Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Mother's Blessing

For my entire life, I have been blessed by the fact that my mother has always been one of my very best friends. Even during my adolescence, the classic era of mother-daughter wars, we were very close. Possibly because I was such a goody-two shoes, I never gave my parents any problems. By the time my rebellious phase hit (such as it was) I was in college and too far away for them to directly observe any objectionable behaviors. My younger sister, on the other hand, was a constant source of chaffing for them from the time she was 12—which, now that I think of it, was probably something of a distraction for which I should have thanked her.

In all the traipsing around I’ve done (California, Washington State, North Carolina, Montana, Alaska) Mother has come to visit me in almost every place I’ve lived. Some were pretty marginal, but she never complained about them; before I knew it she’d be making new curtains. My friends loved her visits; she would cook a good old Southern fried chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, turnip greens and black eyed peas and we’d have a dozen or so people in to enjoy it.

Our visits have been less frequent since I moved to Alaska. It takes 24 hours of travel each way to get from Bethel or Kenai to her home near Pensacola; I usually try to visit when I am already in the lower 48 attending the national PA conference each May. She has been to Alaska a handful of times, usually for a two- or three-week visit. Her last visit was two years ago.

Toward the end of summer I talked with her about coming up to see the new place in Kenai and her son-in-law, whom she absolutely adores (and it’s mutual), but she was still dealing with the details of my grandmother’s estate since her death in May. Mother didn’t think she could come before next spring. But when I called her in October with news of the hip replacement surgery, she put everything aside and said, “I’ll be there.” She came on the first of November and is staying until after Christmas—two entire months. I am delighted, and so is Dutch.

We have a great time hanging out together, all three of us or just Mother and me. We talk about everything in the world. And for someone edging towards 80, she has amazing energy. It is all I can do to keep up with her. She is constantly tidying, mending, cleaning—“jes’ piddlin’” as she says. And everything in her wake is nicer, cozier, more organized. I turn around twice and she’s not only done another load of laundry, she has ironed all of Dutch’s dress shirts. Perhaps you’d have to see his closet to appreciate that, but the man must have fifty dress shirts* in size extra large. I figure at four shirts a week (Fridays being jeans-and-sweatshirt day) he’s good until April. I hate ironing. *She counted them: 61.

When she is at home in Florida, Mother leads a morning meditation group that meets from 6 to 7 am five days a week at a local church, and a weekly metaphysical group that studies the works of Emmett Fox. And then there are a few bridge-playing groups that she drops in on regularly. She leads an energetic life, my mom.

Having her here for this extended period of time has been wonderful. We’ve had time to talk over lots of old family stuff, things I remember from childhood, her childhood memories growing up during the Depression in the hills of Tennessee.

She always referred to her half of my lineage as “the hillbilly side”. She was born “up the holler” in a tiny town that no longer exists. She walked a mile or so to the one-room schoolhouse carrying an actual pail with her lunch in it. There was no indoor plumbing anywhere, and her mother did all the cooking on a wood-fired stove. Mother learned to iron clothes using a five-pound flatiron that had to be heated up in the fireplace.

Her family had all been farmers for generations. But Grandaddy was an enterprising man with a mind for business; when oil was discovered on his farm—kind of like Jed Clampett—he sold it for lots of money and moved the family to town. He and Grandmother bought a hardware and furniture store right on the town square and became merchants. I still remember that store; it had wooden floors and kind of a musty smell. I learned to roller skate on those floors.

Mother graduated high school at the age of 16 and went to college at Western Kentucky State College (now Western Kentucky University) in Bowling Green. There she met my Dad, and they married when they finished college. He went to dental school and she entered the secretarial pool of the work force. Two years later, I came along; and she was overjoyed. I was her love child. We have shared a very special mother-daughter relationship that goes back to the very beginning of my existence in this lifetime. I am so blessed in that.

She is forever teaching me something new. Need to get rid of an anthill in your yard? Buy a box of instant grits and pour them (uncooked) in a thick circle around the anthill. The ants have to eat their way through the grits to get out. The grits absorb all the fluid in their stomachs, swell up and explode the insects. No poison needed.

Like your cornbread crispy? Bake it in a waffle iron.

No matter what we’re doing together, we end up laughing a lot. I love that about her, she has a great, and sometimes salty, sense of humor; and with her soft Southern accent, everything comes out charming.

If it is true that we become our mothers, then I have some truly fine multi-generation footsteps to follow, and I fully expect to do so for another twenty years or so. When Grandmother passed away this past summer she was 94, as was her mother before her. The hillbilly side has produced some delightful old women, and given me great role models.

Photo credits:
1. Mother and me as a newborn, still in the hospital, taken by Dad. In the early 1950s women stayed in the hospital for ten days when they gave birth; I was nine days old when we came home.
2. Mother and me at about one month old, also taken by Dad. I still have that quilt with the circles on it, though it is a bit more ragged now than it was then.
3. Mother and me at age two years. This was our passport photo when we moved to Germany. Dad was stationed there as an Army dentist.


Blogger Ruth said...

Your mother is beautiful, elegant lady. What a special tribute to someone with a real zest for living. You didn't really say what traits the two of you share.

Sunday, December 14, 2008 6:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

She is truly beautiful. I'm so glad she's here to be with you. Thank you for sharing such wonderful family memories. I wanted to recommend some local places to you - you've probably already been, but here goes. Sweeney's in Soldotna has great outer wear, wool socks, shoes etc. The Moose is Loose in Soldotna, has wonderful cakes and pastries. Veronica's in Kenai has live music and good food, so does Muggs in Soldotna. North Country Fair (Soldotna) is a great higher end kitchen shop & the IGA in Kenai has the best butcher. Of course there are plenty of places to explore. Hope you're doing well - welcome to the neighborhood.

Thursday, December 18, 2008 4:12:00 PM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

Ruth--I guess the best one is that we both have a good sense of humor.

Amanda--thanks! I haven't been to any of those places yet. Send me an email sometime if you want to meet at the Funky Monkey for coffee...

Thursday, December 18, 2008 6:05:00 PM  
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