Mother’s Day

May 8, 2016

“We think back through our mothers, if we are women.”
— Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

This Mother’s Day holiday started me thinking of things that trigger memories of my mother. Back in mid-August 2014, I wrote a series of blog posts describing my life through ten iconic objects.  (You can link back to the first post in this series here.)  I thought I would try the same exercise describing ten objects that I believe reflect my mother’s essence.

This was a surprisingly difficult assignment.  Who was she really?  I realize I do not have a very well-rounded picture of my mother.  I saw her primarily as a homemaker with limited interests outside that sphere.  To her credit, she did seem to enjoy many aspects of homemaking, but she did not do much else for fun or pleasure.  I suspect that she was more fun-loving as a child and young unencumbered woman.  Back in those days, she would go dancing, wear lipstick, and take pictures with her Brownie camera.  When did she and Dad stop dancing?  When did she lose interest in taking pictures?

Phlox in the flower bed on the east side of the old farmhouse

Phlox in the flower bed on the east side of the old farmhouse

  1.  Flowers.  My mother always had a huge kitchen garden and grew enough corn, peas, tomatoes, and vegetables to feed us all year long.  But flowers must have fed her need for beauty, and she always had a few flowers growing in narrow beds alongside the house.  Her favorite flowers were chrysanthemums.


But she did not make bouquets of cut chrysanthemums.  The two flowers she did bring into the house during their blooming seasons were lilacs and peonies.


2.  Homemade bread, kolachkies, and desserts.  Certain foods are strongly tied to my mother in my mind — homemade bread and kolachkies, rhubarb sauce and desserts, cranberry marshmallow salad and assorted jello salads, rice pudding.  Mostly baked goods, I notice!  So one object that seems emblematic of her is her hand-written recipe cards.  She kept a well-used recipe box and often tried new recipes that she discovered at baby and wedding showers and in women’s magazines.  I suppose the hunt for new and different recipes showed her adventurous side.

Mom's hand-written recipe cards

Mom’s hand-written recipe cards

3.  Sewing machine.  Mom sewed our clothes for many years.  Each season we would get to pick fabrics from the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogues and she would make us at least one new garment — nightgowns, shorts and coordinating sleeveless tops for summer, corduroy jumpers and pants for school.  When each of us girls moved away from home for college and our apartments, we each bought ourselves a sewing machine — it was that much of a necessary appliance in our house!  Mom never did sew quilts, though.

Some of Mom's buttons and thread

Some of Mom’s buttons and thread

Mom's well-used measuring tape

Mom’s well-used measuring tape

One of Mom's hand-sewn everyday dresses

One of Mom’s hand-sewn everyday dresses

Lovely even stitches and button holes!

Lovely even stitches and button holes!

4.  Curlers, rollers, rat-tail combs, bobby pins.  Mom was our own personal hairdresser when we were growing up.  She cut our hair, gave us home permanents, and set our hair in metal curlers.  She must have been very familiar with our heads!  We girls all wore the same hairstyle — parted on the side with the rat-tail comb, a pin curl held with a bobby pin off to the side to keep our hair off our faces, and curls round our necks.

I remember Mom visiting her mother every weekend and Mom would set Grandma’s hair.  When I was a teenager and Mom’s arthritis made it difficult to lift her arms, I — in turn — would set her hair in rollers every Saturday.  This felt very natural to me after seeing Mom do her mother’s hair.  I don’t quite know why I was “chosen” among my sisters to set Mom’s hair.  For some reason this task fell to me.  It did not feel like work.  I think Mom appreciated this and wasn’t quite so critical!

5.  Maytag wringer washing machine.  I’ve written several times before about Mom’s Maytag wringer washing machine, which she used her whole life.  She refused to upgrade to an automatic washing machine.  I think she felt it wasted water.  Mom did laundry twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays.  Except in the deep dark days of winter, she line-dried the clothes.  I still love the fresh scent of clothes and bedding dried in the sun.

The Maytag wringer washing machine

The Maytag wringer washing machine

Line-drying clothes

Line-drying clothes

Mom's wooden clothes pins

Mom’s wooden clothes pins

6.  Prayer book.  Mom was religious and took time out every day to read devotions from her prayer book.  She and Dad both oversaw our religious training.  We prayed the rosary on our knees after supper every day.  We went to church every Sunday and daily during Lent and the elementary school year.  Mom drove us to Confession and catechism lessons as well.  I hope she found solace in her prayer life.  (It felt more like a duty than a joy to me, I’m afraid.)

Mom's well worn prayer book

Mom’s well worn prayer book

Every Palm Sunday we replaced last year's woven palms over the mirrors in the bedrooms. Every room in the house had a palm.

Every Palm Sunday we replaced last year’s woven palms over the mirrors in the bedrooms. Every room in the house had a palm.

7.  Letters.  Mom enjoyed writing and receiving letters from her children.  Once we went off to college, and when my brothers were in the service, Mom wrote each child a letter every week or so.  They were filled with brief summaries of what was going on at the farm, in the garden, with her family, or with the parish.  Newsy, but not intimate.  Mom had distinctive handwriting that I would recognize today.

The mailbox at the end of our long driveway

The mailbox at the end of our long driveway

8.  Purse.  Mom never left the house without her purse.  She was of the same generation as Queen Elizabeth, but unlike the queen, Mom did not have a purse that color-coordinated with every outfit.  She did, however, have a purse for winter and a different one for summer.  By the time I was a teenager, my mother had given up wearing lipstick, so she did not need a purse to carry makeup.  But I am sure her purses contained — at a minimum — a comb, her wallet, a clean handkerchief, and gum.

9.  Checkbooks and farm ledger books.  My Mom went to a business school in the Twin Cities after graduating high school, and before she got married she kept books for a company in Minneapolis.  My mother was very organized and thorough and detail-oriented.  She taught us kids to save our small allowances and deposit our meager accumulations in a savings account at the bank.  When we got our first jobs in high school, she made sure we opened checking accounts and taught us how to balance them each month.  She kept the farm’s accounting books for years.  She made weekly grocery shopping lists, and as her memory started to go, it was heartbreaking to see her make endless lists to try to stay on top of things.

The farm ledger books

The farm ledger books

10.  Curtains.  My mother loved curtains and our house was always dark!  The living room windows, for example, had pull-down shades, gauzy white curtains, and heavy drapes on the side.  We didn’t need curtains for privacy since our farmhouse was far from any road, but Mom felt that pulling the shades kept the house cool in summer.  (I am the opposite.  I love the light and there are almost no curtains in my house!)

Curtains in one of the upstairs windows

Curtains in one of the upstairs windows

It is certainly my failure as  daughter to have such a lopsided, singular view of my mother.  She was not a joiner and did not participate in community or parish committees beyond the minimum requirements.  She did not have a circle of friends, although I do believe she was close to at least one of her sisters and they chatted on the phone.  I can’t remember Mom ever reading a novel, although she did subscribe to Good Housekeeping and Reader’s Digest.  She went on occasional road trips with my Dad to visit their far-flung children, but when Dad would get out of the car to read the historical markers, Mom stayed in the car.  I remember her remarking after the long drive to Seattle that if she never saw another mountain in her life it would be too soon!

I wonder if my mother had any regrets about her life.  She grew up on a farm, but I think she enjoyed her brief working career in business.  I think the demands of nine kids, a husband, working farm, etc. wore her out.  I hope she was not disheartened by the trajectory of her life.

We were not the kind of mother and daughter who grew to be friends as adults.  I know she had a big influence on me.  I see her in some of my quirky ways of being — both positive and negative!  I trust that she loved us the best she knew how, and I hope she felt our love in return.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers of the world.



8 Responses to “Mother’s Day”

  1. Diane Szukovathy Says:

    Thank you for this beautiful, honest and loving post. I found it very inspiring.

  2. Kitty bluhm Says:

    Thank you for this moving tribute to your mother. It sparks so many memories of my mother too . . .

  3. E. Bancroft Says:

    What a lovely idea to do this little memory project of your mother — I would like to do the same for mine. It was her birthday last week, Mother’s Day today and next weekend will mark two years since she left us at 91. Much of what you have written is very similar to my own mum: the sewing, the wringer washer, ‘pegging out’, the recipes, her handwriting, the letters, and a certain sadness. Happy Mother’s Day, Rosemary.

  4. Lynne Auld Says:

    Happy Mother’s Day to you, Rosemary, and thank you for sharing these memories of your mother. Though exterior clues provide us with some idea of another’s life and identity, in the end we are all a mystery to each other, and sometimes even to ourselves. Your lovely post reminds me to ask the questions I want to ask my mother while she is still with us. Thank you.

  5. Adrienne Says:

    Yes, happy Mother’s Day, Rosemary.

  6. Diana Studer Says:

    9 children.
    My mother had 4 and I suspect she would rather have been a linguist than a fulltime mother. But, life happens.

  7. shoreacres Says:

    I always smile when the Maytag makes an appearance here. And there are so many similarities between your mother and mine — right down to cutting the lilacs and peonies. I suppose it’s natural and normal to wish things had been different. I would take back just a few of those teen years, myself — or at least a little of the obnoxiousness. But in the end, we made our peace, and the memories endure.

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