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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.

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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.

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A Tribute to Grandma

 

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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

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“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.

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