Monday, February 3, 2014

Not All Pearls Are Found In Oysters

A woman wearing a reddish shade of lipstick opened the passenger door, scooted over to my dad, closed her eyes, and gave him a big kiss – on the lips.  Even though my almost nine year old body sat frozen in shock (I don’t think I even took a breath) I’m sure my eyes must have popped open so wide that, combined with my car-head hair, I was the spitting image of a troll doll.  That was how I met the woman who was to become my mother – sitting with my younger sister in the backseat of dad’s car, outside the telephone company where she worked, in Park Rapids, Minnesota.  My dad had driven us from Lincoln, Nebraska which, other than driving across town to see the circus, was the longest time either of us had spent in a car.  I suspect it was a long car ride for my dad too, especially when Shelly asked, 45 minutes after we’d started, how much longer it would be.  

If my mom had second thoughts when she looked into the backseat and saw us for the first time, she didn’t let on.  I don’t think she even reflexively reached for the door handle in a momentary panic to escape.  Even knowing there was a third child who hadn't come along, a toddler no less, she just smiled and accepted all of us.  Once I had recovered from seeing this strange woman kiss my dad I had no second thoughts either.  There was nothing in the world I wanted more than a mother and later, when Shelly and I got to watch the little black and white TV in her apartment, I knew there was nothing I wouldn’t do to keep her (and, I hoped, her little TV).

I was nearing ten years old when I nervously walked up to her after the wedding and called her mom.  Her eyebrows raised in surprise and then the corners of her mouth curved into a smile.  After that first time, saying mom came easily, although I’m sure there were moments for her when being a mom to an instant family did not come easily at all.  We gradually became comfortable with each other and as I got older, unlike much of the world, I didn’t learn everything I needed to know about life in Kindergarten.  I learned it from my mom.  

She taught me the value of nutritious meals as I watched her try to make my dad eat fruits and vegetables.  She blended mushroom soup so the chunks disappeared before she added it to her casserole.  She put a glass of juice in front of him every morning for breakfast and expected him to drink it whether he liked it or not, told him sliced tomatoes were luscious with sugar sprinkled on them and hid onions in the chili.  I’m not sure how or when, but Dean and my mom must have had a secret conference sometime years and years ago because Dean does the same thing to me.  He places a small plate of fruit on the table every night.  He puts lettuce and other green strands of slimy vegetation impossible to pick out in the soup.  He puts tomatoes in nearly everything he cooks knowing full well I have been picking them out of food since I was able to hold a fork, and he mixes so many weeds in the salad I can barely find any iceberg lettuce.  

Mom made me aware of fashion.  I’m not saying I have progressed to double-knit elastic waist pants yet, but I did learn that jeans “so tight they don't leave anything to your imagination” are not attractive.

I gained an appreciation of vitamins and minerals when she informed me that ice cream contains Calcium and strawberry topping is a good source of Vitamin C.

If it weren't for my mom I might not enjoy writing and you wouldn't have to be able to read this blog. I wrote my first poem just for her – after I’d gotten in trouble for borrowing her bicycle without asking – which I still remember … mostly.

Did you ever meet a little girl

Who …dum da dum ... a shiny pearl?

Well here’s one who’s come to say,

I’m sorry for what I did today.

I fell in love with reading after she gave me my first book – Nancy Drew – which led me to discover libraries.  Soon after she taught me the importance of exercise and sunshine.

I learned that flannel blankies keep you warmer than any other fancy chenille throw or quilt or lap blanket, because they are sewn with love. 

I learned being a mother meant being selfless, like the time she got up at 3 a.m. and made Dean, me and the girls pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream so we could eat breakfast before our 11 hour drive back to Wyoming.  And I learned the meaning of magnanimous as the four of us sat at the table staring with vacant eyes, too tired to pick up a fork.

She showed me that preparation is paramount when traveling.  A minimum of six jars of candies, a thermos of coffee, 15 blankets, boots, mittens and hats are required for any trip no matter what the distance or the weather.  If we were somehow stranded and couldn’t make it to the next hot roast beef sandwich, we could live on jelly beans and Brach’s candy.

I learned how to be an attentive wife by her example as I watched her stop whatever she was doing every afternoon around 4:30 to change into fresh clothes and put on makeup before my dad got home from work.  I saw her put dinner on the table at 5:45 p.m. every night for him, and noticed her refill his coffee cup before he even knew he needed it. She waited on him without complaint. .......…… I, uh, might still need a little work in that area.

I learned how to be a good mother just by being her child.  At least I hope I did.  You’d have to check with Leslie and Abby for sure and I'm going to cross my fingers you ask them on a day I haven't annoyed them.

I am who I am because she didn’t change her mind when she saw, in that backseat, what she was taking on.  She stayed, and she gave us gifts of love and protection, discipline and freedom, and the ultimate gift, when it was time, of letting us go.
Ten years ago today was the last time I saw this woman who had been my mother for 42 years. I sat next to her hospital bed, touching her arm.   Her eyes were closed then also and mine were open wide as I watched and hoped for her chest to rise with one more breath, even though I knew I should hope peace would come soon for her.  I watched her ... waiting ... waiting ... until she took a breath, only realizing I'd been holding my own breath when my body let go of the air in my lungs when her chest finally lifted ... until it no longer did.

Even now, when I give my grandkids as many cookies as they want before dinner, or let them eat cake slathered in chocolate frosting before breakfast – because chocolate is “an excellent source of antioxidants”,  or I snuggle under a frayed and torn flannel blankie, or I hear the word luscious, I think of my mother.

I am grateful I had the opportunity and the privilege of calling this woman, who was not afraid to take on an instant family, Mom.  



Abby said...

I really shouldn't have read that at least I have a door I can close while I wipe my eyes. Thank you for such a beautiful piece, about a beautiful lady. I wish I had the words to describe what she meant to me, as a Grandchild, but you seem to have said it all. And she made you a great mother. I love you.

Anonymous said...

awe... I made the same mistake and read this at work too.. such beautiful words to remember a beautiful woman!!!

Jerry said...

You said it all, there is nothing I can add.

Jerry said...

You said it all, there is nothing I can add.

Tom Chappelear said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Chappelear said...

I always admired the way she acceptance all and loved them all; I attributed this to her faith in Christ that this was the source for her love.

Leslie said...

Thanks mom! You are a great mother yourself and she was a great example...may I be half as good as you two.

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Hi Cathy, I haven't been keeping up with blog reading very well. I'm glad I saw the link to this post on FB. I am teary, too. Your mom was a sweet lady.

Larry's mom passed away 22 years ago yesterday. I miss her, too.

(Sue Dawson)

Julie said...

She was an awesome, caring, and giving lady. I think about her constantly when I am cleaning the apartment, hoping I am doing it the way she would like.
I know you are being the mother she hoped you would be, I can tell from your tribute to her. Well done!

Kris Lanik said...

I thought of Marge just yesterday. She crocheted a baby blanket as a gift when Aaron was born. I had it cleaned recently. It's still laying on our extra bed.