Today would have been my mother’s birthday. The Ides of March. (Mom died New Year’s Day.) Today I’m going to my brother’s house and we will reminisce and have dinner with family including my mom’s little sister who is 13 years younger than mom.
My mom often told me that she raised her little sister.
My cousin wrote me a loving sympathy letter that included a funny story I had never heard before about Mom, my aunt (my cousin’s mom) and red squares.
My aunt had a friend over and my mom, as the older sister, had them in a competition to earn red cloth squares. I’m not sure what ages they were, but Mom had them busy doing chores. They would earn a red cloth square for finishing their chore first.
I talked to my aunt about it and she said whoever earned the most red squares won the grand prize. She said she wanted the grand prize more than anything!
She won — and the grand prize turned out to be a bigger red cloth square.
Mom was a strong Christian and I have memories of her giving us a Bible verse each morning. She typed hundreds of them on 3 1/2 by 2″ cards.
She was big on chores and that’s one thing I despised the most coming home from school. We’d come home to an empty house, as latch key kids when Mom was earning her degree in Music at the University of Washington. She already had a degree in Home-Ec Education. Mom would leave a legal-sized yellow sheet of college-ruled paper with both sides filled with chores to be done before she got home. She had an ineligible scrawl that was hard to read.
I realize now, she not only wanted dinner cooked, the dishes done, the house vacuumed, the garage swept (you get the idea) — she was keeping my brother and I out of trouble. She was keeping us busy.
Tomorrow we spread her ashes at our riverfront property.
Here’s a photo of her in her teens or early twenties at the river.
What chores did you have growing up? Did you have your children do chores too?
My New Year started off with a phone call from my brother that our mom was found in her bed unresponsive. Within two hours she passed away after being taken by ambulance to the hospital. This was totally unexpected. She tested positive for COVID five days earlier but was asymptomatic.
I’m going through shock, denial, disbelief and grief all at once.
I wrote this story about her years ago. I sent it to children’s book publishers and actually got an offer from a small publisher. I turned down the offer because I didn’t think it was big enough! I’ve never had another offer in my life to have a book published.
Here’s the story:
A DIFFERENT KIND OF MOTHER
I have a different kind of mother. She’s not like other mothers on our street. She looks like other mothers. But it’s what she does that’s different.
She sings all the time. She sings songs by men named Wagner and Wolf. But she calls them “VAHgner” and “VOUlf.”
When my friends come over they ask “What is that?” We listen. “La la la la la la la la laaaa.”
I shrug my shoulders and say, “That’s my mom.”
My friends laugh. Their mothers never sing unless it’s to the radio.
My mom sings all the time. She sings operas while she drives, cooks, shops, gardens, reads and cleans. I think she sings in her dreams.
My mother never buys a loaf of bread. She bakes it every week and slices it with a big knife. Sometimes she lets me punch down the dough after it rises.
When I take my lunch to school, my sandwich sits crooked and looks like it’s ready to fall. My mother packs me carrot sticks, a hard boiled egg, an orange and an apple. There’s too much food and not one chip or pretzel like the other kids get. I like to order hot lunch.
My mother thinks hunting through the woods for mushrooms is fun. She took classes to learn about mushrooms so she knows which are good to eat and which ones are poisonous. I hate it when she asks my friends to go picking with her. But they love to go tramping through the dense green forest, climbing over fallen logs covered with moss. She points out the faerie rings where the mushrooms grow.
My mother grows vegetables in her garden, she won’t buy them at the store. But does she grow peas and carrots like the other mothers on our street? No. She’s proud of her eggplant, asparagus, spaghetti squash and rhubarb.
When my friends come over to play, my mother asks them to weed the garden.
“Nobody wants to weed. We want to play,” I tell her.
Then I turn around and the kids are lined up on both sides of her, pulling weeds as she tells them about the vitamins in vegetables.
My mother doesn’t read ordinary books by popular authors. She likes to read e.e. cummings with letters scattered over the page. I don’t know what the poems say. But my mother gathers up the letters and makes sense out of them.
Digging for clams up to her elbows in mud is how my mother catches dinner. She knows about razor clams that we dig in the surf and butter clams, littlenecks and cockles we find in the gritty gravel. She calls the ones we break with our shovels “clums.”
She picks oysters off the beach, shucks the top shell of and eats them raw right then and there. She eats the roe out of sea urchins and said, “It tastes like caviar!”
She’s the friendliest person on the street. She bakes wild blackberry pies for elderly neighbors and talks tomatoes with anyone who will listen.
She invites the neighborhood kids in, even if I don’t want her to. She doesn’t care when kids build a fort in our backyard or makes tents in the living room with old sheets. She lets us draw chalk pictures on the driveway and dig for China in the backyard.
At night when she tucks me in, I listen to her sing a lullaby with her beautiful voice.
When she kisses me good night, I love that my mother is a different kind of mother.