My creative writing teacher told me that the two subjects about which it is most difficult to write well is one’s dog, and one’s mother. Writing about one’s dog too often becomes maudlin, and writing about one’s mother triggers too much conflict. I went ahead and wrote about my dog awhile ago (yes, it was sentimental) and today I propose to write about my mother.
Mom was the late-in-life only child of her mother, and her father’s only daughter. She had three older half-brothers, the youngest of whom was 12 years her senior. To put it mildly, she was pampered as much as a parent could indulge a child during the depression. Mom made friends easily, and loved spending time with them. She was 10 when her niece, Karen, was born. Theirs was a lifelong relationship that extended to Karen’s offspring. Karen’s daughter still remembers the delightful times she enjoyed with Aunt Edna.
My mother graduated from Girl’s High School in Boston; it was one of the many stops this born-in-New Jersey girl made throughout her lifetime. Her dad was a jack of all trades, and moved from place to place to find work. Mom took a secretarial course, and ended up working at an insurance company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When she and her friends wanted to treat themselves, they inevitably wound up at a soda fountain where Mom’s favorite sweet was a brownie topped with chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce.
Mom never lacked for the company of the opposite sex. Not only was she beautiful, they always saw her as a young woman who needed to be looked after and cared for. One evening she went to a party with one young man, met my father and asked him to take her home. He did, then invited her to come watch TV with him and his parents. Mom and dad were married on June 3, 1950. Her mother cried buckets of tears when she left home.
Dad had tried to join the service after he graduated from high school, but due to his bad eyesight, he was 4F. The Air Force did take him, however, during the Korean Conflict. After he was stationed to San Francisco, Mom took the bus out to California to be with him. My grandmother gave her some motherly advice: “Don’t you go out there and get pregnant.”
I was born in February, 1953. Dad was stationed in Colorado Springs at the time. Mom was a bit overwhelmed with a newborn, but I suspect she did pretty well. Not long after that, Dad asked for early discharge so he could go to school to be a preacher.
They moved into my grandparents’ home near Philadelphia. It was a two-bedroom, one bathroom bungalow. Every day Dad went off to school, and a part-time job, and Mom went back to her insurance company job, thus earning her Putting Hubby Through diploma. My grandmother took on the responsibility of civilizing an 11-month old baby: me.
With his diploma in hand, Dad moved the three of us out to our little parsonage on the prairie in southeastern Colorado. Mom made a home for us there in “Pleasant Heights.” We lived 40 miles from town, and dust storms abounded. We had a storm cellar in case of tornadoes. The church was on one side of our house, and the one-room schoolhouse was on the other. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for her to be uprooted from among her friends and family, and put down way out in the middle of nowhere. Before we left there, I had a baby brother.
In a short amount of time, we moved to another location on the prairie. This one wasn’t as barren as the first. We were near enough to town that my dad had a part-time job to help eke out his salary. Mom again made a home for us in the parsonage. I remember baking cookies with her at Christmas time, and planting bachelor’s buttons (which, to her everlasting embarrassment I insisted upon calling “bachelor’s bottoms”). She made dresses for me, and after my sister was born, Mom made look-alike dresses for the three of us.
After I finished first grade, Mom again had to pack up all of our stuff. We moved back into my grandparents’ home again. The small bungalow began to look crowded. Dad went back to school to earn his degree, but Mom stayed home and tried to help my grandmother keep house. A lot of her stress came from dealing with my grandfather who was an unhappy man. She also had to cope with a sickly me, when I was diagnosed with leukemia (which after much prayer they changed to being anemic – who knows?), and spent time in the hospital. Then there was her husband who was going to school full time, and working part time.
Dad was called to a small Baptist church in Philadelphia. We lived in Philly about five years – the longest we ever lived in one place. Mom set out to and succeeded in making our small row house a home. Soon, my younger brother was born, and we were six family members to be fed and clothed on $100 a week. I”ll never know how Mom made it stretch, but we were never hungry, and we always had clothes to wear. They always welcomed all of our friends into our home.
The western states had always appealed to Dad, and he jumped at the opportunity to pastor a church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Mom packed up, and unpacked again in the church parsonage. In less than two years, we were headed back to that little bungalow where Mom once again had to try and take care of her family under that critical eye of her father-in-law.
Mom moved ten more times before she died, and she made friends wherever she went. She had a heart for people who were in need, and for the underdog, and loved to help people. It was her great sorrow in the past couple of years that she was unable to help people as she used to do.
She kept old friends, and made new ones. Her listening ear was always ready to hear someone who needed to talk.
Mom opened her home to her grandchildren for long and short term visits. She made two trips to Portugal to visit the ones born there. Dan remembers with fondness the two-week trip we made to take Mom up north to visit friends and relatives a few years.
Mom cared for Dad throughout his last illness, and was in the hospital room with him when he passed.
One of Mom’s idiosyncrasies was mixing her metaphors. One of our favorite malapropisms was when she said, “He sure got the wind knocked out of his feathers.” You didn’t want to mess with her ice cream, either. One time she had put maraschino cherries on everyone’s dish of ice cream. Her’s got buried in the ice cream when she turned her head, but she bopped my brother, who was next to her, because she thought that he had stolen it. She always loved babies and little children. She taught them in the children’s programs at churches. Mom loved her music, and she played the piano well. She and Dad often sang alto/tenor duets in church services, or in the car on long trips.
Mom had the heart of an evangelist. She thrived on sharing the love of Jesus with others. One of the things she worried about toward the end of her life was whether everyone she loved would be in Heaven. I have heard her say after the last few moves in her life, that the next time she moved, it would be straight up. She finally did.
I don’t know why it never occurred to me until Mom was gone just how strong of a woman my mother was. I do know that she would give the credit to the Lord.