Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Wink and a Smile part one

My mother died when she was 91 years old.  We used to always say that her life would make a great story.  Mom and I actually thought about this quite a bit but never did anything on paper.  Since my mother's death I have had thoughts rattling around my head from time to time.  I waited until the ideas came clear before plunging ahead.  I always want to magnify God, and this time bring Mom's memory into focus to bless others.  It is a work of fiction as well.  I took some liberties here and there. I don't think Mom would mind.

The wind blew in Iowa and Nebraska and the damage was in the millions.  The Tornado’s killed over twenty people that night.  Yet, in a bedroom of an old house in upstate New York a woman was in labor. It was her fifth live birth.  ‘Come on Etta, just another push and this baby will be here to greet the world.’ The midwife was tired and sweaty but not nearly as sweaty as the woman giving birth.  Her sheets were drenched in sweat and fluids that come with the birthing process.  ‘Hello little girl!’ said the midwife.

A shout of joy came from the other room.  Her oldest sibling had hoped for a baby sister this time.  She already had three brothers.  The brothers did not care much, just glad that noise would stop.

‘Come now Alice, we must clean your sister up and get fresh linens.’  Etta was too tired to say much but did notice the babe was not breathing right.  The midwife noticed the alarmed look and said ‘nothing to worry about.  I’ve seen this before.  You’ll need to place her near a window to get the air is all.  She’ll need to be watched a bit.  Her breathing will straighten out right fine.  What will you name her?’

Just then the smell of pipe smoke entered the room.  ‘I think Lillian is a pretty name.’  Etta looked up. ‘Yes, that’s fine.  You make me do all the work and you just name her!  Fine, Lillian it is.’ Grampa gave her a wink and a smile.  This little wink and smile would somehow imprint itself in my mother’s mannerisms.  I saw it often.

So, my mother was born that day.  It was during the years of prohibition but Grampa somehow found a drop or two to celebrate with.  It was also during the ‘roaring twenties’.  Gramma and her older daughter used to go to the dances and dressed in the ‘flapper’ style.  But that would have to wait until later.  For now, they had a new baby in the house.

Soon it was April 18, 1923 in the Bronx. It was the first day that Yankee Stadium opened its doors.  The Yankees baseball team would play against the Boston Red Sox.  Babe Ruth was expected to hit a home run for the Yankees. Grampa would listen to it on the radio while smoking his pipe.  Gramma did not know why he was so enthused.  He wouldn’t tell her had a bet placed on it.  He just told her to either sit quietly and listen or go away and do woman stuff.  Gramma threw a pillow at him and left the parlor.

In a farmhouse five miles away my great grandmother sat with her bible across her lap.  Her head was bowed and her mouth still as she prayed silently for her family.  Soon, she got up and began to clean her kitchen.  She was a farmer’s wife and always had been.  She seldom went to the city because she had no need to.  She grew her own vegetables and Grandpa slaughtered his own livestock.  They had pigs and chickens and a few cows.  Grandma tended a garden filled with all sorts of potatoes, carrots, radishes, etc.  Great Grandma also had several different kinds of berries.  She churned butter as well.  Often, Grandma would sell jam and fresh eggs.

Great Grandma sewed her own clothes as well. Great Grampa would barter with some of the other farmers for things they did not have.  Great Grandma crocheted as well.  Each Christmas everyone would get a gift that she had either canned, crocheted or sewed. 

Great Grandma was glad to see the woman’s vote become legal in 1920.  She and Great Grandpa did not live in a bubble.  They knew what was going on around them. ‘Times are changing Levi’ she would say as she sat and snapped beans on the porch.  They both talked about the roaring twenties coming to and end.

In 1929, the ‘Roaring Twenties became the ‘Great Depression’. In September of 1929 The stock market crashed.  Suddenly, the biggest downturn of the United States began. My mother was seven years old when this started.  Suddenly, food was scarce.  Money was scarce.  Grandma and Grandpa now had to pool their resources’ and still came up lacking.

Grandma began taking in ironing.  Grandpa was a good carpenter but could not find steady work. Grandma had another baby and things became quite dismal.  Sometimes supper was a mustard sandwich.  Trips to Great Grandma’s house brought home treats like butter, side of pork, canned goods and sometimes cookies.  But, they did not go there too often. 

Grandma and Grandpa had much difficulty as did most of the nation during this horrific time.  My mother was raised in an atmosphere where you either fixed it or did without it.  This was the difference between having anything or having nothing.  It was during this time that many wives learned to cook meals with little or nothing. 

Mom used to talk about the times of ‘meatless meals’.  Grandma would make a casserole with beans and corn.  Burnt flour gravy over biscuits was a favorite.  Mystery meatloaf [sometimes with no meat it] was put on the table.  You ate what was served not knowing when something else would be available.  My mother sat at a table wondering this very thing.

During this time it was not uncommon to own only one pair of shoes.  Those shoes might have cardboard on the bottoms.  My mother often commented on how glad she was that her mother sewed and crocheted or they might not have had socks or underwear.  If something had to be thrown away, any part that was salvageable was saved to use for another time.

Parents did not take their children to barbers back then.  Grandma cut her children’s hair.  Mom had bangs and short hair.  She always told me that she hated that style.

There was a time in my mother’s childhood when she was sent away from her home to a place that took care of people with TB.  It was thought that my mother had contacted the disease.  My mother was very skinny.  When my mother started jumping from bed to bed for fun, it was time for her to go home.  My mother told me the story of the doctor who said she was definitely misdiagnosed.  Mom had a lot of energy as a kid and sometimes did not have enough food to eat.  It was a combination for being skinny.

During those days children were not taken to parks or movies for entertainment.  They had chores to do and then told to go outside to play.  Mom said you had to use your imagination to entertain yourself.  The neighborhood kids played stick ball in the street or in an empty lot.  ‘We ran around and played tag or hide and seek.  No one complained about being bored.  No one wanted to stay inside and watch tv. When it rained we played marbles or made up games indoors.  But, being bored was unheard of.’

question one  Did you notice what Great Grandma was doing when it wasn't being a farm wife? Great Grandma prayed for her family daily.  Watch later on and see if this was passed down.

question two  How much does our childhood have to do with the person we eventually become?  What were some things that Lillian was taught so far? 

question three  The Great Depression was hard on Americans yet it opened the door for many positive things to take place.  Can you name a few from this part of the story? Can you put yourself in this story and think what you would have done differently?

 

Part two

James 4:14 ‘Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.’

This held true for many during the years from 1933 to 1943.  It was a year of change almost everywhere you looked. Who can imagine what life was like after President Franklin D Roosevelt came into office.  The year was 1933.  My mother was ten years old.  She told of how her brother was a handsome boy in school.  The girls would hand notes to her to give to her brother. This would infuriate her. ‘Go talk to him yourself!’ She would say.

It was around this time my mother began to go to church.  Her family was catholic but she was looking for something special.  She walked to a small white church she had seen.  Quietly she stepped inside and took a seat.  She listened in wonder as she heard the story of Jesus.  She asked to pray for His salvation that very day.  This was the beginning of a new life for her.  She was excited and went home to tell everyone about what she learned.  Many laughed at her and called her names.  She knew what she had learned was true.  She made close friends with the pastor and his wife. She could not keep going to church due to things going on in her life.  But, whenever she could she would pray. Her bible was never far from her.

The cost of a loaf of bread was 7 cent.  A gallon of gas was ten cents.  Meanwhile, a lady’s hat was $1.69. It is no wonder folks that did not buy fancy things back then. Gramma made her own bread most of the time.  The car, [when they had one] was seldom used.  Seatbelts were not invented back then.  Two parents and seven children crammed into a car sounds like a sardine can.  My mother always told me how she walked everywhere she went.

The Great depression took its toll on the nation.  Over 25% of the United States was out of work.  That figures out to one in three adults.  Most of the poor lived in the city.  Rent was averaging $18.00 per month. There was no hot water in most apartments. Many people were worse off than my mother’s family.  They lived in cramped places with more than one family. Due to the poor living conditions disease like diphtheria, scarlet fever, and TB were on the rise.  As written previously, my mother had been misdiagnosed with TB. 

Out in the Midwest there was such a drought that farmland became dust bowls. Steps were taken to preserve the land.  The farmer’s way of farming changed. They had been using every piece of land available to grow their crops. New gasoline tractors had over plowed and over grazed the southern plains. They found they made very little money though. The surplus caused the wheat market price to go down. Suddenly the wheat market collapsed.   The prairie grass that had protected the top soil was gone. The wheat had replaced it but when the drought  came, the land was desolate.  The winds came and dust flew everywhere. Suddenly the land lay open to grasshoppers and rabbits.  

The Federal government stepped in and paid farmers to plow under their crops. They began crop rotation. Prairie grass was replanted.

Parents who could not afford to feed all of their family would sometimes find places of work for them.  My mother was placed in a nice home to work as a house keeper while she was in her young teenage years.  She felt quite inferior during those times.  The lady of the house seemed haughty and mean to her.  She was fed and clothed but worked very hard.  She often told the story of hanging curtains.  She had never hung valances before.  She hung them on one rod alongside the long curtains.  The lady of the house seemed to her to be quite repulsed at her lack of understanding.  She later explained that she had never had valances in her own home.

When mom and I were alone I would mention that sometimes we see things out of our own perception. Perhaps she could see this as a learning time.  ‘You weren’t there’ was her answer.  It was true that I was not and out of respect I said no more.  I did pray for my mother though. I prayed that she would see  her young years as a positive point in her life.

On one occasion, the son of this family had wanted to take my mother to the movies.  The mother quickly told him that he was not to fraternize with the hired help.  This further lowered my mother’s self esteem.  As she related this story years later, I could see that her views were shaped by some of these events.  My mother had become a nurse’s aide years later.  She walked down the hall and came face to face with this woman.  The woman no longer wore pearls and long gowns.  She had gotten old and sat in a wheel chair scowling at everyone.  Her son came to visit her and mom got to see the older man he had become as well.  She decided that she was glad there was never a love match there.  Still, years after that I was an LPN at the same facility where my mother worked.  I took care of the son in the Alzheimer’s unit.  Family said he was a gentle and sweet man with a demanding mother.  I never let on about what my mother had said.

After my mother quit working as a housekeeper, she began to work as a waitress.  She was now seventeen years old.  During this time my mother discovered that she loved to dance.  Her slim legs and quick step made it easy for her to do the dances of that day.  She taught herself how to tap dance as well.  While out dancing she could let herself be free.  She thought of nothing but the music in her ears and joy of knowing the steps.  At one point, she became something of a small town celebrity.  Her family was known to be quite musical.  Her brother sang and played guitar at the dances.  He had his own local radio show. The girls still wanted to have his attention.  Now, the spotlight was also on my mother as she danced around the dance floor. Great Gramma was very upset when she looked at my mother’s dancing outfit. She wore a black skirt lined in red with red pantaloons.  ‘Nothing good will come of this!’

Meanwhile in Germany, Adolph Hitler came into power.  The horrific holocaust had begun. The newspapers spoke of it but it seemed so far away that Lillian paid it little attention.  World War 2 had begun. Japan came up with an automatic weapon during this time. It shot 1000 shots per minute.

A man named Albert Einstein had immigrated to the United States.  During this same time another man began studies on how to make an atomic bomb. He wrote a letter to the president that Albert Einstein also signed.  In it he suggested strongly that the United States begin learning how to make atomic bombs before Adolph Hitler became interested.  President Roosevelt agreed.  The atom bomb was invented.

Mom continued to dance and drew the attention of a tall handsome young man. He did not dance but loved to watch her.  He worked in the woods as a lumberjack.  Mom was attracted.  She often spoke of his quiet yet awkward ways.

The drive in movie was a new thing back then and she went with this handsome young man to her first drive in movie.  She told me they went to see ‘King Kong’.  ‘That was his choice, not mine.’ She told me.

The chocolate chip cookie was invented during my mother’s teen age years as well.  Mom still preferred donuts, but liked cookies too. My mother had a bit of a sweet tooth.

Mom always loved to tell me to be patient with my fiancé.  She relayed the story of how her boyfriend proposed to her.  ‘I think in retrospect that he was quite nervous.  He said ‘It’s a foregone conclusion n that we are getting married so here.’ He gave me a box with a ring in it.  I was furious he was not romantic at all.  I threw the ring in the woods.’  We made up of course and searched for the ring but never found it.’

My mother did end up marrying this handsome guy never the less.  In 1941 Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.  Her husband went to war like most of the young guys in town.  Her husband became missing in action.  My mother was left with being pregnant and giving birth to a beautiful baby girl, alone.

Part three



To walk in another man’s shoes is to see what they see and understand why they do

But to truly walk in another man’s shoes is so difficult when the times are far away from you

A blade of grass is always green no matter where you roam

But the fears of one can change from times, and even home to home

The movies were ‘Lassie Come Home’, ‘The Titanic’ and the music was the big band sound.  Glen Miller band music was on the radio for those who worked the factories, the diners, or wherever women worked.  The men had gone to war, leaving the women to pick up the slack.  My mother told me of people donating metal and copper during this time.

I often wonder what it was like for my mother when she found herself alone, pregnant, and a war going.  What were her choices for shelter, income and housing?

Due to shortages, there were shoe rationing, and foods like canned food, meat, cheese, butter and cooking oils were rationed.  It was no longer the depression, yet oppression was certainly abounding.

My mom lived with her sister and her family.  She often spoke of how wonderful her brother in law was during this time.  Mom was in tears most of her pregnancy and her sister worried for her health.  Mom delivered a healthy baby girl with huge beautiful blue eyes and curly auburn hair.  Mom decided to leave her sister’s home after the baby was born.  She knew her sister and her growing family needed the space and she didn’t want to overload her sister with her own problems.  Though they both told her to stay, my mother left.

She soon found that she was unable to work and care for her little baby though.  She made several inquiries into the where abouts of her husband to no avail.  She told me of two places that she worked during this time.  The hours were long and the money just enough to cover her own expenses.  Mom ended up making one of the most difficult decisions of her life.  She put her precious child into the care of a foster home.  Each week on her days off she would go visit the child.  Somehow, my mother changed from the church going positive thinking girl, to a grown woman with many responsibilities and few answers to her many problems.

Once again, my mother was single yet not happy.  Each day she would look out the window of her tiny upstairs apartment and hope her husband would walk down the sidewalk.  One day she sipped her coffee and saw a man in uniform in the distance.  She watched as he walked down the street and turned into the driveway.  She took off in a flash and ran down the walk to meet him.  Mom didn’t look up to see his face.  She threw herself into his arms.  Her husband had come home.

The man who walked down the street was not her husband though.  He was a soldier who was wounded and coming to visit his father who lived downstairs.  Knowing what must have been going through the woman’s mind, he did not speak.  He held her for a while and she suddenly looked up.  It was then she realized her mistake.  ‘I’m so sorry’ she managed to say as she burst into tears and ran away.  She was up the flight of stairs quicker than the soldier could answer her.

The soldier shrugged and wished he was indeed her husband.  That woman was slender and had a nice figure.  The soldier continued on to his father’s home.

This story was often told to me as I grew up.  It was the story of my parent’s first meeting.  It always sounded so romantic until I realized this often occurred in those days.  There were many women looking for their loved ones and mistaking anyone in a uniform to be him.  The pain must have been severe as the one you loved; your other half…was overseas.  You never knew if they had eaten or if they laughed that day.  Were they warm?  The truth of many women’s fears would never be known.  It was a blessing because the truth would prove much too horrible to bear.

I can picture my mother’s mind not knowing which way to turn.  She had a family that loved her.  Yet, they were unable to help.  Most had families of their own.  Her mother had two young children still at home.  Her older brothers had gone to war.  The times were fluid back then.  Nothing was stable.  At times my mother must have felt totally alone and vulnerable. 

I have always questioned my mother about those times.  Why didn’t she go to the church for help?  I don’t think they could have helped financially.  However, perhaps they could have hooked her up with help.  My mother shook her head at these times.  She had not been going to church regularly for some time.  She had become too busy being a wife.  Her husband was a logger and they moved to a logging site.  It was hard to picture my mother as a young bride in an atmosphere of loggers. 

She smiled at my remark.  ‘All I thought of was my husband.’  So, now she was alone and working at a diner.  She had a few friends that she went out with.  She still danced when possible.

Suddenly my father began to visit the diner she worked at.  He was a handsome man.  His nose was crooked, he wore a patch over one eye from a shrapnel wound.  Mom said he looked like a pirate.  He walked with a swagger.  Mom used to tell me that the other girls ogled him whenever he was near.  He stood tall with his shoulders back and it seemed his presence commanded a room.  I must also comment, he was also arrogant and had a quick fighting temper.  He scared many people.

Soon my mother became attracted and the two became a couple.  It came as quite a shock when the two were sitting down to eat and a knock came at the door.  My mother’s first husband had returned.  No amount of explaining could ever give me the true scene as it must have occurred.  It sounded like something out of an old movie.  The shock would have had me on my knees.

Once again, this probably happened to many during that time of our history.  My mother and her first husband divorced.  She married my father.  The feelings and emotions were high by all involved.  Sudden bouts of anger erupted by all three on many occasions.  I won’t go into any specifics.  Yet, this also gave my mother many untrue ideas about herself.  She often told me that she felt betrayed by the war.  She made a few comments that perhaps she was not pretty enough for a real handsome man.  Yet she had married two very handsome men.

In the late 1940’s the television became popular.  It was mostly in the richer homes but sometimes a television was thrown away because the owner was afraid of it.  Oftentimes it was because the owner thought it was broken.  These televisions were a ripe new business.  The television repairman became popular job.  My mother and father did not have a television for quite some time.  The first soap operas came to be during the year 1945. They were created for their advertisements to be seen and bought by housewives.

The World Series began to be televised in the late 1940’s.  My mother was not real interested though.  She had gotten her older daughter out of foster home along with her second daughter.  This kept things busy enough she had no time for television.  However, ‘Howdy Doody’ was a great way to entertain the children for a while.

My mother’s life was not easy.  My father had come home from the war with many problems in both physical and emotional arenas.  The patch came off his eye.  But, he lived with nightmares, night sweats, and often severe headaches caused by the shrapnel that could not be removed from his brain.  He relived war battles constantly and would hurl himself to the floor shouting many nights.  Nowadays this would be called PTSD.

The war changed many men.  They came home from the war with injuries and mind no longer the same.  Many men would never recover.  Wives had no idea how to cope.  My mother found her husband turn to drink.  The drink made him violent.   My mother told me that his mind was in turmoil.  Nothing in life had prepared her for this. 

The rent about that time was $40 dollars a month.  Cost of a loaf of bread was 14 cents.  Theatre ticket was 60 cents.  Pound of hamburger was 48 cents.  Harry Truman was president now. Planned Parenthood was formed.  Nascar began in Daytona Florida.

My mother got to see many changes in the world.  I know she listened to the news or read the newspaper daily.  She read about the nation of Israel becoming a state.  I’m sure she bypassed Planned Parenthood.  She had contributed to the baby boom. 

Her world was changing each day both around the world and in her own kitchen.  Would I have been excited? Scared of change? Bewildered?  I will never know.  Yet, long ago before it all started in my mother’s life a little lady sat with her bible opened and prayed for her family.  Great Gramma was still alive during the 1940’s.  She was still praying.


Part four
God’s promises are true no matter the age no matter the year

Come; let us follow him as we shed all our tears

He never promises that we’ll never have a care

He only promises that he’ll always be there

 In the year of 1953 my mother was now thirty years old.  Trying to imagine my mother through my own eyes takes me back to the thoughts I had at that age.  Keeping house, a job, and children kept my mind full and my time was little.  Did my mother have moments of quiet contemplation or did she go from one task to the other?  I’ve seen photos of her during those years and she always looked tired.

Yet I do know that she was  happy to have another baby girl during that time.  Her husband and she were happy during this time period, she used to say.  This child was the child born out of joy.  Now, my mother had three children.  They did not have much money but were very much in love.  It was a transitional time with two families blending together.  The bumps were there, yet Mom felt that their love would solve all problems in the end.

This was the time our country had a ‘cold war’ with Russia.  There were stories of communists floating about in the newspaper.  The movies ’20,000 leagues under the sea’ came out.  Also, ‘The River Kwai’ Doris Day, Henry Fonda and Kirk Douglas stole the movie screen as well.  Elvis Presley movies came out in 1956.

My mother saw the fashions changing as well as the change in housing.  Men returned from the war and began to look for homes in the suburb.  The GI bill helped many get loans to purchase homes.  The baby boomers continued as men at war came home and felt a sense of peace here in the United States.  Folks thought that since WWII was over, they could enjoy the calm of home life once again. The cars began to change .  

 The music began to change.  Rock and Roll brought many teen agers out to the dance floor.  Mom must have been busy buying the newest fads for the children.  Bobby socks and saddle shoes were the rage.  Pony tails, and poodle skirts were the fashion for girls.  Boys suddenly sported jeans and white t shirts with leather jackets.  Every boy wanted to wear his hair long and slicked back like Elvis Presley.

Yes, this was the times during my mother’s years of her thirties.  My father played quite a role in changing my mother’s life at this time.   He was good looking and many other women shared my mother’s view of his charisma.  It never occurred to my mother that they were as different as night and day.  My mother loved to dance and my father enjoyed drinking.  When my mother declined to go out drinking, he went alone.  Suddenly he did not come home until late.  When he did come home Mom could smell the liquor and something else.  She smelled the perfume of other women and noticed lipstick on his shirt while doing the wash. 

Mom discovered she was dealing with a drinking, cheating husband.  When she confronted him, a violent argument ensued.  The days of romance ended with several episodes of his drinking bouts.  He would fly into a rage quickly and often broke things in the house.  Suddenly, mom began thinking of the lifestyle of her children more than dealing with her husband.  Her heart was broken more than the things in her home.  She began to plan ways to protect her children.

There are many pieces of this story that I have omitted because it was a dark time in my mother’s life.  My mom suffered a miscarriage a few years later.  The loss of her son changed her forever.  I can’t imagine the loss of a child let alone the feelings of betrayal.  It is not a new story though.  It happens frequently.  Once again, the war changed my father, and my mother spent years coping with this.  A few years later, she was once again blessed with a new baby.  A few years later she had still another baby.

She had five children now and worked full time.  When I think of it all, I am reminded of the mother I knew first hand. She seemed strong and had an iron will.  Who knew that underneath this façade was a woman who had much responsibility and met with much challenge.   The marriage ended and now my mother’s life held a much different pathway. She now made her own decisions without consulting anyone. She would tell me ‘I didn’t always make the right decisions. But, God forgave me when I made a wrong turn.’

Divorce is such a painful thing.  I have only seen it through the eyes of a child.  Yet as I write this, I wonder what my mother was thinking. She discussed this with me often.  ‘I prayed back then even though I wasn’t in church.  Each day I asked for strength to get through.’  I am sure she had fears and much stress.  It was hidden largely behind a wall of control.  She struggled but she was strong willed.  If not for that strong will, I can’t imagine how I would have grown to be the woman I am today.  But, this is not about me.

My father didn’t disappear from our lives.  He visited often and we children loved his visits. Yet, my mother’s life changed. She was tired from stress and sometimes just slept in on the mornings she had to work in the afternoons. My uncles were back from the battlefield for quite a few years now. The tried to help  and became a large factor in her life.  I can remember my different uncles coming to visit often.  When something needed fixing, they helped out.  Sometimes things were fixed by my mother with duct tape.  Duct tape fixed almost everything.  No single woman should be without it.

This was the time of transistor radios and colored appliances.  The record players that played old 78’s now sported 33 rpms. Super glue was invented. Still cameras got built in flash units.  Mom lived through it all.  She watched as the 1940’s left and the 1950’s arose.  There were more inventions than this story could put in.  Saran Wrap, White Rose teabags for the world’s first ice tea. Color television began. Ever ready produced first AA batteries.  My mother was in her thirties as she watched changes go on all around her.

I often wonder what my mother was like without the stress of going to work.  Did she like to sew or cook?  I will never know because as far back as I can remember she always had a full time job.  Her two older children were teen agers during the fifties.  She ended up having three more children and two miscarriages during the fifties.  The responsibility of a job, her children and a divorce must have been overwhelming.

As I recall listening from my room, my mother sat with her mother and a friend and often spoke of her life.  She would sit with a cup of coffee and talk about her job and her life. She was a very good nurse aide and loved caring for the elderly.  I truly believe God put her in a position to help those some forget.  She took great pleasure in her work and came home with wonderful stories.  All of us children were very proud of her.  She was very tired from it all, yet, she put on a smile for us and would often wink as if there was a secret only she knew.  She found her joy in her children.  I can remember she would laugh at our antics many times.

Her life of going out came to an end.  She was too tired most of the time.  It was during this time that she watched life through the lives of her children.  She wanted to be a guiding light for them.  As we often sat together, she would give us much instruction on manners, and how to behave outside the home.  ‘I don’t mind you running and jumping once in a while at home, but not when you’re out. I’m not raising a pack of wild Indians.’

Part five

By the time my mother reached forty, she had seen much, and lived through much.  She had much joy and laughter through it all.  Yet her life left her a little fearful, a little tough skinned, a little opinionated and ever seeking to keep her children safe. 

Folks may wonder why I’d write my mother’s life in such detail.  Simple, she would want every piece of her failures and triumphs to be a help to someone else going through the same thing.  She would want everyone to know that she called out to God in her darkest hour.  Even when she did not go to church or follow him as she should have, she knew she could call out on Him for strength, wisdom and guidance.



Lord let me see with eyes of old, with wisdom gained from age

Yet let me live with youth and vigor as I lived in my youthful stage

To mix the two seems very sweet but it is not to be

Strong and naïve, frail and wise, on earth this is how it must be

 

So often we look at our aging parents and suddenly we are surprised that they are frail and unable to do certain things.  I remember well the day I looked at my older mother and realized she had aged.  In my mind she was always in her forties.  For, that is when I saw her as the strong invincible person. 

I was shocked when I came into her bedroom one day and she was crying.  The radio was on.  ‘Our president Kennedy has been shot.  He is dead.’  The radio was on for most of that day.  It was my mother’s day off.  She was busy washing clothes and hanging them on the clothes line.  She swept the floors and did dishes.  I saw her do the same things all of the time but that day was different.  She said that our country was going through a change.

As a little girl of six, I hardly knew what that meant in 1963.  Yet in the years to follow I was to witness the death of Martin Luther King on television, and then Robert Kennedy.  I remember my mother worked long hours back then.  My father would visit on weekends.  We lived in an apartment in Albany, New York.  My grandmother lived upstairs; we lived under her and over a family friend who lived in the basement apartment. 

I can remember my mother being worried but I didn’t know why.  There was much clashing between the whites and the blacks during that time.  My sister was knifed in school, and later was stuck with a lead pencil.  My uncle or father would sometimes come over and walk me to school.  It never occurred to me as a small child what was going on around me.  But, then across the street there came a gang of people who began to meet.  My mother said to not go outdoors unless in the back yard.

My grandmother and mother took a trip one day to a small town in upstate New York.  They came home and told us that we were going to move.  We seemed to move from one apartment to another frequently so I paid no mind.  Mom sat at the table and drew a picture of the home where we would be living.  Gramma would live upstairs from us.  She was moving too.

In 1968 my sister and I went on a camping trip with my father.  Meanwhile, there was a riot between the two races in the city of Albany.  My mother packed our things in a hurry and her nephews moved everything to the house in upstate New York. My mother suffered a slight stroke and remained with our family friend in her basement apartment for a while. 

 When the camping trip was over, our father took us to our new home. Gramma was upstairs and we were not alone.  It seems like just yesterday I walked into that house.  My first thought was ‘this is horrible’.  There were boxes and furniture everywhere.  It looked like a bomb went off. 

I raced upstairs with my sisters to see Gramma.  She explained that nothing was unpacked because mom was ill.  We had no idea what a stroke was.  We slept on the floor upstairs with Gramma and played during the day. 

Gramma had a heart attack soon after.  My older sister was the only person around so she tried to take care of her.  Gramma stayed in bed.  My younger sister and I grew restless as our older sister grew scared.  A short time later, Gramma was out of bed and our mother came to our new home.

Mom could no longer work though.  She slept off and on. She unpacked and organized our furniture as best she could.  The apartment was quite small though.  I could never call it a cozy home.  It was a place to live.  My mother explained to me years later that she had to find something quickly to keep us safe from the riots going on in Albany.  I remember saying ‘Is this the best you could find?’  She laughed.  I was eleven years old and just spoke out the first thing I thought of.  Mom smiled and said ‘This will be a challenge.  I thought you girls would like the back yard and it’s a short walk to school.  This will be fun, you’ll see.’ She said it with a wink.  I knew she thought I would adjust.  I didn’t want to upset her so I said no more.

The following November, my father was in a car accident.  He died a few days later.  Once again I saw my mother’s tears.  This time though, our lives would forever change.  I never realized what a huge impact my father’s presence had in our lives until he was gone.  He did not live with us but he was near whenever we called.  He bought the Christmas presents, special clothes, huge Easter baskets and took us to nearly every theme park near us.  Suddenly, it was all gone.

We were left in an ugly apartment with no money and no friends.

I also never realized how much stress this left on my mother.  She was left to raise three girls on her own in a strange place.  Years later she told me that she never felt so alone in her life.  All I know is that my mother would sit in her rocking chair in the morning.  We got ourselves breakfast and got dressed for school.  When we came home she was still in the rocking chair.

This went on for quite some time.  She tried to find work, but due to her recent stroke she was just not well enough to do the job. She ended up staying at home with us girls.  Gramma decided to move out to a downstairs apartment.  This meant we could move our bedrooms upstairs.  We were glad to be not so cramped.  Yet, this was still a tiny house. 

It lacked a bath tub or shower.  We suddenly had to take sponge baths.  To this day that makes me shudder.  That first winter we had tons of snow and the pipes froze.  We had to go outside and gather fresh snow for my mother to have water to cook with. 

Mom tried to make a joke out of it all but I knew it was awful.  Soon, my mother called some of her brothers, her son in law and old friends to help her insulate the pipes.  I was amazed that she seemed to be able to fix things.  Of course, duct tape was a staple fixer for most everything.  Yet, mom used a lot of ingenuity to keep a roof over our head and food on the table.

As I look back on my mother in her forties, I see a woman who had much to be fearful of.  Yet, she scooped up her kids and kept them safe.  She dealt with loss, and poverty.  Most of the decisions she made, she made on her own.  Some were right, some were very wrong. 

The best idea came when Mom decided to take us to church.  It had never been a habit for the whole family to go together.  My mom did tell us about Jesus but now a new chapter of our lives would begin. Suddenly my mother became a new person before our eyes.  She had new friends and we went to church suppers and prayer meetings.

As we became acquainted at school, we also became acquainted with the folks in church.  My mother became very busy in the church.  She helped with the women’s missionary prayer fellowship and then became the president of it.  I saw my mother happier than I had ever seen her.

Mom was given a new vision and a new hope.  Things at home began to settle down as my mother’s spirits began to rise.  She still sat in her rocking chair a lot, but it was with a purpose.  She kept a prayer list and her bible open in her lap.  Once again, Mom walked through another portion of her life.  There was pain, loss and fear.  But, now there was hope.
Part six
 
When I was in my teens,my mother was a woman strong. Her faith in God sustained her. My mother joined the Women's
 Missionary Prayer Fellowship. She enjoyed making gifts to send to third world countries. She often hosted dinners at the church when missionaries came to our church. I remember one missionary who came for supper at our home. Mom had a heart for missions.
Mom had a heart for those less fortunate. Her dedication to God went to the neighborhood. She opened her back yard to the neighboring children. She got a flannel board and told the story of Jesus to about six or seven children each summer. Many children asked Jesus into their hearts.
As I look back now it is sad that although Mom's faith was flourishing,
her children were in a state of rebellion. Three of us girls still lived at home. We were all young teens with ideas of boys dancing in our heads. We thought we knew so much back then. Mom was out of touch. She wore dorky clothes and did dorky things...or did she?
Mom kept her head about her as we teens lived out our rebellion. There were marriages and divorces during those years of the seventies. This left us three girls with children of our own. We all moved out and then moved back home. Mostly at different times.
I can remember my mother kept track of the news a lot. She watched as President  Nixon gave his farewell speech. Watergate was big news back then.
Mom would sit with me and tell me her views of the news over a cup of coffee. When I was seventeen I did not understand Watergate. Mom explained it,in a fashion. She told me what the news said,then she gave me her version. 'I don't think Nixon did anything that hadn't been done before. They wanted him out of office is all.'
This was the era of the practical computer. The floppy disc era. Suddenly,there was the invention of the food professor,LCD's,video cassettes, VCR's.
The MRI,cell phones,rollar blades and the Walkman came out.
Most of these things went by without my mother's' interest. She was busy at home with us girls. We still had a black and white television. She watched the news about Viet Nam war. She prayed a lot for it to end. She had no use for a computer. I don't think she ever wanted to go 'online'.
She was interested in church and politics.  I do remember a soap opera now and then.
Some things about my mother stick out like it was yesterday. For instance,the day I brought my boyfriend(soon to be husband) home to meet Mom. She talked to him for hours. In fact, she talked about the Lord and I was embarrassed. I figured I would never see Jeff again. I went to bed thinking he would leave. He stayed up late that night talking to my mom.
He enjoyed my mother and respected her. She answered his questions as much as talked.
Mom was busy during the seventies babysitting one grandchild or another. They loved to go to her house to play. She told stories of Jesus. She played cowboy and Indian ,or let them race in back yard. One day as I picked up my two children, I could see my mom was excited. My daughter told me they had prayed that day for Jesus to come into their hearts. I smiled and said it was wonderful. Yet,at that time my focus was on getting the kids bathed and supper on. It never clicked how important that day was.
I did not have my mother's faith in God back then. I knew the basics but could not see the Lord in the same way my mother did. Even now I realize we cannot put our eyes of faith into our children's heads. Our children have a will of their own and they will have their own individual relationships with Jesus. Our job is to teach,plant seeds,water and give God the harvest.
My mother knew what I did not. Years later she confessed her disappointment in my reaction that day. 'It told me what to pray.' She said.
Before mom died she saw the harvest in not just me,but her daughters and husbands as well as some grandchildren.
My mother used to wink and smile when I would be disappointed. 'It's not over yet honey!' There was faith behind that wink and smile....and lots of prayers.
When I was in my teens,my mother was a woman strong. Her faith in God sustained her. My mother joined the Women's
 Missionary Prayer Fellowship. She enjoyed making gifts to send to third world countries. She often hosted dinners at the church when missionaries came to our church. I remember one missionary who came for supper at our home. Mom had a heart for missions.
Mom had a heart for those less fortunate. Her dedication to God went to the neighborhood. She opened her back yard to the neighboring children. She got a flannel board and told the story of Jesus to about six or seven children each summer. Many children asked Jesus into their hearts.
As I look back now it is sad that although Mom's faith was flourishing,
her children were in a state of rebellion. Three of us girls still lived at home. We were all young teens with ideas of boys dancing in our heads. We thought we knew so much back then. Mom was out of touch. She wore dorky clothes and did dorky things...or did she?
Mom kept her head about her as we teens lived out our rebellion. There were marriages and divorces during those years of the seventies. This left us three girls with children of our own. We all moved out and then moved back home. Mostly at different times.
I can remember my mother kept track of the news a lot. She watched as President  Nixon gave his farewell speech. Watergate was big news back then.
Mom would sit with me and tell me her views of the news over a cup of coffee. When I was seventeen I did not understand Watergate. Mom explained it,in a fashion. She told me what the news said,then she gave me her version. 'I don't think Nixon did anything that hadn't been done before. They wanted him out of office is all.'
This was the era of the practical computer. The floppy disc era. Suddenly,there was the invention of the food professor,LCD's,video cassettes, VCR's.
The MRI,cell phones,rollar blades and the Walkman came out.
Most of these things went by without my mother's' interest. She was busy at home with us girls. We still had a black and white television. She watched the news about Viet Nam war. She prayed a lot for it to end. She had no use for a computer. I don't think she ever wanted to go 'online'.
She was interested in church and politics.  I do remember a soap opera now and then.
Some things about my mother stick out like it was yesterday. For instance,the day I brought my boyfriend(soon to be husband) home to meet Mom. She talked to him for hours. In fact, she talked about the Lord and I was embarrassed. I figured I would never see Jeff again. I went to bed thinking he would leave. He stayed up late that night talking to my mom.
He enjoyed my mother and respected her. She answered his questions as much as talked.
Mom was busy during the seventies babysitting one grandchild or another. They loved to go to her house to play. She told stories of Jesus. She played cowboy and Indian ,or let them race in back yard. One day as I picked up my two children, I could see my mom was excited. My daughter told me they had prayed that day for Jesus to come into their hearts. I smiled and said it was wonderful. Yet,at that time my focus was on getting the kids bathed and supper on. It never clicked how important that day was.
I did not have my mother's faith in God back then. I knew the basics but could not see the Lord in the same way my mother did. Even now I realize we cannot put our eyes of faith into our children's heads. Our children have a will of their own and they will have their own individual relationships with Jesus. Our job is to teach,plant seeds,water and give God the harvest.
My mother knew what I did not. Years later she confessed her disappointment in my reaction that day. 'It told me what to pray.' She said.
Before mom died she saw the harvest in not just me,but her daughters and husbands as well as some grandchildren.
My mother used to wink and smile when I would be disappointed. 'It's not over yet honey!' There was faith behind that wink and smile....and lots of prayers.

Part seven



Proverbs 31:30 ‘Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears God is worthy to be praised.’


Time stands still for no one and yet in a little while we look in the mirror and see a ghost of the person we once were. Our times on earth grow shorter and we know that today is the most precious gift of all.

My mother decided that after her children were married and out of the house; it was time for her to reenter the work force.  She still had her skills in nursing.  She prepared herself for work by losing a bit of weight she had gained while staying at home.  Her friends at church prayed for her to find work easily.

Soon after my second child was born, my mother went to work in a nursing home. Things had changed since the late sixties.  The work was hurried and my mother was getting slower.  It was hard for her, but she carried on as best she could.  It was often said of her that she was wonderful to the patients.  She would often do things the old way, and her supervisors would shake their heads.  Mom took her time opening up crippled hands and washing and powdering their palms, while massaging them.

Patients got foot care with my mom’s care.  She had a gentle touch and soothing voice that put them at ease.  The young aides were in a hurry and missed the little things.  Mom would gently comb their hair.  She bathed her patients slowly, never missing anything.  Men were shaved and the women had fresh smelling powder under their breasts.

I went into nursing soon after my mother’s retirement.  I worked at the same place.  I know this information because I was told marvelous stories of my mother’s care.  The most difficult patients were often sent my mother’s way.  It was amazing to see her calm the most confused belligerent patients into gentle lambs.  She encouraged them to speak to her at times.  She loved to hear their stories of their life.

Being a caregiver is much more than the mechanical things we do for the person.  We remember that they are valuable in our community.  They are never to be rushed or shouted at.  They are not children to scold or a drudge to get over with.

My mother had the gift.  Most of my best evaluations came because I listened and learned from her and those who told me about her first hand.

When my mother was no longer able to work, she found that her little church had grown up around her without her input.  As she had been busy, the church had put other people in leadership.  Mom was highly respected but she felt less needed.  She was sometimes upset with the changes made at her church.

‘The music is for the younger set.  I would prefer my hymns and hymnals.  This live band gives me a head ache.’  She complained a lot about the music.  I remember one day she was in ‘a tizzy’ when I went to visit.  She told me that she was thinking of not going to church at all with ‘that music’.  ‘It’s just not right’ she said. I asked her if she worshipped God with her ears or her heart.

Mom stopped talking and asked what I meant.  I told her that although she did not appreciate the verses that repeat themselves over and over, that is what is done in the throne room.  The bible says that there are angels singing ‘Holy Holy Holy’ over and over again. 

I remember Mom didn’t answer so I felt it safe to go on.  ‘We can worship with or without music.  The music is simply our taste.  Some prefers hymns and some like to put more modern things in.  If it is pleasing to God why should we get angry?  The word of God says ‘I will put a new song in your heart.  So, He is giving the younger Christians music that they can worship with.  Before you were in this world, the music was different. Worship can be done with or without music, you can sing while washing dishes and it all sounds good to God.

Mom smiled at me.  ‘You have a point there sweetie.  I guess it’s just the sort of music I don’t like.  But, if it gets people to worship then I guess it’s ok.  I don’t have to like it though.’  Mom smiled and sipped her coffee.

She didn’t quit the church.  She did have other problems though.  She kept complaining about her lower back.  We found out that she suffered from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

I went with Mom to the doctor to get the results.  Mom was nervous and sometimes did not remember things or understand what she heard.  She got the diagnosis and said ‘Well, I don’t want any chemo.’  The doctor looked at me and I shook my head.  It was a signal not to argue with her. I spoke up. ‘We will think about it and one of us will call your office tomorrow.’

Mom’s hands shook a bit as I led her back to the car.  We prayed together before I left her.  She did consent to chemo and went through a difficult time.  Her hair thinned out and my older sister cut it and styled it.  She was meant to be a hair dresser because it looked great.  Mom had always gotten perms but my sister talked her into keeping it perm free after that.  She had lovely hair with a lot of body.

We all praised God for her healing.  She remained in remission for the rest of her life.

During her seventies and even into her eighties my mother enjoyed living in her own home.  Many of her children and son in laws helped out with home repairs. We also helped by taking her shopping.  My mother never drove a car. She kept quite busy with her family during those years.  She was always at someone’s birthday party or holiday dinner.  Her and her neighbor used to still try to sweep off their doorways from heavy snow.  We tried to dissuade that as she took a few falls, but Mom was determined to do her own thing. 

All of a sudden the times were changing. We realized the tides were turning.  Mom took care of a huge family for a long time.  Now, we had to keep an eye on Mom. 

Many hands reached out to our mother.  Sometimes we would have to step back a bit as she never wanted to be told what to do.  We managed to use some of her own ideas to help her consider things.  Our aim was to maintain her dignity while assuring her safety.

Many times we knocked our heads against the wall as Mom was determined.  But, it was that determination that kept her going for many years. Looking back, I’m not sure how I will be when I am living in my seventies and eighties.  When I asked my mother how it felt to have so much change in her life, she smiled. ‘Well, what choice do you have? We get old, all of us. But God is with us.  These aches and pains are a nuisance though.’



 Part eight

The years seem to fly by for all of us over the age of fifty.  It seemed I suddenly turned around and my mother had almost snow white hair and was in her eighties. 

She had lived through WWII, Korean War, Viet Nam, Desert Storm, and now watched as another war on terror was broadcast on the television.  Few of her friends still lived and she spoke of them often.  ‘I never thought I would live this long’ she’d say.

From a life started during depression days she sat in her own home, bought and paid for.  She was never rich but often gave gifts to  family and friends. She never went without food though she knew what being hungry was.

Mom was still filled with her own ideas about life, drawn from her life of hard work and experiences.  If you sat down and listened to her, you would see that she sometimes got a few facts mixed up.  We seldom corrected her out of respect.

Older folks get fearful as they  see the world change.  My mother saw her neighborhood change from a lovely older suburb to an unkept area of town.  The neighbors changed, except for a few.  Mom was no longer able to go shopping by herself or manage things as she used to.  Her daughters stepped up and helped when able.

We realized that Mom needed closer supervision when she remained in a cold home at 42 degrees without telling anyone.  Her furnace had gone and she didn’t want to bother us.  Another time she forgot and left a hamburger on the stove.  My sister moved in so that she could stay in her own home and not go to a nursing home.  This was a very difficult decision on both sides.  Mom gave up some of her privacy and my sister gave up her free time.

Her daily meds took a toll on her body.  Her favorite foods were always donuts and coffee, right until the very end of her life.  This sometimes did not agree with body functions.  ‘At my age, I can eat whatever I want’ she’d argue when we tried to get her to drink more water or eat more vegetables.

She could be very stubborn with new ideas or even medical procedures.  ‘I think those doctors use us old folks for experiments.’ She told me once.  ‘I’m not sure if these pills are doing me a bit of good.’  Who could argue?  To this day I don’t know the answer.

My mother loved to go for rides in the car.  She’d enjoy the scenery and then stop at a restaurant. It would tire her out, but she did enjoy it. 

I was living in Florida during the last few years of my mother’s life.  As I would call, she sometimes would ask who I was.  Once she knew, she was alert.  She’d always tell me that she loved me.  She said that she prayed for me each day.  In fact, it was the last words she ever said to me.

We all get older if we are gifted with years.  The person we once were changes and we have no idea when it all happened.  Suddenly, we are no longer able to do the things we used to do.  It is very humbling to have to have help with the basic of things in life.

I have worked with enough of the elderly to know that when a person makes a fuss, it is often their way of having some sort of control over their life.  We had to learn to treat my mother with respect and try to maintain her dignity during her final years.

She had lived through change all of her life.  During her life she had seen countless new inventions.  She lived through three marriages and two miscarriages.  She raised five daughters and was step mother to more. She worked most of her life.  She worked as waitress, factory worker, and nurse’s aide.  She was used to hard work.

So, as her life came to a close she looked forward to being with Jesus.  Often times she would tell me ‘I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be a burden to you girls.’ 

The phone call came after lunch.  My sister explained that mom had passed away after becoming ill over night.  I can’t exactly say it was sudden, as she was in her nineties.  The news didn’t hit me with a powerful blow.

The weeks that followed her funeral, I felt a peace that is unexplainable.  Mom and I left nothing unsaid.  We had no problems that needed forgiveness.  There was nothing I needed from her.  Nothing my mother owned would remind me of her.  Her memory is deep in my heart.  There was an acceptance between the two of us.  We didn’t agree on everything, but enjoyed talking about whatever our views were.  I never wanted to change her mind; she always was interested in what was on my mind.

My mother was not my best friend.  She was my mother.  I respected her because she earned it and because she taught me what the bible says about honoring your parents. 

Mom did not try to be anyone other than my mother.  With her, yes was yes and no was sometimes let me think about it.  When I would ask her for something and she didn’t give me a yes,  I wouldn’t say anything further.  A few days later she would come to me after thinking it over.  However, when she was adamant, no would never change. If I pestered her, nothing would come of it.  She’d dig her heels in.

My mother never coddled me.  She once told me that she wanted to train me up to be God fearing and able to take care of myself.  ‘You have a mind Sheryl, use it.’

We laughed a lot together.  My mother was more serious than I.  I can remember making her laugh easily though.  She would say ‘Sheryl, you are the limit!’


I think of her each day and little memories pop up.  I do not go all weepy though, I smile.  I am thankful for having known such a woman as she.  I still laugh when I think of some of her antics.  She would tap dance in the kitchen or sing loud as she washed dishes. 

She’d bake a cake and part of it would burn.  She’d just put extra frosting on that part.  I can see her give me a wink and a smile as she’d give me that piece. 
I am thrilled that she is with Jesus. I will miss her until I see her again. This is the end of my story, but just the beginning for her.




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