Tag Archives: Mother’s Day

Thoughts for Mother’s Day

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Mom is the one that always encouraged me to write.

“You should tell about our crazy family,” she’d say, “A book like that would be a best seller!”

It’s true, I’ve always looked at life as a series of stories.

Dis-function can be hilarious if approached in the right way.

Disasters can usually be tempered into an amusing anecdote.

Tragedy and sadness can be eased a bit, when shared.

I certainly had lots of “crazy” family stories.

If Mom knew how many of them she figured predominantly in, she may not have been so encouraging!

When I was about five years old, standing on a stool at the bathroom sink, washing my doll, Mom came in and asked if I had opened the medicine cabinet. She was probably more alert than usual. Just a week before, killing time while waiting for my sister Brenda to get off the pot, I had been rummaging through that cabinet and  seriously cut my thumb with a razor blade I found there.

“No, I’m just giving my baby a bath,” I told her.

She insisted she’d heard it open. I stuck to my story.

She whopped me twice: once for getting into the medicine cabinet, and once for lying about it.

In fairness, I’m sure there were one thousand or more times when I committed a major infraction, didn’t get caught, and didn’t get punished. I’ve forgotten every incident…except the one time, fifty-five years ago, when I was unjustly spanked. That one stands out in my memory.

The boys in our family went to the barber shop regularly, to have their heads nearly shaved into what we called a “butch” haircut. The girls took turns sitting on the kitchen stool to have Mom cut their hair. The styles varied, to – in Mom’s opinion – best flatter our features. I, for instance, was cursed with dark, thick rounded brows that met in the center of my face. Mom cut my hair short, then trimmed my bangs to mimic the shape of my eyebrows. A “pixie”, she called it.

To me, combined with my small face, large eyes and pug nose, the cut made me look almost exactly like a spider monkey.

Similarly, our clothes were chosen to flatter our looks and personalities. In Mom’s opinion, and to her taste. I, she thought, looked like a “little Dutch girl”. In clothing, that translates to ruffles at the collar, puffy sleeves, bright colors and rick-rack. Plenty of rick-rack. Today, I wear almost exclusively black.

In the kitchen, Mom would prepare anything that was brought to her: Bluegill and Sunfish we caught in the lake; a whole beef tongue Dad picked up at the slaughterhouse; the raccoon my brother killed with a rock. With Sunday dinners and meatless Fridays and weeknight meals, there are dozens of stories about Mom and her cooking.

My mother always tended toward hypochondria. She had a list of complaints that ranged from backache and headache to “sick and tired”. We grew so accustomed to it that legitimate ailments sometimes got lost in the fray. One Sunday my sisters and I – all young adults – sat around her kitchen table, discussing whether Mom was going to get up from the couch and fix dinner. I finally said, “Mom, if you really feel that bad, maybe I should drive you to the hospital.”

“Yes, maybe you should,” she said. So that’s what we did.

They kept her!

She had emergency gall bladder surgery the next morning!

Bad, lazy and inconsiderate daughter that I was, I had only suggested the hospital to get her up from the sofa!

In any gathering, Mom would be an enthusiastic participant for anywhere from ten minutes to one hour. That was it. Then – to the chagrin of her much more social offspring – would come the toe tapping, impatient looks and directional gestures to whomever she had traveled with. No arguments; no talking her out of it. She wanted to go home. Time to say good-bye.

These stories and others like them are the ones I’d think of when I thought about our “crazy family”.

I don’t think that’s quite what Mom had in mind.

Then my mother got sick. And then she died.

She faced death with so much elegance, bravery and grace, all other stories were chased away.

Everything that was hers, from her old blue fishing shirt to her menthol-camphor ointment, has taken on the importance of a holy relic. I wish I could remember every word she spoke, as it now seems like I should have always listened better. Every quirky habit that used to cause me to roll my eyes has become just one more thing that was special about her. What used to be reason for embarrassment is now cause to be ashamed that I didn’t appreciate her more.

My mother’s death has become the story that defines her.

I don’t think that’s what she wanted, either.

It hasn’t been quite two years since Mom died.

I don’t know that I’m ready, yet, to tell her stories…but I’m beginning to feel like the stories are ready to be told.

 

Reassessing 2012

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I’m thinking I may have been a bit hard on 2012.

I spoke of bad luck and hard times, and how sadly it fell short of my expectations.

How audacious of me, anyway, to decide that 2012 or, for that matter, any year – a man-made measurement of time – was going to be “my best year yet”.

I spoke it in hopefulness, and in the spirit of manifestation (which sounds, as I write it here, a bit like a plague!). I was opening myself up to wonderful things.

It turns out, I was opening myself up to disappointment.

How could any year compete with the golden years that live in my memories?

Jennifer’s second year:  we tilled up a section at the back of the driveway at the little house near the lake, and planted a tiny garden and she learned the joy of growing things; I took pictures every day of my beautiful daughter…trying on her Daddy’s work boots or in her Halloween costume, with her puppy or her plate of freshly-dug nightcrawlers; I sewed sundresses for her, and made seed mosaics and bead curtains and crocheted slippers; it seems like we walked down to the water every single day…

Katey’s first year: at the townhouse in Lapeer, my perfect little family; two daughters in the bathtub, two daughters getting tucked in at night; with Katey in the stroller, we’d go to the park…Jen would walk ’til she was tired, then she’d stand on the axle and ride along; I learned to cook Chinese food and started taking college courses. My husband would play his guitar in the evenings and my daughters laughed and sang…

That first year here on Beaver Island: the heart-stopping, joyous rush every time I rounded the corner into town and was faced with the harbor view; the seasons, each one a new adventure…When a tree fell in a storm that first winter and crushed our car, my husband and I looked at it, turned to each other, grinned and said – in unison – “Firewood!”

But, you see, I’ve forgotten all the bad parts, of all the good years.

Since my memory is selective, there is no competition.

Held up to my standard of “best year yet,” of course last year fell short.

By any other standard, 2012 was a good year.

In my family, we had weddings and births, new houses and new jobs.

In February, my sisters and I went to Florida together for a wonderful vacation. Three sisters, three nieces and I went to Chicago for a lovely Mother’s Day weekend. Three of my grandchildren and my daughter, Jen, came here for a week-long visit in July. Family and friends came to help me celebrate my birthday in August. Other friends came, through the season.

I quit my job in 2012! I could write a litany of difficulties it has caused in my life, but the bottom-line is, I enjoy what I’m doing and I feel good about it.

I have consistently written and posted these blogs through all of the past year. Knowing my habits, I know better than anyone what a huge accomplishment that is, all by itself. On top of that, it has introduced me to a world of good writers, of old and new friends, of support and love and mutual admiration.

I walked every day in 2012.

I laughed every day in 2012.

Looking at it now (eight days past), 2012 was a very good year.

Generating Our Own Warmth

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I took some photos of skunk cabbage last week.

It’s not the most attractive of plants…and it truly does smell like skunk…but it’s one of the first things to show green up here in northern Michigan, well insulated by the big lake.

Now I hate to say too much, for I’ll surely get it wrong, but there is something about skunk cabbage that is mammal-like, in that it has the ability to generate its own warmth. It wakes up at just about the same time each Spring, whether it is warm or cold. I’ve seen it push up through the deep snow, actually melting the snow in a small circle around itself. I’m pretty sure it is unique in the plant world. It is always a welcome sight, letting us know that better weather is coming.

Last weekend, three nieces, three sisters and I pulled off a similar feat.

We were all, in our own way, dreading this first Mother’s Day without our mother.

My baby sister, Amy, spoke it out loud, and her lovely daughters arranged a trip. They generously invited all of us to join them, and seven of us made the trip. We traveled by train to Chicago, we boarded at 6:45 Friday morning and arrived in the city early in the afternoon. We took taxis when necessary, but were able to walk most places.

We dined, shopped and enjoyed the art and architecture. We played cards and drank martinis together. We talked about ex-husbands, current husbands and future husbands, and the generations fell away in laughter and sharing. We saw a wonderful play.

Mostly we relished the time together. We sent postcards to the brother and sisters who weren’t there, and reminisced about those who would never again be with us. There were moments of melancholia, but many more laughs than tears. We are building a foundation of memories to move forward on. Like the skunk cabbage, we’re creating our own little circle of warmth.

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In order of age – as we’ve posed for pictures our entire lives – four sisters: Brenda, Cindy, Robin and Amy.