Tag Archives: Mothers

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. 

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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.

January 5 – The Move

by Letty Watt

old

“Sometimes I prayed with every breath that my children would grow up healthy, and sometimes I prayed that we just had enough food to feed five hungry mouths. When we had more than enough I thought it was a miracle.”

My 91-year-old mother-in-law, Alleen, paused. “I don’t remember a time when I didn’t pray for a miracle in those years. Oh, Lord! And most of the time He answered.”

“Alleen, sometimes I prayed so hard for Katy and the boys that I was afraid I’d use up all my angel requests but I didn’t always recognize when God answered my prayers,” I replied, as we avoided the subject of her impending move to assisted living at Arbor House.

“But, oh Lord, I’ve prayed at night and prayed at day that the Lord let me stay at home and not have to move. I’ve lived here 60 years. You can’t make me move. This is all I know. I’m healthy. I can take care of myself. Why can’t I stay?”

This conversation we’ve had nearly every day for six months when we turn the discussion to assisted living. Now we are making the move.

“Alleen, I’ve been praying too. . .”

Alleen cut off my words. “But you are praying that I go and I’m praying that I stay. That can’t be good.”

For a while it was quiet between us as we drove to Arbor House and the new apartment that she’d soon call home. Then I began to think about God and how tormented he must be when people pray opposite prayers.

The street light turned red and I turned to her and said: “My experience is that God answers my prayers with his guidance, meaning I don’t always get what I pray for, but I do receive what I need.”

At that moment I was merely praying for strength and love to help her make this move.

At Arbor House I put the car in park and she mournfully turned her head to me and spoke: “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me.”

“Alleen, we (all of your children) only want the best for you. You are lonely and scared in your home and are afraid to cook. Please give this a chance. You might really like your new apartment,” I pleaded.

“I don’t see how I can.”

Then she put out her bottom lip and dropped her head in resignation. My heart sank even lower and I asked myself: Whatever have we done?

Letty is a writer by winter and golfer by summer and last year she become a mover. The first move was her daughter, hers came second, her son came third, and before the year ended she moved her mother-in-law to assisted living. She is looking forward to the adventures of 2015 and more stories to tell.

June 3 – Not a Good Day to Die

by Judy Watters

I love Thursdays with my sister, Virginia, and my 93-year old mom. I drive the 35 miles to be there by 8:15 a.m. and always find them just waking. We spend two hours over coffee and toast. At 11:00, I help Mom shower then I set her hair in pink curlers, so she can be pretty for her Bible College class that night. By then, it’s time for lunch.

The entire morning, we chatter non-stop about everything–loved ones, church, world and local news, and even politics. Virginia’s husband stays just long enough to eat, then for some unknown reason, he disappears and leaves us to our day.

This past Thursday our conversation took a strange twist. It went like this:

Mom: I felt so good when I woke up this morning. Not one pain. You know, I read somewhere that people feel good three days before they die.

Me: Really? I never heard that. Let’s see. Today is Thursday; three days from now is Sunday. That’s not a good day, Mom. You wouldn’t want to disrupt church services.

Mom: Are you sure it’s Sunday? I thought it was Saturday.

Virginia: Wait…(She gets her calendar off the pantry door. With Virginia, if it’s not on the calendar, then it wasn’t planned in advance, and therefore, a huge disruption to her schedule.)
Mom, you know Sunday is a busy day around here with choir practice and the kids going to youth group. That’s not going to work.

Me: Then there’s the memorial service to plan. If you die on Sunday, memorial would be Wednesday, and remember, Thursday is my day with you, not Wednesday.

Mom: Oh, I hadn’t thought that far in advance. But I don’t want any memorial where people gawk at me and say how good I look. I’ll be dead; how good can that be?

Me: No memorial? Memorials are for the living; you have so many friends.

Mom: My good friends will understand.

Me: You’ll need to be transported to Pennsylvania for burial. Plane tickets are very expensive if you don’t schedule 2 weeks in advance. Larry and I can’t pay full price right now.

Mom: Well, no one needs to make that trip. Just have the funeral home pick me up in Elmira; they’ll take me from there.

Virginia: We really want to go with you; you will just have to wait. Let’s see what July or August looks like. (She turns the pages of the calendar.)

Me: Mom,we’re really tight this year. Now that I’m retired, we’re down to one income. I don’t think we can swing it at all this year. Next year might look better. You’ll just have to put off dying for a while.

Mom (with her usual sweet smile): Oh, okay.

End of subject.

Have you ever had a serious talk with a loved one that turned as silly as our talk did? Write it down. It will make great reading for your generations to come.

Judy-3-212x300In May 2013, Judy Sheer Watters published her first memoir, The Road Home: The Legacy that was, is, and is to Come. Her blog encourages women to write their stories. Judy teaches legacy writing classes, facilitates Hill Country Christian Writers, and Hill Country Bloggers in Bulverde, Texas. She and her husband have three grown children and one dog.

May 10 – How Did I Get To Age 100?

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

hands

“I have no aspirations to live to be 100,” my mother has stated on many occasions. However, despite her protestations against becoming a centenarian her family celebrated her 100th birthday June of 2013.

The actual date was July 12th, but June suited children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren for the gathering since it required a three-hour drive 81S to Bridgewater, Virginia; the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.

You do not attempt to surprise someone at age 100. Besides, the surprise of a sister arriving from Florida for her 80th birthday had been sufficient in the realm of surprises.

She took the stage and recited a poem by memory that she had learned in grade school. Elocution was distinct and clear. She didn’t miss a beat. We all just listened and wondered in awe, “What poem would we be sharing at age 100 and without notes?”

My mother, Olive Virginia Main Roop. was born on a farm homestead July 12, 1913 in Union Bridge, MD–the homestead where my older sister and I were also born. Her mother was Edith Roop Main and so my parents were second or third cousins. This bids the question, “Might I be my own Grandma?”

Olive (Mom) lives in her own apartment at Bridgewater Village Retirement Community. Being a farmer’s wife, a primary occupation was that of preparing three hearty meals daily for family, threshers, and any farm hands enlisted. Egg custard, apple crisp, baked bread and always a healthy salad was served up for guests whether they are hungry or not.

Olive and Roger (her husband of 70 years) also were movers and shakers when it came to their passion for making this world a safer, more peaceful place to inhabit. After World War II (1944-48) what now known as Heifer International began on our farm as Heifer Project.

Their vision was that if heifers were shipped to war-torn Europe, families could restock lost cattle and provide fresh milk for their children instead of the powdered version. Of course, the stipulation was that when that heifer had her first female offspring it must be passed on to another family.

This required endless hours of cattle coming and going to our farm. There were no days off. Meals were prepared in the middle of the night if that is when the cattle arrived.

Roger died May 8, 2001 at the age of 91. Mom says, “He was the love of my life.”

Loneliness set in and a widower in our church began to seek out her company.

“What would people think?” she wondered.

That is no longer a concern for she and John, age 92, have been companions for the past 13 years. Her children celebrate their friendship for it has enhanced both their lives.

Viva 100 Mom!

Patricia is the middle daughter born to Roger and Olive in 1939. She can’t imagine NOT being raised on a farm where she could ponder the wonders of life. She is an avid reader, musician, gardener, and retired Chaplain/Pastoral Counselor/LCPC who is now in pursuit of writing her own words.

January 18 – Righteously Pissed Off

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

wheelchair

“Mrs. Bubel just take your son home and wait for him to die.”

These are the words that resonated in my ears as yet another M.D. gave me this advice. Stephen was born at Methodist Hospital, Houston, Texas in August of 1965. He weighed 4 lbs. 8 oz. The diagnosis was Cytomegalic Inclusion Disease–a viral infection contracted by the mother in the first trimester of pregnancy.

On January 6, 2014 there was yet another meeting with staff members regarding the state of Stephen Bubel’s care, or lack thereof. For you see, Stephen did not die as predicted. His 24/7 care led me to call one of those M.D.’s in desperation.

“Dr. Dutton,” I said, “I need help before either Stephen or myself winds up in an institution.”

My plea was heeded and help was provided.  Stephen has lived in an institutional setting ever since. Caring for the Stephen’s of the world does not pay well and is never-ending. Care has ranged from being first class to benign neglect.

“So….what are Stephen’s strengths?” the coordinator asked.

“We have been over this every year,” I said in protest. “Can’t you see that his wheelchair has no footrest…he is unshaven….his hygiene sucks…and you want to know what his strengths are? I want to know when his daily needs are met. Fuck your damn forms.”

Yes, I was “righteously pissed off.”

Another meeting of the minds and words is scheduled for February 10th. I am once again hopeful that his basic needs will be attended to as they have been intermittently over his 48 years. Stephen is unable to walk, talk, or take care of bodily needs unless his mother does become “righteously pissed off.”

Patricia Roop (Bubel) Hollinger was the mother of Michael Bubel who died in 2009 and Stephen Bubel, age 48. She is an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, and LCPC by profession. She is also a cat lover, a voracious reader lover of words, gardener, bird-watcher, and she plays piano and organ. Pat married her high school heartthrob in 2010 after the death of her second husband.