"Snippet" -- a small piece or brief extract
My 54th birthday is looming large this week, and honestly, I would skip it if I could. . . It seems so wrong to celebrate a day without her that is only possible because of her. My first birthday without her. I didn't expect it to feel this way. I never really thought about how birthdays would feel without her. It is not the first sad birthday I've had, and it won't be the last, I'm sure, unless I die before the next sad one ;-) Amidst the tears of having a birthday without her, I'd love to celebrate this week, all the birthdays I had with her. . .
Mama grew up with an alcoholic father and a mother who had grown up during the Great Depression. Frugality and simplicity were the fabrics of her life growing up. Birthdays in our house were not often full of presents and abundance or frills, but they were always special.
Every birthday we got to choose our favorite meal for dinner. Usually, mine was chicken and pastry. It was a family favorite and another testament to Mama’s excellent cooking. Soft, tender, fall-off-the-bone chicken with a rich flavorful broth and clouds upon clouds of fluffy white pastries (Some call her style dumplin’s, but we always called them pastry.) It was always served alongside mounds of white rice to soak up all the thickened chicken juice. Usually a veggie rounded out the meal -- sweet peas or green beans or something green (often from our garden via the freezer).
And there was always cake. When I was in middle school maybe, Mama took a cake decorating class, so for a few years, we had very fancy cakes! Cakes shaped like Mickey Mouse and decorated to the hilt to make it look just like him -- cakes with beautiful roses, and all kinds of beautiful decorations. Sometimes, it was family favorite cakes -- like carrot cake -- or, for me, pineapple upside down cake. Whatever the flavor, and whatever it looked like, Mama’s cakes always had the most important ingredient -- LOVE!
There were also always cards -- carefully chosen and lovingly signed -- sometimes in Mama’s handwriting; sometimes in Daddy’s, but always a beautiful sweet card full of love.
Sometimes, we had parties. Certainly not every year -- and not the ornate events of today’s kids. Second grade, I think, Mama planned a party for Dale (my younger brother) and me together (both our birthdays are in February-- his the 2nd and mine the 24th) So we had our party right around Valentine’s Day -- we had heart-shaped candies and our friends came over to play and bring presents. (I remember particularly a Play-Doh Fun Factory that year -- it was well-used! :-) It was a rare treat to have a party and took a lot of extra effort and expense on Mama’s part, and looking back I really appreciate those efforts.
Also, in second grade, I remember Mama taking me to birthday parties of friends as well. That was a special treat too! I remember attending Greta’s birthday party in Sunset Terrace where we played croquet and Greer’s birthday downtown where we played musical chairs and I was enthralled because her house had an UPSTAIRS! None of that would have happened without Mama’s willingness to get a little gift and haul me over to a friend's house.
As we got older, we were able to plan our own parties, and Mama tried to help and accommodate us if she could. When I turned 16, I had a big party at our house -- a sleepover for the girls. I still have a picture of about 6 of us piled up in the bed under the covers. I don’t remember all that we did (although I think I remember Kim losing her contact down the sink), but I have very fond memories of the party itself and Mama’s help and willingness to make it happen.
She and Daddy allowed me to plan an 18th birthday party in “the barn” (upstairs play area for Dale and me above Daddy’s workshop downstairs in a log barn Mama and Daddy had built.) I invited all my friends and we celebrated big for my 18th!
As we grew into adulthood, birthday celebrations continued and morphed. At some point, we began having family oyster roasts to celebrate Dale’s and my collective February birthdays. We would buy a bushel of oysters, which required copious rinsing and scrubbing to get the ocean-y grunge off. Mama would scrub and rinse, and then direct our scrubbing and rinsing, until we got enough cleaned that she could begin to cook them. She would fill every big pot and pan full of clunky gray oysters and roast or steam them to salty perfection. Sometimes she would fry some fish or shrimp alongside -- or make hushpuppies. Sometimes it was just oysters and saltines. She was always ready to help us with those stubborn shells that wouldn’t release -- either wielding her knife or throwing it back in the pot to coax it open. Finally, Dale confessed, after years of doing birthday oyster roasts, that he didn’t really care for oysters, so we gave up that tradition, but those are special memories!
Birthdays may not have been elaborate affairs, but they always came with love and effort on her part to make it a special day in some way or other.
One thing is for sure, birthdays will never be the same again.
This was not part of the book I created for Mama, but as I was reflecting this week on some blessings, and thinking about LOVE, I wanted to offer these reflections:
Mama’s love was a tough love. She had high expectations, and while, growing up it felt conditional; in retrospect, it was not. But you can bet disappointing her had big consequences -- stern looks, ear thumps, spankings, switchings, lectures, missing out on favorite things, and so much more. At the time, those didn’t feel much like love. Honestly, to a kid’s heart, they seem more like hate. But as a first-time mom, Mama always did the very best she could for me, and she always viewed her job to help make me into the best person I could be. That is love, too.
Mama, though incredibly intelligent and very talented, viewed it as her job to be a stay-at-home mom. Since we were home together all day every day, we had the opportunity/misfortune to see each other’s imperfections up close and personal consistently. I often disappointed her and she often disappointed me. I wish I could say that I was a great daughter and she was a great mom all the time, and we loved well 24-7, but that would be a lie. Here’s what I know after 53 years of walking alongside my mom.
Mama wasn’t the most affectionate mom in the world. (Her mom was not very affectionate with her, either). She didn’t give compliments easily. I’m not sure whether that helped CREATE my need for Words of Affirmation, or if it is simply one of life’s ironies that she wasn’t good at the thing I need most. The letter she wrote us is precious to me because it offers some affirmations that I don’t feel like I got from her as I was growing up. And honestly, looking back, it appears that perhaps her love language was quality time and acts of service -- and I wasn’t particularly adept at offering those, either -- especially in those atrocious teenage years.
The thing is that with (at least some) mothers and daughters, grace and forgiveness is the most amazing currency, regardless of your love language, because we ALL make mistakes. As I met a friend for coffee this week, she asked if Mama and I had a chance to talk about our forgiveness and grace for each other. My answer was Yes, although it was not the tearful outpouring of emotions you might think or expect. Over time, mostly through my writing (go figure!), I shared words of apology, forgiveness, grace . . . and in her matter of fact way, she shrugged off those deep conversations with some of her favorite comments: “Oh well, that’s life.” “Life’s not fair.” etc. Of course, since we are both criers, there were also smatterings of tears and hugs amidst her attempt at a lackadaisical response.
I wrote this poem for her a number of years ago (2009) for Mother’s Day:
On days like today, I think of the gifts I’d like to give,
But, instead of giving, I’d actually take away –
The discomfort of 9 months of waiting,
The long, hard hours of labor,
The 6 weeks of crying, sleepless nights.
I’d take away the sibling squabbles,
The skint-up knees and temper tantrums.
I’d take from you the sass and attitude
I gave back then – wiping out their memory.
I’d remove all the nights of missed curfews,
The lies told, and the worries I brought.
I’d lovingly scrape away all the hard times
Throughout our lives together, leaving only happy memories.
But then, when I came to now,
Our relationship wouldn’t be the same. . .
Those challenges made us the mother and daughter we are.
Yes, I have regrets, and things I’d take away,
But it would change who we are now –
The friendship we have and the love we hold dear.
I hope it’s enough to look back on those days
As building blocks that helped create
The woman I am today, and the relationship we share.
I hope you know
That I appreciate the love that wound itself through
All the memories, good and bad,
And brought us to the place we are today.
While conversations surrounding my writings to her were not gushy and affectionate, they were understood between two hearts that loved well, as best we knew how, and two hearts that learned to give and receive grace and forgiveness for all of our imperfections.
I’m thankful for friends who remind me how blessed I am to have had such a loving Mama for so long, (when she lost her Mom at 14) and that we were so blessed to have had the time, the desire and the fortitude to share our thoughts on love, grace and forgiveness.
And in those moments when death was inevitable, and slowly and painfully stealing her from us, I am so thankful that our last words to each other were, “I love you.”
Books, Books, and More Books (Part 3 of A blog series devoted to the incredible legacy my mother created.)
With humility and immeasurable gratitude, the fact that I was reading the dictionary at 4 and was reading above my level before I ever started school is a testament to Mama’s teaching, guidance, and provision. I am so sad that I don’t have actual memories of her sitting down “teaching me to read” -- or pictures of us reading together, but there were obviously lots of teaching moments. There was also provision of lots of reading material.
The Books of Childhood
The earliest books I remember were Little Golden Books, Rand McNally Books and Little Elf books. We had a plethora of these perfect-for-kids books. Every Christmas and birthday brought more, and sometimes, I even got them "just because". I had fairy tales, poems, Bible stories, animal books, nature books: Trees, Children’s Book of Poems, Prayers, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Night before Christmas, and tons more! I loved those books, and many of the ones that survived now grace my shelves as well. In Mama’s shopping times, she was always on the look-out for inexpensive books.
In 1969 and 1970, Mattel came out with Upsy Downsy land books and toys. I was in love! I had several of the books and toys, spent hours upon hours reading the story books, and still have several of these on my shelf as well! The bright colors and quirky characters were perfect for me and were either an indication of my uniqueness or an instigator of such :-)
Mama also signed up with Parents Magazine Press to receive books periodically and these became the staple of my childhood. My all-time favorite from this series was “Miss Suzy”. I’m sure Mama read it to me countless times. I have read it to myself, certainly, more times than I can count, later to my brother, then to my sister, later to my students, and most recently to Chandler and Kyrah, my niece and nephew. When I finished reading just the other night as they are 8 and 10, they both said, “I love Miss Suzy.” I said, “Me, too,” and oh, how I do!
There were other really fun books in that series -- Marigold Garden, The Monkey’s Whiskers, Donkey Donkey, and the Ice Cream Cone Coot. I am so thankful for Mama’s insight and how she nurtured early on my ability to read and my love for reading.
Before there was Google
Mama also made sure there were reference books in our home growing up. We always had a dictionary and later we got our set of World Book Encyclopedias. Oftentimes on a Sunday afternoon or at night during dinner, a question would come up that no one immediately knew a sure answer for, so before we could ask “Siri”, we asked World Book. We looked up oceans and sea creatures and biblical history and anatomy and physiology and all kinds of animal questions and plant questions -- and all the questions we go to Google now for we went to the World Book then. We used those encyclopedias for school projects and to answer questions and sometimes, yes, I even read them just because. . . . maybe that made me a little weird, but that's okay with me.
Books and Records
Before there were Books on Tape or Audible books or any of that, there were Peter Pan records and books on record. Mama made sure I had plenty of these as well. The favorite one that I remember was “The Wizard of Oz”. On the flip side, it had “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard” songs. I loved reading along with the records, and I have to believe that was part of the learning to read expressively. Mama provided excellent role models for reading beyond herself through the books on record!
A Legacy of Books
Mama was not much of a reader for the last really long time, but back in the day she loved reading and kept a small collection of books. As I got older, she began to allow me to read some of the books she had read and treasured. I have the 2 Victoria Holt books that she had held onto and her copy of Gone with the Wind, among others that she shared with me. Reading and loving books is a legacy and I am so very glad that she built that legacy!--
I've been a teacher of K-3 students for over 20 years; I'm also a writer of poems, short stories, devotionals and picture books. I'm wife to an amazing husband and mom to Sparkles the kitty. I love reading, writing, singing and listening to music. I enjoy nature, Bible study and spending time with friends and family!