Friday, April 11, 2014

Memories of my mom

My mom would be 114 today, or maybe I should say her soul is 114. As a child I had no trouble remembering her age because I knew it was the same as the year--after she got over that spell of telling me she was fifteen and my father 16. My fondest memories of Mom are of her happy silly moments--and oh, did she have them. Like the time a friend with no relatives came to the house because she needed someone responsible to sign some banking papers for her. It was  breakfast, and my mom was convinced that something really bad would happen if you didn't eat breakfast, so she put toast in for Rose and then wrote, "Alice P. Mac" on the signature line, checked the toast, and came back to write Bread instead of Alice P. MacBain. She told stories of when she and all our uncles were young and in school, and I decided they were sillier and wilder than we would ever be--like the time my aunt lost her husband in a one-room apt. She came out of the bath, couldn't find him, finally heard a soft knocking--opened the door to find him standing there stark naked. He had just stepped out to pull a fuse as a joke to a fellow who was bringing his bride home that night, and the door locked behind him. When Mom told these stories, the tears of laughter rolled down her cheeks.
She was delighted when grandchildren came along, rather late in her life. She'd read them fairy tales, but when it got bloody--as fairy tales can--she substituted, "She hit him." Once, when my two oldest were about one and two, Mom was in the back seat between their car seats. For some reason, they both set up a howl. The louder they howled, the harder my mom laughed. My father drove as if he didn't know any of us. My youngest daughter was her particular favorite because by then my dad had died and Mom had moved close to us. Jordan says to this day she can smell Grandmother's house, and she thinks she could draw the floor plan. We had family dinner at Mom's every Sunday night--a ritual we all enjoyed.
Mom was an incredible cook, and she taught me. She'd let me make a mess in the kitchen, and when someone asked why she did that she answered, "If I don't, she'll never learn to cook." I once made a cake that tasted awful, and she asked how much baking soda I put in it. "Nine tablespoons," I replied. She nearly fainted, but when she looked at the recipe, it was indeed a mistake there, not mine.
Mom's life wasn't all joy and happiness. She had hard times--I think some that I don't know about, but I do know she lived through the Depession as a young adult (and all her life she saved leftovers, bits of string and foil); she lost her first husband to a wound from WWI and she lost her last child, my younger sister, in infancy. Once, after we'd all left Chicago she went back to visit a dear friend. They were walking down Michigan Avenue when the friend dropped dead beside her. My mom had incredible strength, although these and other ordeals left their mark.
We camped every summer in a cabin without running water, plumbing or electricity. Mom cooked as though she were in that remodeled kitchen at home that brought her such pride. She carried more than her share of the packs as we hiked a mile through the woods to get to that cabin--we carried in all food and clothes and other supplies. I can still see Mom hanging clothes on the line to dry, her arms strong and brown from the sun. And she swam until she was in her eighties. I think her nonathletic daughter was a disappointment to her.
In her early 80s Mom's mind began that slippery slope, due to a series of small strokes. She was frightened and cross with my now teenaged children. And that ladylike woman, always known for being a model of decorum, did some outrageous things. I wanted to shake her and say, "Mom, be yourself!" But the woman I had known, loved and tried to emulate, was gone, replaced by a shell.
Today I try to banish those memories and replace them with the good times, the fun we had together, especially in the kitchen and with grandchildren. I often wish she--and my dad--could see how wonderfully those children have grown up and what great children they are raising. And I am sad that my grandchildren don't know my mom.
I love you, Mom, always have, always will.

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