My mom asked me not to send her anything for Mother’s Day this year, but she didn’t say why. We have a fractious relationship. She’s a resourceful, thrifty, creative, smart, complex woman. This is to remember and honor the goodness in her. Everyone has goodness in them.
My grandma, Lucy, my mom, me in November 2004
She woke up early every morning to make breakfast for me and my siblings. We had a breakfast menu at our house when I was a kid. Oven pancakes (we called them Finnish pancakes for some reason) and eggs on Mondays, french toast on Tuesdays and Thursdays, pancakes on Wednesdays and Saturdays, dry cereal or oatmeal on Fridays. Or maybe it was pancakes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, eggs on Fridays, oatmeal on Mondays. I don’t remember the exact routine, but I remember there was a routine and I loved it. There was always a jar of sourdough starter in the cupboard and some of it went into the pancake or waffle batter. They were the yummiest pancakes. My daughter likes her pancakes with berries in the batter. I prefer the slim light pancakes my mom used to make.
We had an old orange VW bus that we took on camping trips. My mom made savory turnovers that were cooked by the heat from the engine in the VW while we drove to wherever we were camping. A hot meal in the car on a roadtrip with ketchup for dipping.
She has four children and she worked diligently as a pharmacist to support our family. She still works as a pharmacist and her customers and co-workers have always liked her. On the rare occasion where I’ve talked with one of her co-workers or customers, they unanimously say how helpful and nice she is. She found different people for childcare for me and my siblings. I have fleeting memories of a young woman from Kenya who was college student, another woman who spent all of her time painting her toenails and fingernails (which fascinated me), another woman who would sneak outside to smoke, and another woman who brought candy for us (we didn’t eat much candy in our house). One summer I spent a lot of time at a house where there were a bunch of other kids and a play structure in the backyard.
She plays piano and organ and was often the organist on Sunday at church services. The organ, in the church I grew up in, was in a loft behind and above the main seating area for services. I liked the days when she was the organist for the church services because it was easier to draw and play in the loft while she was playing for the service. If I sat in just the right seat in the loft then she couldn’t see me and I could work on solving the rubik’s cube in my pocket or draw pictures in a notebook.
We didn’t have much money when I was a child. We grew a lot of our own food on our small farm and we picked fruit on other farms, bringing it home in huge buckets and boxes to preserve it. I never enjoyed these summer tasks very much but sometimes we’d have something to listen to or stories to tell while we tipped and snapped a 5-gallon bucket of green beans for canning. Sometimes there were quarters, as a reward, at the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket of fruit or vegetables that we were prepping and preserving.
We bought everything on sale and in thrift stores. I don’t remember her ever being impatient with me when I spent forever trying to find just the right clothes at a thrift store or on a sale rack.
She encouraged all of us to pursue our academic best and I always knew I was going to college because of her. It surprised me when I found out that some of my friends weren’t as confident that they were going to college. I thought everyone’s parents enforced the belief that you will go to college.
I believed I could learn and do anything because of her. I didn’t feel limited just because I was a girl, like so many other girls did.
She gave me a lot of rewards and appreciation when I got good grades. She supported me when I wanted to skip 3rd grade in grade school because I was bored and unchallenged in 2nd grade. She has, in recent years, fondly recanted the story of the petition letter I asked all the adults in the school to sign (including the janitor) to let me skip 3rd grade. She looked out for me and made sure I got what I needed in school.
Most evenings, after dinner, she would read a chapter of a book to our whole family. We would sit in the living room (I remember often curling up on the floor with a pillow behind the recliner and closing my eyes so I could see the story in my mind) while she read.
She took me to our town library often and let me check out as many books as I wanted. I thought everyone’s parents took them to the library every week. I didn’t know it was her way of supporting and encouraging me.
She bought tickets for a variety of plays, musicals, talks about science and nature, and I can still feel the tiredness of my alive brain after spending an evening in an auditorium learning about animals and then seeing animals live on the stage.
She supported my love of music and drove me to/from piano lessons, violin lessons, youth symphony practice, showed up for all concerts and recitals, took me to classical music concerts which encouraged my interest in and love for music, and sometimes took me out for ice cream, as a treat, after a concert or recital.
She sewed and made dresses and other clothes for me as a child. I loved ruffles and lace and I thought the dresses she made were the prettiest. She taught me how to sew and I made a lot of my own clothes. She taught me how to cook and supported all of my cooking and baking efforts. She helped organize a 4-H club so that I could enter the county fair and create and make and bake and can and preserve all sorts of things that got me piles of blue and red and purple ribbons.
She saved everything. She was an expert in reusing and recycling. Plastic milk jugs were reused for a homemade irrigation system in our multiple aboveground bins where she grew vegetables. They were also used as homemade slug traps.
When I was 10/11/12 years old, I worked as a strawberry picker in June each year. The strawberry field where I worked was over the hill from our farm. She made lunch for me, froze a container of juice, and packed it all in a bag. The frozen juice kept my lunch cold and the juice defrosted (in the sun) by lunchtime. I hated the way the strawberries semi-permanently stained my hands and she helped me find ways to get the stain off my fingers.
In the summer of 1979, my family took a trip to San Francisco to see the King Tut exhibit, and, on that trip, we went to the Exploratorium. I had brought money with me for souvenirs and saw a book I wanted at the store at the Exploratorium (The Book of Think, published in 1976). I had already spent some of my money and didn’t have enough m0ney to buy the book. I’m pretty sure I whined and begged for more money so I could buy it. I wanted that book so bad. Months later, on Christmas, I opened a gift from my parents, and it was that book. That was one of my absolute favorite presents when I was a child.
She found camps for us to attend in the summer, sleepovers outside in a grassy field, sleepover camps for a week or two, and my elementary school friends have told me that they thought my mom put on the best birthday parties.
She had a cookbook with pages of cakes in different shapes. On my birthday I would choose which cake I wanted and she would bake and make it. Jelly bean eyes, licorice whiskers, red hot buttons, silver button decorations on a bunny cake for one of my birthdays. A butterfly with a big wingspan for another birthday.
She taught me about volunteering for people who need help. I don’t think I ever knew why we went to this girl’s house regularly. In my memory, the little girl couldn’t walk and my mom would help massage and move her limbs. We often sorted and organized food into bags around holidays. I was always aware that she gave money to people who needed it even though we, as far as I knew, didn’t have much money.
She still does a lot to help people around the world, volunteering her time in various countries and cities to teach people, provide needed care services, and share her love of her religious beliefs.
I imagine it wasn’t, and probably still isn’t, particularly easy for her, and I love the goodness she holds in herself and shares with others.