photo credit: www.wellhappypeaceful.com
* This post is being republished in honor of Mother’s Day and as part of poet Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday challenge: http://kellieelmore.com/2013/05/10/fwf-free-write-friday-m-is-for-mom/. Enjoy and Happy Mother’s Day!
A mother’s love is instinctual, unconditional, and forever.
I do not recall a time when I did not feel lucky to have my mother. Oddly enough, when my brother and I were growing up, she was known as the meanest mom in the neighborhood because she was so strict. Rules were simple: make your bed every day (with hospital corners), clean up after yourself, do the dishes, and come when she called you in for dinner. In fact, we had to say that we were coming or she would keep calling our names so that the entire neighborhood could hear her! Bedtime was the same time every night, even during summer vacation. It seemed quite unfair to be lying in bed while the rest of our friends were still outside playing at dusk!
But while my mother was strict, she never withheld her love and affection for us. She always paid attention. She was involved on various levels in our activities, whether it was being the church choir mother or a fervent supporter of our running. She included us in her dessert making forays. I loved her homemade frosting; most especially when she let my brother and I eat the frosting off the mixer blade. My mother made the best macaroni and cheese; although as a little girl I did turn my nose up at it. I cannot remember why, to tell you the truth! Perhaps it was because when I did, she always put aside a bowl of elbows with butter just for me. It was a smooth and creamy mixture made with processed American cheese, butter, elbow macaroni and milk. She would line a baking bowl with butter, place squares of cheese on the sides and then add layers of pasta, cheese and top it off with just the right amount of milk. Many of my childhood memories are steeped with the tastes and smells of my mother’s cooking. I believe it was one of the best ways to show us that she loved us. It was also a way that she could show off her creative side. As the years rolled by, my mother’s cooking evolved to fit the latest healthy cooking trends of the time (good-bye canned vegetables and red meat!). She also had an extensive cookbook collection from which she would talk about (in great detail) and experiment with her newest recipe. I am sure that my mother’s love for cooking and passion for food are the reasons that I enjoy them both. To this day, I still want to call her up and ask her for cooking advice. For me, this is one of the hardest parts of losing her; she was always on the other end of the line to give me tips -which started off as cooking and quickly segued to the real reason that I was calling her.
My mother’s other passion was her unending love for my father. This was consistently evident when we were growing up. She used to bring him his juice in bed in the morning and his beer at night! When he would be relaxing on the couch, she would often appear out of nowhere and jump on top of him and smother him with kisses. My brother and I would groan with the predictable response of “EEW!” of course. To the outsider, it would appear that she always catered to him. But my mother always said, “People may see what I do for daddy but they never see what he does for me.” I know now that they always put their love for one another and their marriage first and foremost. I am certain that this is why my brother and I love like we do and believe in commitment (despite my own circumstances).
My mother came from the generation where women were expected to marry young and have children. Higher education was not a priority. But during my elementary school years, my mother was bored at home with my brother and me gone most of the day. So, she took a “mother’s hours” job as a cafeteria worker in the local schools. It was a great way for her to use her skills and love for cooking and still be there for my brother and me. This was during the early 1970’s and many women were affected by the cultural shifts of the women’s movement. Some were returning to school, others divorcing or at least beginning to make small shifts in their marital roles. Years later, when I was a grown woman, she and I were talking about relationships. She said to me, “It took me 15 years to realize that I had an opinion in my marriage.” This was about 1974, just as the women’s movement was taking hold. Let me be clear, I am in no way claiming that my mother was oppressed- she was not. I believe that she, like other women (and men for that matter) was beginning to understand themselves outside roles as wives and mothers.
I will never forget the day when my mother received the news that she had been accepted as the payroll master in the Treasurer’s Department of our local state hospital. It was my birthday and I had just gotten a phone call saying that I was accepted at my #1 college choice. For some reason, neither my father nor brother was home that night so she and I went out for Chinese food to celebrate. We never had Chinese food before and I remember it as an especially good meal. To this day, I can even picture where we were sitting in the restaurant! My mother worked in that position for 19 years until she retired. She was beloved by the patients and was known for her compassion, attention and humor. Often, she was the only outside contact for these people and she made each one of them feel special.
My mother loved her grandsons and they were equally crazy about her. We were so blessed that my parents lived close by. My sons always knew that both my parents loved them and would be there for them. I remember being in awe at the immediate love that my mother had for her first grandson (my oldest). I learned that love has the power to span generations when my mother became a grandmother. And when I became a mother, I also learned the fierceness of a mother’s love. My mother helped me to become a good and then a better mother as the boys were growing up. She would also remind them of how much I loved them. During his teen years, my youngest son was rebelling and giving me a hard time (this was also when the divorce had taken place). After she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and I took a trip to see her. She and my son had a chance to spend some one on one time together. They talked of many things, not the least of which was how much I loved him. She also reminded him that he only had one mother. It was to be the last conversation that they would have and it proved to be powerful. Because of it, my son began to make his journey back to me.
My mother kept me strong. During my divorce process, she was consistently available to offer sound advice and words of encouragement. She never allowed me to give up or give in. Better still, she was absolutely thrilled when I began dating the man that was a member of their local running club. She had subtly played matchmaker some five months before we took the plunge and was ecstatic when we made it “official”. Some three weeks before she died, she told a friend that he was her “parting gift to my daughter.”
As I sit here today, I know my mother would be proud of me. My sons are on solid ground and well on their way to becoming well rounded men. I have landed on my feet and have developed the confidence to make my own decisions that will allow me to have a solid future both financially and emotionally. She would be equally proud that I am finally a budget conscious fashion diva! My mother had a wonderful sense of style and for years I didn’t catch on- I was a blue jeans and sneakers (or boots) type of gal who wore no make-up. I can see her saying “I always told you that you were beautiful.”
On Saturday , November 3rd, I headed down to Tampa Bay to help with the fourth annual Purple Stride race that helps raise funds for pancreatic cancer research. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cancer killer and the least funded (2%) of all cancers. The race in the Bay area was the brain child of my mother whose hope was to participate in it before she died. Unfortunately, she did not make it. I know that she would be happy, however, to see how much the event has grown over the years. Through the leadership of my father (who serves as race director) and the dedication of others, fundraising has grown from $45,000 the first year to a goal of $140,000 this year. Friends and family ran and walked for team Patty-Me-Girl.
Though my mother is gone from this earth, I feel her presence within and around me every day. Sometimes I find myself saying the things that she would say or even acting like she would in certain situations. I definitely see myself in her. And that is a very good thing!