread or biscuits. But if Mom didn’t want to heat up the house with a hot oven on an August evening, she fried hoecakes in a black skillet. And sometimes, mostly for guests, she served store-bought brown and serve rolls.

Setting the table has stuck with me. Even when only Husband and I sit down together for supper, I like the table set. But, as much as I love hot bread and butter, I hate the added pounds so my mantra is always serve guests, especially my Grands’ families, hot bread. If not, I’m confident the whole meal would flop.

Wash the cornbread batter bowl, set the table, serve hot bread – simple habits ingrained in me. It’s not the once in a lifetime or once a year things we remember when our parents no longer stand beside us, it’s the daily things.

This Mother’s Day hug your mother and tell her thank you for what she does everyday.



Mom Said

Bertram Girls front030 - Version 2Sunday is Mother’s Day and I’ll honor my mom with memories. Even though she passed away more that twenty years ago, I still remember many things that she said, and not just her words. There was no time that Mom spoke louder or more clearly than when a surprise gift arrived one day.

At 13, I was as tall as Mom, five foot, seven inches and taller than all my friends. I didn’t like being tall. Mom often placed her hand on the small of my back and gently ran her fingers up my spine. “Stand tall and proud,” she’d whisper.

Dad’s large hands rubbed my shoulders. “No slumping. You’re beautiful – just like your mother,” he’d say.

I didn’t feel proud or beautiful. Just tall.

One summer day a package from Sears Roebuck came in the mail. Mom was pulling weeds from her flowerbed and told me to put it on the kitchen table.

That night while I lay in bed reading Mom laid the package on my bed. I’m not sure of the exact words of our conversation, but they were something like this. Mom said, “Susan, this is for you. You’ll probably never wear it. But you’ll have it if you need it.” I ripped the package’s thick brown paper. Inside was ugly white material—like the drop cloth we’d used while painting my bedroom. This thing had hooks and laces.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“A back brace,” Mom said. “I know it’s hard to stand straight. I remember. I was taller than everyone at school.”

“A brace? My back doesn’t hurt.”

“It’s not for pain. It’s to help you have good posture. You don’t need this brace now. We’ll just put it in your closet and if you ever think it’s too hard to stand straight, you can wear it.” Mom put the hideous brace, inside its brown package, on my closet shelf. Front and center. Eye-level.

After Mom left my room, I wanted to throw the package away, but instead I threw it onto the closet floor, kicked it to the back corner. Throughout my high school years, that package stayed hidden. Mom still rubbed her fingers up my spine. Dad still patted my shoulders. They didn’t have to say anything. I never wanted to see that ugly brace again.

I survived being the tallest girl in my class, and I even accepted my almost-last place in our high school graduation line – shortest to tallest.

When Mom and I packed my clothes before I left home for college, she found the worn package on the closet floor. “I don’t think you need to take this,” she said. I was sure I didn’t.

Years passed. After I graduated from college and married, Mom and I cleaned out my closet so my room could be her sewing room. “Where’s the brown package?” I asked when the closet was empty.

“Gone,” Mom said.

“Where? Did you find someone who needed to wear that awful brace?”

“No. I threw it away after you left for college. It did its job. I’m glad it never came out of the package.”

“So you didn’t want me to wear it?” I asked.

“I hoped not. That might have been the best $6.00 we spent when you were in high school. You stand tall and straight with wonderful posture.”

Mother never took a child psychology or a parenting class. She was a smart, loving mother, and even now, half a century later, when I feel my shoulders slump, I hear her. Loud and clear.


A Tribute to Grandma



She was almost 90 years old and had spent the past eight years in a nursing home.  The last three practically confined to a bed. She left her room only to be taken, in a wheel chair, down the hallway to the bathing room where she was showered while she remained seated.  Her three daughters visited daily – taking turns on a schedule so that one of them was with her every day, usually during lunchtime and they helped her hold her spoon.   And I, her granddaughter, visited once a week – no certain day, most often late afternoons.

Grandma Gladys communicated very little.   Her greeting was a mumbled, “How are you?”  She answered questions with a simple yes or no – sometimes by nodding or shaking her head.  She rarely initiated conversation.  I’d tell her what I’d been doing and about my children or funny things that the students in my sixth grade class did or what I planned to cook for supper.  Sometimes she responded, sometimes not.

I asked Grandma what she ate for lunch, and I couldn’t understand her answer.  “Chicken?” I said.  She pulled her eyebrows down and shook her head.  “Meatloaf?”  “Macaroni and cheese?”  We played this question game until I gave up or named something that she’d eaten.  When I asked who visited her that day, I understood her answer because I knew my Mom’s and my aunts’ visiting schedules.

Grandma Gladys was always pleasant. Agreeable. Content. Appreciative.  Never angry.  Before I left her small world within the four walls of her room, I leaned over to kiss her forehead, told her bye and that I loved her.  She responded, “Thank you for coming.”  The clearest words she said.  Or maybe the ones I understood most easily because ever since I was young and visited her and Papa in their home, she always said those same words when I told her bye.

She didn’t watch television or read.  A large window close to Grandma’s bed brought the natural world into her room.  She watched the leaves on the small maple tree change with the seasons.  And she watched the sky.  White clouds, blue sky, storm clouds, gray sky.    If I forgot to give a brief weather report, the temperature and predicted precipitation, she asked about it.  “Hot?” she’d say on an August day.  “Rain?” she’d ask.  She’d been the daughter and wife of farmers.  The weather had determined their day’s work and year’s income.

Mom visited Grandma one cold, winter day.  The sky was gray and the wind blew.  Light, feathery snow swirled.  Mother fed Grandma her lunch and spent most of the afternoon knitting as she sat in a chair beside Grandma’s bed.  Grandma lay looking outside.  When the time came for Mom to leave, she gathered dirty clothes from Grandma’s closet and picked up her own knitting bag, purse, and coat.  She leaned over Grandma’s bed to tell her bye and Grandma said, “Put your coat on.  It’s cold outside.”

Neither age nor rheumatoid arthritis nor mental illness nor the confines of a nursing home robbed Grandma of her mothering instincts.  She continued to take care of her daughter.


Mother’s Day Picnic


“Oh, make it easy,” I told my family.  “You know I like Kentucky Fried and a picnic.”  My family, like most families, wanted to get me out of the kitchen on Mother’s Day.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go out to eat somewhere?”  Husband asked.  I assured him that a picnic with just him and our children was my choice.  “So where do you want to go?”

“Surprise me!”  I said.

Our children, ages 9 and 11, teased me later that Saturday afternoon.  “You won’t believe where we’re having a picnic.  Guess.  Like 20 questions.”  Have we ever picnicked there?  No.  Have we even been there?  Not really.  Is this a place you think I want to go?  Yes!  Questions and answers all evening long.

Sunday morning, on the way to church, Daughter said, “Guess some more, Mom.  You’ll never figure it out.”  Will we have to walk a long way?  No.  Should I wear my hiking boots?  Husband and Son raised their eyebrows and glanced toward each other.  Yes.  Finally, I refused to ask another question.  It was time for clues.  A place I really liked.  I’d have to climb.  There wasn’t a picnic table.  There were lots of trees.  There weren’t any bathrooms.  We wouldn’t have to drive far.

On the way home from church, we picked up fried chicken – crispy, my favorite – and I got to choose the side dishes.  At home, we changed from church clothes into shorts and tee shirts, and I put on my hiking boots.  We gathered drinks, a roll of paper towels, a couple of folding chairs, and a quilt.  “On the way,” Husband said, “I need to stop at the house to check on something.”  ‘The house’ was the one we were building.  The first level was framed, and the carpenters had just started on the second level.

Husband opened the back of our van and grabbed something.  “I’ll be right back.  You don’t need to get out,” he told me.  Both our children followed him.  A few minutes later, Husband motioned for me.  “Come here.  I want to show you something.  The kids are upstairs where their rooms will be.”

I questioned if climbing the ladder to the second level was safe.  Had he let the kids climb up?  I clutched each rung as I carefully placed my big boots on the narrow ladder steps.  The blue sky, with a few puffy cumulus clouds, opened wide.  “Is there a floor up there?”  I asked.  Husband encouraged me to keep going.  Just as my head reached sight of the second level, my son and daughter jumped up from the quilt they had been lying on.  They stood tall; arms stretched high above their heads.  “Happy Mother’s Day!”  they shouted.

It was the perfect place for a picnic.  A plywood subfloor, with no walls or roof.  The only time I’ve ever dined among a maple tree’s high branches and looked down on the white blossoms of dogwood tree.  Our own private dining room, and I didn’t cook.