Friday, May 9, 2014

A tribute to my many mothers

Many mothers?

Oh, yes!

I am so fortunate in that my life has been enriched by the many wonderful women whom I've known as family. From each I picked up bits of knowledge and words of wisdom. Most of these women are gone now, but to honor them I'd like to share a bit about them and pass on some of their wisdom.

My Mother

My mother was the best mom a girl could ever have wanted to have. She loved unconditionally. She was rather shy and very soft spoken, but she commanded the respect of her daughters. We idolized her and did everything we could to please her. My baby sister, by her very nature, was the perfect dream child, but I was far from being so. I was headstrong, impulsive, and stubborn. I was the one found found sitting on top of the chimney of Dr. Greenough's three story house, and I was the one who tricked my little sister into doing the dishes for me night after night. I did try to be good, but that only worked if I remembered to think first. Mom never lost her temper with me and never raised her voice. The disappointment on her face was enough to make me repentant. It was probably my fear of hurting her more than anything that kept me out of trouble when I hit those teen years.

My parents on their 50th wedding anniversary.
Mother was a perfectionist in all things and many of the lessons my sister and I learned reflect that aspect of her personality. She also loved children and was a child magnet. She had "baby magic". Crying infants quieted in her arms, and small children that she barely knew often crawled on her lap and snuggled in.

A few lessons from Mom:
  • Sewing should look as clean and beautiful on the inside as it does on the outside.
  • Press every seam as you sew.
  • Kitchens and bathroom need to be cleaned every day. Sometimes several times. Your faucets and tiles should never show water spots or mineral deposits.
  • A home should always be a place you can be proud of. There should never be anything to hide from unannounced visitors.
  • Nothing was ever solved by losing your temper.
  • Children are precious. Cherish every moment you have with them.
  • Carry yourself with pride, take care to look your best at all times, and you will be treated with respect.
  • Start the day with a neatly made bed and clean, freshly pressed clothes.
  • Never go to bed dirty. 
  • Sheets that are line dried in the sun smell fresh and wonderful.
  • Sometimes milk macaroni makes a perfectly good lunch.
  • Scorched dinner rolls are definitely edible!
  • Tomato soup should be served with grilled cheese sandwiches.
  • Chicken soup is good medicine.
  • Sauerkraut and sausage make a lovely meal. Don't listen to your father. He doesn't like anything made with cabbage.
  • It's okay to cry when you're sad and to cry when you're happy. A few tears now and then will keep your eyes clean.
  • There's nothing better than staying up and laughing till your cheeks hurt as you watch an old movie with your mom on a summer night.
  • Love really is what makes the world go round.
  • God will see you through the good times and through your hardest trials.
  • Strength comes from within yourself.
My Grandmother

My father's mother had died when he was just a young child, so I only knew one grandmother. Grandma and Grandpa Graf were German Russian immigrants. They arrived in America in the early 1900s and settled in North Dakota where they worked hard at farming and raised a family of ten children. They struggled through the depression, and though the food may at times have been little more than bread and gravy, no one ever went hungry. During my first six years, I spent a lot of time on the farm with them and I loved them both dearly.

Grandma and Grandpa were both 5' 2" tall and they wore the same size shoes. As you might guess, none of their children or grandchildren were very large people. In fact, at 5' 3", I'm the tallest of my female cousins.
My grandparents Graf
My mother learned her housekeeping skills from her mother. Grandma's house and everything in it gleamed from scrubbing and polishing. This was no small feat when light came from kerosene lamps, water came from a pump, and the stove was a cast iron, wood burning, monster. Add to that ten children to feed, a garden to tend, chickens to manage, and helping in the fields during harvest time. I honestly don't know how she managed, but she hummed as she worked and rarely sat down.

Grandma never became fluent in English, so when I was very small I learned prayers and and a few children's songs in German. I wish I could remember some of the language, but aside from a few words and phrases here and there, it was all lost long ago. My grandparents were both gone before I reached the age of twelve.  Grandpa was a busy farmer, so when I stayed with them I was mainly in Grandma's charge. I trailed her around the house and garden. She let me help her cook, she laughed when I ran from the chickens, she held me tightly on her lap when I was sad or tired, and she tucked me into a warm feather bed with hugs and kisses at night. Although I can't remember exact words, the lessons I learned from her were never forgotten. 

What Grandma taught me:
  • The flakiest, most delicious pie crust is made with ice cold water and lard. It doesn't even need filling. A bit of sugar and cinnamon rolled up in the dough and baked nice and crisp is very tasty on it's own.
  • Too many raw peas eaten while sitting on the ground in the garden will give you a tummy ache.
  • Mint tea is good for a bad tummy and chamomile tea is best when you are tired.
  • The best medicine for a cough is a grog made of hot tea, a bit of honey, a squirt of lemon, and a nice dollop of brandy.
  • A bit of beer makes children grow strong. (My mother strongly disagreed.)
  • After cleaning out the chicken's innards, pluck the feathers, then singe the stubble over a flame on the stove.
  • Headless chickens really do run around flapping their wings.
  • Chicken soup tastes good, even when you're not feeling well - especially if it's made with homemade noodles.
  • Bay leaf and dill are underused in America.
  • Bread dough has been kneaded enough when it's smooth and elastic and when "blisters" break on the surface of the dough.
  • Milking cows is hard to learn - especially when you are afraid of their big feet.
  • Don't play on the tractor!
  • You're never too poor to afford soap and water.
  • A little hard work never hurt anyone.
  • It's wonderful to have a pot under your bed on an icy cold morning when snow covers the path to the outhouse.
  • Every child is just as precious as every other. A woman's children and grandchildren are not all loved in exactly the same way, but they are all loved just as dearly.
  • Catalogues have many uses.
  • Tiny, inexpensive gifts from the heart are worth much more than are expensive gifts purchased without thought.
  • Years may pass and separation may be forever, but you never forget and you never stop loving the people and the home of your childhood.
  • The trials of life make you strong.
My Aunts

Mother was one of seven sisters. Mom and my aunt Elsie had black hair like my grandmother, but the other five of my aunties were all redheads. There was every shade of red from Aunt Hilda's strawberry blond, to Aunt Irene's flame colored curls, to Aunt Lydia's dark chestnut. I adored my aunties and desperately wished that my plain brown hair were as red as Aunt Irene's. It wasn't natural, but for most of my adult life I had red hair that came from a bottle. Nothing could make more sense. I had inherited the pale complexion of a redhead, so no one ever suspected that I had outsmarted nature.

We lived in North Dakota until I was seven years old, and during that time we saw my beautiful aunts at least once a week. They were always laughing and I could plop on any lap for a good snuggle and a hug.

Learned from my aunties:
  • Laps are made for snuggling and arms are made for hugs.
  • Children are always welcome on any auntie's lap.
  • Sweep the kitchen after every meal, and dry the dishes nice and dry.
  • No giggling with your cousins after you go to bed.
  • "The Shadow" is too scary for children to listen to on the radio.
  • Nothing tastes better than a meal cooked from scratch.
  • Chicken soup will go down when everything else comes up.
  • Blood is thicker than water. Sisters always support each other and love each other's children. Forever!
  • Your sister should be your best friend.
  • Laugh lines on your face are beautiful.
  • Life isn't always easy and sometimes you have to struggle to get through the hard times, but you will get through.
  • The kitchen is the happiest place in any house.
  • Holidays are made for family togetherness.
My mother-in-law

I was the most fortunate of women, in that I was blessed with a second mother. My husband's mother was one of the most beautiful women I've ever known. I mean that in every sense of the word. She was lovely to look at and she glowed with inner beauty. I was so fortunate to live near her for many years and she greatly influenced who I am today. Because of her, I am a much better, kinder person than I might have been had I not known her and fallen under her spell. From the moment my husband chose me, I was accepted as her second daughter, loved and treated as such. 

My lovely mother-in-law
Lessons from my second mother:
  • Act like a lady and you will be treated like one.
  • Everyone deserves respect, regardless of who they are.  
  • Patience will serve you well.
  • Everything will work out in the end. God will see to it. It may not work out the way you would have hoped or the way you had expected, but it will work out. 
  • Move with grace and carry yourself with dignity.
  • Make yourself as beautiful as you can. You will feel good about yourself and your husband will appreciate it.
  • Never forget that your children see and hear everything you do and say. Your words and actions are the greatest influence they will ever have.
  • Kindness will be rewarded.
  • Children respond to a soft voice much better than they do to harshness.
  • The presentation of the food provides half of the flavor.
  • Be generous with parsley, dill, and basil.
  • Caramelized onions make almost any food taste better.
  • Chicken broth is the best medicine.
  • Treat your guests like royalty. Offer them food and drink, and make sure they want for nothing. 
  • When entertaining five, serve enough food for ten. Or more.
  • Women need the friendship and laughter that can be found in the company of other women.
  • Value is not always related to cost.
  • Shopping is fun!
On the eve of Mother's Day. I am thinking of all my "mothers" and wishing I could hug each and every one of them and thank them for the love they showered on me and wonderful role models they were. When I might have had the chance I didn't think to thank them for teaching me how to live, how to move through life gracefully, and most of all, how to be strong and resilient in the face of all obstacles. God bless you all as I remember you with extreme gratitude and love.

For all of the women in my life, and for the many mothers we all have had, thank you! 

Happy Mother's Day










2 comments:

  1. Karen, this is simply beautifully written. Those are wonderful memories you have of your many mothers. My grand mother tells me the same story that eating raw peas while sitting on the ground causes tummy aches. Happy Mother's Day! Nicole.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Nicole. Where would we be without the influence of our mothers?

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