The other day I was chatting in the yard with my neighbor, Rosie. She's a fabulous gardener -- her yard blooms from early spring to late fall and I am lucky to have a window view. She said she is trying to convert most of it to perennials because gardening is hard work and we aren't getting any younger!
I was telling her that I was going through old photo albums and the one I'd recently been through had photos of a "little boy" that I baby sat when he was about a year old, taken at his wedding 20 years ago. And now, his oldest daughter is graduating from high school and starting college in the fall. I said, "It's odd -- I don't feel any older than I did 20 years ago inside. Or even the 30 years before that! Maybe a little wiser, a little more sensible, but no older. Except for..."
|With "Bobby," (now Bob) at his wedding in 2001|
Except for... lungs that used to be able to belt out a song and be heard across a big theatre -- with no microphone.
|Lucy in Charlie Brown when I was 17|
Except for... a back that gets tricky, read that downright painful, after being up and around for a bit. Chalk it up to bad posture, bad genes, bad neglect of core or just plain degeneration of disks. It's not fun. I am grateful every day to back patches and heating pads.
My mother's birthday is this week. If she were living she would be 103, which I suspect wouldn't really be much of a life these days, after a year in Covid quarantine and all the worse if she was in an assisted living facility or one that wouldn't allow visitors. Going through those photos I came across some with a former colleague who now lives across the country. I checked with her daughters to see if she was still in her assisted living facility near one of them before mailing them out. They told me how hard the past year was on their mom and her memory, seeing no one but the facility staff who brought meals to her room each day. Mom wouldn't have done well with that. She liked people. She liked to travel.
|Mom in Arizona, visiting her sister|
She was at her very best being around people, whether it was family, friends or even strangers. She never met a stranger she didn't like.
|Mom and Dad in the center. I wonder what they were talking about?|
At this time of year, I think especially of the lessons I learned from her during those 25 years I was lucky I was have her with us. She taught me phonics so when I started school I was in the fastest reading group. I learned to love reading because of her.
She taught me how to draw, too. Well, she didn't exactly teach me, but she encouraged me with lots of how-to-draw books, once I showed an interest. My early attempts weren't good, but they were supported!
|I draw much better now.|
I developed a lifelong love of creating things from Mom. We'd sit at the kitchen table and make Holly Hobbie shadow boxes, dyed eggs together and created lovely additions to the Christmas tree. She taught me to knit when I was five and I learned how to needlepoint at her side. She and dad were photographers, too, and even did their own developing. I think she would have love digital cameras!
She loved to cook and most things met with approval, except for the liver that even our collie wouldn't eat. I still wish I could make her American fried potatoes the way she did. I have learned her scalloped potato recipe, thanks to the vintage Joy of Cooking edition she received as a wedding gift. (The recipe isn't in newer versions -- not her recipe!)
When it came to holidays, there wasn't a holiday my mother didn't like. Christmas was her biggie...
|I am so grateful we had wonderful Christmases together|
...but she was just as happy to make Halloween costumes, Easter egg trees or pull together Thanksgiving celebrations. I've inherited that gene, too.
|I was about four here. Mom made the costume.|
When I turned 18 and was on some sort of diet, she wanted me to have a pretty cake. So, she made one out of styrofoam and frosted it. (I'm trying to remember what everyone else had for dessert that year!)
|Turning 18 with a styrofoam birthday cake. |
She collected things. So do I. And of course, I have many of her collections still -- Royal Doulton figurines, Christmas plates, her crystal and dishes. She was a dish nut. So am I -- with more china patterns than I'll ever be able to lose but haven't been able to let go just yet.
|Mom's crystal, Fostoria Mulberry. I use them. Carefully.|
My mom was my biggest cheerleader. When I would practice singing, she'd explain how whatever gestures used had to be definite. If I went flat, she'd tell me. And when I was good, she was first to praise. I think she saw every play or musical I was in at least twice. She was a good critic, constructive but always encouraging. When I look at the old Mary Berry episodes of "Great British Baking Show," I think, "She's like my mom -- honest, but positive and supportive."
I learned good family dynamics from watching my mom and dad -- we had few arguments in my home. They respected each other and knew how to pick battles wisely.
|Always photographers, Mom and Dad shared a darkroom. They were the among first to get a Poloroid camera.|
And from them I learned unconditional love. I'm an only child and I always wondered "Am I enough? After all, they have to love me, what other choice do they have?" That may have driven me to do best, be best, make them proud, but while I put that number on myself, I can honestly say they never did anything to indicate their love was complete and unconditional. It didn't mean I didn't get into some troublesome moments but discipline was meted our fairly and with love.
|At my aunt's cottage. I think this is the only photo of my mom in denim, which is a wardrobe staple for me!|
I've outlived my mom for more than a decade. She died when she was 58 and there is so much she didn't get to see. She didn't know Rick or his boys or the Toddler Twosome. She would have loved them. She didn't know about my time in television or the discoveries of my genealogy research.
But every day of that short life she lived well. She lived it with joy, with optimism, with creativity and with a spirit of giving, whether it was of her time as a volunteer or with her heart.
And if that had been her only lesson, that would be enough.