Tomorrow, August 12th, would have been Mom’s 98th birthday. Even though she is no longer with us in person, we will be celebrating because she is always in our hearts; and we know that now together, after a forty-nine year separation, she is having a very happy birthday with her beloved Steve.
Except for the newspaper articles that announced their engagement and wedding, Mom’s name never dominated the print media as Dad’s did. Her life was lived behind the scenes but was extraordinary nonetheless.
In Sunday’s paper there was a listing of other memorable events that occurred on August 12th, and one was that the mega-hit movie “Wizard of Oz” was released on that day in 1939. It struck me how Mom exemplified the qualities sought by the characters in that movie: the Strawman, a brain– Mom had the equivalent of a doctorate in practical common sense and was open to learning new things; the Tinman, a heart—he was told he would know he had a heart when it was broken—Mom’s was shattered when Dad was killed, yet their love endured and she persevered; and the Lion, courage– Mom was born under the astrological sign of Leo and throughout her life epitomized the strength and courage of that noble beast.
This post is in memory of and tribute to My Mom:
My Mother’s hands were rarely idle. If she was awake, they were busy. Among her attributes was a confident “I can do it” attitude, and her work ethic was “Nothing is too much trouble if it’s done with love.”
She bandaged boo-boos, dried tears and wiped runny noses. She kept a spotless home—polished furniture, scrubbed and waxed floors, and hung fresh white curtains in the windows. On laundry day she washed and ironed all of our clothes including Daddy’s shirts, handkerchiefs and boxer shorts. No wrinkles were ever allowed in our closets or drawers.
She had the proverbial green thumb. Rose bushes and a fig tree thrived under her tender loving care. She turned avocado pits and pineapple stalks into house plants and always had African violets on the sunny window sills. Her favorite, a gardenia plant, was moved frequently to take advantage of the best light of the day.
Her culinary skills ran the gamut from creating great meals from whatever was on hand to following complex recipes to prepare ethnic dishes (mostly Polish, although she did try others ), like Czarnina, a soup made with fresh duck’s blood, vinegar and prunes. Actually, it was quite delicious and one of my Father’s favorites; and zimne nogi (translated “cold feet”) which was an aspic made from jellied pig’s feet—an old world delicacy. Yum!
Everyone loved her oatmeal cookies which we called “oaties.” Her secret was making them with Crisco oil for just the right consistency. Those treats and her version of Irish soda bread were always on hand just in case someone stopped by for a visit.
Mom excelled at many types of needlework: knitting, crocheting and embroidery; and she was a masterful seamstress, making most of my clothes all through my childhood and teenage years. She also made Halloween costumes, doll outfits, and decorative home accessories like pillows and curtains. She rescued abandoned pieces of furniture left at curbside and repainted, reupholstered or repurposed them.
There was nothing she wouldn’t try, and she did not limit herself to “ladylike pursuits.” Dad was not particularly handy around the house, so Mom undertook the maintenance chores. Once she painted the back hallway of our two-family house, using a solid color for the top half of the wall and a sponge effect on the lower half (to hide smudgy finger prints) with a decorative border between. The job took a lot of precise measurement and some very creative scaffolding and when it was finished looked as though it had been done professionally. She also tackled wallpapering the bedrooms and then making curtains and bedspreads to complete the decor. She installed carpet treads on the stairs and crown molding in the dining room.
Mom predated Nike’s slogan, teaching us by example that if you want something done “Just do it.” We were not surprised by anything she attempted. However there was a time that she raised some eyebrows. Several years after being widowed, when I was already married, my sister was established in her OB-GYN medical practice, and my brothers were off on their own, she decided she needed a new hobby, so she enrolled in a woodworking class offered for adults at the local high school.
At the first class, the instructor asked what she would like to make as her project—a foot stool, a birdhouse or perhaps a towel rack? Those were the usual options. His eyebrows must have hit his receding hairline when she said, “I’m going to make a grandfather clock.” “But first you have to learn how to use the tools and equipment,” he stammered in protest. “I can learn to use them just as well making a grandfather clock,” she insisted.
Skeptical, he relented. So she measured the lumber and cut the pieces for the wooden cabinet; sanded, stained and varnished them; and assembled them according to the directions. Then she installed the glass panels in the door and inserted the pendulum, weights and mechanism. The finished product was worthy of a Seth Thomas catalogue, and she presented it to us as a housewarming gift when we purchased out first home.
The clock, which she named “American Beauty,” stands today in our living room, still keeping perfect time. Mom passed away in July of 2007 just before her 89th birthday, and her hands are now still; but the hands of that clock keep going around as a reminder of my Mother’s wonderful hands.