Tag Archives: Mothers

September 13 – Photos Fade

by Martha SlavinI turned the pages of an old photo album that my mother had kept of our trip to England and France the summer after my dad died. The photos had faded so much that they almost look like watercolors. I remembered how the tour gave my mother a lift back into life after nine months of being closeted in grief.

It has been 36 years since my dad died, and 14 since my mother passed away. I don’t think about them every day, but feelings of affection swept through me as I look at my mother’s face in those old photos.

The photos had been kept in one of those awful albums with stripes of glue to hold the photos and plastic sheets to cover them. Thinking about painting some of them, I scanned the photos into the computer. As I worked with each one, I remembered walking through the vast room of the Alnwick Castle library, filled with comfortable chairs, thousands of books and its collections of Medieval manuscripts and a Shakespeare Folio. Alnwick Castle belongs to the Duke of Northumberland and was recently used in all of the Harry Potter films. It is now a big tourist attraction. Our tour, organized by a group from my dad’s alma mater and long before Harry Potter, stayed in the castle keep with its dorm-like rooms. For several days we savored being part of the quiet life of a country village.Our tours of castles and cathedrals scattered throughout England gave life to my college Humanities classes. I thought of Chaucer, the Magna Carte, Henry VIII, the Bronte sisters, Wordsworth, and William Blake as we traveled the narrow roads from London to Scotland and back south through Stratford-on-Avon to Windsor Castle.

At Lindisfarne, we looked across the sea to Scandinavia. In Edinburgh, we walked on a foggy day on the narrow cobblestone streets leading us past iron gates to the Museum of Childhood. As we came south, we stopped at a pub built of the honey-colored limestone of the Cotswolds and stayed in a charming Bed and Breakfast near Windsor Castle.

My mom was in her late sixties on our trip. Very active, she continued to ice skate well into her 80s. I see myself in her face and her smile. She is of French and English ancestry, and so this trip was special for her. In Coventry, we found a grave with the name of Hart, her mother’s last name, and she wondered if they were related to us. In France, she compared my silhouette to a statue of Josephine Bonaparte and determined that we both had the same nose.

As I shepherded her throughout the tour, I began to feel the reversal of roles from mother to daughter, then to daughter mothering mother. It wasn’t ’till much later when she developed Alzheimer’s that my sisters and I became the mothers that our mother needed while she faded away from her memories and the people she knew.

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. Her blog, Postcards in the Air, can be found each Friday at www.marthaslavin.blogspot.com She also writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California.

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September 6 – The Best Labor Day Present

by Kali’ Rourke

(c) Can Stock Photo / rogistok

My husband’s birthday often falls on Labor Day (although this year it is after the holiday) and the family lovingly teases his mom about “really celebrating Labor Day right!” She has nodded and smiled ruefully over the years, looking with pride at the three wonderful children she brought into the world. She devoted a good portion of her life to being their primary caregiver.

Dad Rourke was an extroverted sales and marketing guy with a great math mind and a way that made everyone around him feel lucky to be there. He always knew that he couldn’t have done what he did without a strong woman to support him and he loved his wife fiercely. His insurance business brought travel and frequent moves for the family, and she was the glue that held it all together.

His success was hers, as well and she took pride in always being his loving, impeccably groomed, and incredibly organized partner. They were our role models in how to make a strong marriage last and they enjoyed over 50 years of happiness.

50th Anniversary Portrait by Sharon Roy Finch

Dad Rourke passed away in 2010, and Mom has resented not going with him sooner as she approaches 93 and is losing much of her independence to age and senility. Over the thirty plus years I have been married to her only son, every once in a while, I have sent her a thank you card on his birthday for giving me and the world such a gift.

This year, I sent it early. I wanted to be sure she would still be able to read it and know, perhaps for the last time, how special she is and how grateful I am to her for all she has done for us.

When we celebrate Labor Day, I know it is primarily to honor the working men and women of industry and commerce, but I submit to you that without the historic and heroic labor of women in the home, whether while giving birth or nurturing, educating, developing and loving these children as they grow, there would be no Labor Day to celebrate.

Happy Labor Day, Mom Rourke. You did a fabulous job and always made it look classy, coordinated, and effortless. As Bob Thaves so famously quipped about the great Ginger Rogers, “Backwards and in high heels,” right?

Kali´Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, philanthropist, and a proud Seedling Mentor. She blogs at Kali’s Musings and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome. This post originally appeared in Kali’s Musings.

August 13 – Summer Punch

by Sara Etgen-Baker

The home I grew up in was a two-bedroom, one-bath cracker box house. Minus the garage, it was only about 950 square feet. Like most post-war homes, ours didn’t have any air-conditioning. During the summer, Mother opened the windows for circulation and summertime heat relief.

Most summers, our neighborhood wilted under a hard Texas sky, sweltering in temperatures that stayed fixed in the mid-to-upper nineties. The cloudless sky was painfully bright whether I looked up at the burning sun or down at its reflection on the concrete pavement. The birds were silent; the grass stood still as if it was too hot to move. Cold water ran hot from the taps, and the roads turned to tar. At night there was very little relief from the heat; our pajamas and nighties stuck clammily to our damp skin.

Most summer days, Mother sat inside in her easy chair sipping on fruit punch and dabbing at her brow with a wet hand towel she kept in the fridge for that purpose. My brothers and I escaped the oppressive heat inside the house and played outside on our shaded front porch. My brothers played war games with their green, plastic Army men; and I played jacks. One particular summer day while playing jacks, my ball bounced out of control striking down my brothers’ Army men who were in the midst of a critical battle.

“Look what you did, you stupid girl!” my older brother shouted, throwing my ball and striking me in the face.

“I’m not stupid! Take it back!” I sprang from my sitting position, knocking over all the green Army men.

“Look what you’ve done!” he yelled as he stood up and glared at me.

“I hate you!” I said, punching his shoulder.

“I hate you MORE!” he said, returning my punch. My younger brother joined in the ruckus. The three of us slapped at each other, striking one another’s arms and legs. Words were exchanged. Within a few short minutes, Mother flung open the screen door and marched onto the front porch.

“Stop it right now!” she hollered. “I’ve had enough of your bickerin’ and fightin’.” Mother raised her arms and lightly clenched her hands into fists. “On the count of three, I’ll start punching. May the best man win! Ready? One…two…three!”

She threw her fists in our direction, packing quite a punch as she struck our shoulders and arms. We froze in place, unable to defend ourselves against our otherwise mild-mannered Mother; the same mother who rarely raised her voice and who never even spanked her children. We ran off the porch, convinced Mother had gone stark-raving mad! Mother wasn’t crazy, of course. The ever-present heat inside the walls of the tiny house had closed in around her, short-wiring her temperament.

Although my home is air-conditioned and bigger than Mother’s, like her, my temperament short-wires during August as summer’s relentless heat bears down on me. Walls close in; my patience runs thin, and I’m more easily agitated. So, I pour myself a glass of summer punch; sit down in an easy chair, and wipe my brow with a cooling rag, resisting the urge to snap or pick a fight with those around me.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

July 12 – Ties To The Past

by Sara Etgen-Baker

The author wears her own apron, created in 1965.

My fascination with aprons began when I cooked alongside Mother. “Put on your apron!” she insisted. I tied one of her aprons around my waist and immediately felt a connection, a type of kinship with her and other women, for there was a time, not so long ago when wearing an apron was commonplace and synonymous with femininity and domesticity. My mother and my grandmothers put on their aprons the moment they entered their kitchens and wore them throughout the day while preparing meals and tending to household chores.

Grammy’s Tulip Apron

All three women were also seamstresses often making their own aprons and expressing their personalities and individuality with them. Grandma Stainbrook made colorful, loose-fitting bib-style aprons with deep pockets. Grammy, on the other hand, created dainty, pastel-colored half aprons that complemented her outfits and accentuated her tiny waist. Mother was practical and preferred making a bib-style apron, wearing it to protect the dress underneath. She reserved her fancy half aprons accented with ribbon, lace, and appliques for holidays and entertaining.

Mother used her bib-style apron for almost everything; dusting furniture, drying my tears, picking up hot pans, and wiping the sweat from her brow. Her bottomless apron pockets were always full and housed clothespins, handkerchiefs, bandages, loose change, my jacks, and my brother’s marbles.

At 14, I enrolled in home economics class where I sewed my first garment; a half apron of my own. I bought the apron pattern for 65 cents but didn’t have enough money to purchase fabric. So, I used the remnants of mother’s kitchen curtain material; a white fabric covered in delicate yellow roses. During that first semester, I learned sewing basics; cutting out a pattern; pinning it to the fabric; cutting the fabric, and basting the garment. I learned to thread the sewing machine, maneuver the foot pedal, and guide the material under the advancing presser foot. By semester’s end, I’d sewn my apron to the waistband; attached small, rick-rack covered pockets to it; and hemmed it.

Mother’s Holiday Apron

There was something satisfying about taking a piece of fabric and turning it into a beautiful apron. I felt special, for sewing my own apron was a sort of rite of passage into womanhood; and proudly wore my apron every chance I had. In 1965 aprons were a part of being a woman and a homemaker; however, when the women’s movement took hold, aprons seemingly disappeared from favor and the feminine landscape.

But aprons remain important, for they are historical garments reflecting how women functioned in society; how culture viewed them; and how they saw themselves. I recall the apron-wearing women in my life; the stories behind their aprons gave life and meaning to the fabric itself. Their aprons are statements of what they represented to their families and serve as reminders of recipes, values, events, and traditions from gentler, less complicated times. I remain fascinated with aprons, for each one has a unique story to tell with its own ties to the past.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

May 13 – Shaping Words

By Sara Etgen-Baker

winifred christine stainbrook etgen

Winifred Christine Stainbrook-Etgen

Before giving birth, Mother undoubtedly read child development books and baby-proofed her house. But no one could tell her what to anticipate. No one could tell her that the little girl she’d soon birth would come with a personality all her own and it would often run in direct opposition to her own.

I guess what got me thinking about Mother was a Mother’s Day keepsake the six-year-old me prepared for her in school. Our teacher mimeographed pictures for us to color; I selected the rose picture and colored the roses red because Mother’s favorite flower was red roses. When I ran across the keepsake in one of my scrapbooks, my mind was flooded with memories of Mother.

I remember the summer I picked plums with her from the tree beside our house and made plum jelly. I remember walking with her to the nearby corner store, buying a package of M&Ms, and washing them down with a diet Dr. Pepper. I remember her making me peanut butter sandwiches; combing the tangles out of my wispy, fine, hair; and making me wear the itchy, frilly dresses that she made. I remember the five-year-old me sitting on her lap while she read me books. The older me remembers her reading the dictionary to me every night.

“Words are powerful,” she repeatedly said. “Learn their meanings, how to spell them, and how to use them properly.” The teenage me half-heartedly listened as she impressed upon me, “Choose your words carefully and kindly when conversing with others.”

Mothers Day Card FrontFrom kindergarten on, she dropped me off at school. As she drove away, she rolled down the window and said, “Remember, you’re smart. You’ll do well in school.” Whenever I wrote a paper for any class, she always read it before I turned it in. Rather than offering criticism, she asked, “Is this your best effort?” Even now, her words echo in my mind whenever I’m critiquing or editing my own writing. Her methodology gave me confidence by teaching me to measure my own abilities and efforts from an internal standard and compass.

Mothers Day Card Inside

I thank Mother for her shaping words; words that made a difference. There have been those times in my professional career and personal life when I felt stretched beyond my ability. But I would always hear her gentle voice telling a younger me, “You’re smart; you can do whatever you need or choose to do.” Her words pushed me beyond where I might have been tempted to stop.

The much older version of me stares into the eyes of the reckless, demanding, know-it-all child I was; it must’ve been difficult to be my mother, for my personality and hers clashed. Frequently, I think about the words I said and wish I could take them back. I was unbelievably blessed with the quintessential mother. Were Mother still alive, I’d thank her for the words she gave me and the non-stop encouragement she administered; encouragement that’s sustained me my entire life.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice. 

March 14 – Cooking for Passover

by Ariela Zucker

CookbookIt is my mother’s cookbook that I kept after she passed away many years ago, so most of the recipes are hers. Every year I open it a few days before Passover and minutes later I am treading knee-deep in thoughts and images and even the smells of my childhood. I know from prior years that these entangled sensations, a neurological condition called synesthesia, is temporary and will pass after the holiday but for a brief period I let myself back into the land of memories.

The book’s hardcover is dull brown that is peeling in all four corners. When I open it, a stream of papers of all sizes and colors fall out and spread unevenly on the floor. Another thing I tend to forget is my habit to write recipes on random pieces of paper and tuck them inside the book, for a keepsake. The pages themselves stained from the years and the many times they were touched with oily or flower covered hands.

As I flip through the book, gently, so not to tear the pages that tend to stick to each other, I make it to the part marked Passover. I look at my mother’s angular handwriting and remember how the Hebrew letters, she adopted late in her life, never gained an easy flaw. I remember how she complained about it yet insisted on writing the recipes in Hebrew so I will be able to read them. In between, my handwriting, round and flawless, unlike her I drew a lot of satisfaction from the act of writing.

Passover flowerless cake, a family recipe my mother learned from her mother. Matzo dipped in chocolate, my favorite. Chicken soup with matzo balls, gefilte fish, brisket, compote, the list seems endless and with each recipe an image of the Seder table and the voices of people who are no longer alive mix with the loved flavors.

I look at the recipes and sigh. Like my daughters when they ask for a favorite recipe, I remember how I tried to follow the detailed instructions of the dishes just to fall short, time and time again. All my efforts did not produce the exact texture, or smell, or taste. I know that it will not happen this time around either, but that I will give it my best try.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. She blogs at https://paperdragonme.wordpress.com/

March 22 – Food Wars

by Gretchen Staebler

cherry-tomatoes-1381533938Tr5 (1) (600x450)

I return home from my small-town escape to the closest city for yoga, grocery shopping, the Farmers’ Market for fruit and a sweet treat for Mama’s breakfast, and Trader Joe’s to stock up on medicinal wine. It’s a weekly outing that keeps me sane. As I leave Olympia, I round the bend toward the I-5 exchange and as it does every time, Mt. Rainier reaches into my throat and grabs my breath away. For this, I moved across the country to care for my mother. I’m about to appreciate the reminder.

I unload the car and take my purchases into the kitchen where Mama is hovering in the room that was always hers alone. I am still the child at my mother’s knee here. I get daily instructions on how to load the dishwasher, proper placement of the can opener in the drawer, and the best way to wipe up spills on the floor.

“I went to the Farmers’ Market,” I tell her, proud of my purchases, back to trying to please my mother, like I’m 15, not 60.

“Did you get any good vegetables?” she asks, ignoring what I did get.

I breathe deeply, and with measured calmness say, “No, you went to the produce stand yesterday; I didn’t think we needed anything.”

Mama gasps, “You didn’t look for tomatoes? Always look for ‘good’ tomatoes!” I roll my eyes, which her lousy vision prevents her from seeing, but say nothing.

I put away the groceries, then feed my cat and return to the kitchen.

While not cooking the dinner I had planned because she says she doesn’t think she should eat pasta today, I ask: “Where did these grape tomatoes on the counter come from?”

“The produce stand yesterday.”

“There are also grape tomatoes in the refrigerator,” I say, irritated that things go to waste because she and her paid caregiver buy duplicates.

Mama looks at them and gasps in disgust: “They are from…Safeway!”

Throwing the box–literally–into the back of the refrigerator, I explode, “Oh, for gawd’s sake!” Not letting it go, I add, “And here is a big tomato that is going bad.” I take it from the refrigerator and put it on the counter, resisting the urge to slam it. A few minutes later, Mama picks it up.

“What’s wrong with this tomato?”

“I just said it needs to be eaten. It has some bad spots,” I spit.

As I finish plating dinner, she says, “I’m going to eat this tomato you were going to throw away.”

“I wasn’t going to throw it away.”

“You said you were.”

“No, I did not say that. I just said there are tomatoes that need to be eaten. And you chastised me for not getting more.”

“I didn’t say that.”

I want to scream, but I breathe deeply and respond with Buddhist calm: “You said I should have gotten some at the Farmers’ Market.”

“Oh,” says Mama, “I guess I remember saying that.”

I will lose my mind.

Gretchen Staebler is a Pacific Northwest native, transplanted to the Southeast and back again 36 years later. She blogs at www.daughteronduty.wordpress.com about the education, frustration, and occasional humor of living for nearly four years with her almost 100-year-old mother, and the déją vu of living in her childhood home. Hopefully without losing her mind.