Like some of you, I am separated from my mom by many miles; one does not simply hop in the car and drive from Seneca Rocks, West Virginia to Copper Harbor, Michigan on a whim. And when one is prone to falling asleep at the wheel as I am, driving is not an option at all.
So it’s been many years since I last saw Mom. She and her youngest sister drove to Northern Virginia for Rebecca’s high school graduation in 2006. That’s the last time I visited with her. In person, that is.
But I visit with Mom each day, though she may not realize it. When I sit with a cup of tea to write a letter or type a new blog post, it’s as if we’re having a discussion. I can imagine her expressions as she reads my sentences, see her nod or chuckle when reading about something funny in my stories.
I spend a lot of time with Mom in my kitchen. It’s her tried-and-true recipes that I turn to most – or those of her mother. Right now, I have some cooled, hydrated raisins that will become Puffed Raisin Cookies within the hour. I cherish those old recipes with her handwriting and her mother’s handwriting. Holding my measuring spoons or leveling a measuring cup full of shortening takes me back to where I first learned those skills.
It was Mom’s kitchen where I first learned the delightful pleasure of sampling raw chocolate chip cookie dough. Now, I know about the dangers involved in consuming raw eggs in cookie dough – but I’m 58, still enjoying chocolate chip cookie dough, and I haven’t died from eating it yet. Sue, my sister, is still alive and kicking and eating it, too. But if I did happen to kick the bucket while munching a spoonful of cookie dough, ah, what a way to go!
Mom used to give one of the cookie dough-covered beaters of her Sunbeam Mix Master to my sister, Sue, and the other to me. Scrumptious! When our brother, Mike, arrived on the scene, it became a bit more difficult to be fair when sampling the dough! Just how does one divide up two beaters among three kids? Spoons!
At Christmas, Mom used to let us kids decorate most of the cut-out cookies, but she preferred to save the trees for herself. First, she’d smooth on a perfect layer of pale green frosting. Then, she’d pinch a bit of green decorator sugar between her fingers and create a garland on the tree in sugar. Multi-colored sprinkles became the lights, a cinnamon candy adorned the top of the tree as its star, and once in a while, she’d add chocolate jimmies for the trunk. When I make Christmas cookies, I still decorate the trees like Mom does. It’s as if she is right there in the kitchen with me!
I remember standing in Mom’s kitchen, learning to memorize a short verse for my Brownie Girl Scout investiture ceremony. “Twist me and turn me, and show me the elf; I look in the water and see – myself!” Even at that age, Mom made sure I projected my voice and spoke clearly. And when I was a Brownie leader, teaching our little troop how to conduct a flag ceremony, it was like Mom was teaching the girls. “Good – speak up nice and loud. Speak slowly – when we’re nervous, we have a tendency to speak quickly. So just remember to slow down and you’ll do fine!”
Mom had a special poem that she memorized for school back in the 1940’s. “The Christmas Dolly” became a tradition in our household, too. Mom made sure her own daughters memorized this beloved poem and even passed it down to her grandchildren. “I’m a poor, sad Christmas dolly, battered and oh, so forlorn! You’d never guess by my looks I was new just last Christmas morn! One year ago, I was handsome – bright eyes and beautiful curls; rosy cheeks and silken lashes, and teeth that shown like little white pearls!” (And Mom, I haven’t looked at a copy of that poem in I don’t know how long – I bet you’re finishing it for me right now!)
Even my writing has its roots anchored in the way Mom helped me prepare applications for Girl Scout Wider Opportunities (“Dig! Mankind” in Wyoming in 1972 and “Traces Through Time in Utah the following year). Rough drafts were written in pencil on notebook paper, corrections made, edits done until it was deemed worthy enough of the real application form. The same was true of job applications (life guard, Girl Scout camp counselor) and my sole college application, Michigan State University. Just a few days ago, Mom asked about any permissions I might need to use some of the photographs in my blog posts. Still on the job!
I like to open the door of this little trailer first thing in the morning and greet the cattle with, “Good morning, world!” I get that from Mom. When driving in the car, I’ll turn off the air conditioner and roll down the windows to get – as Mom puts it – “real air”.
When we used to travel, Mom always made sure we had plenty of AAA literature and maps. As we were about to enter a new town or visit a landmark, it became tradition for Mom to announce, “A reading… from… The Book!” “The Book” was the appropriate AAA Guidebook; Mom kept us in the know about all the spots we were traveling through. I did that with my own family.
This afternoon, I picked up an old True Temper Flint Edge Kelly Works two-sided felling axe for $1.00. Right now, it’s soaking in vinegar – all 10 inches of it – because I (like my mom) love to learn about the history of old rusty stuff. I have old handmade square nails from a barn on my desk – more rusty old stuff. Mom surely approves!
And tomorrow, I hope to get to the post office in time to mail a box of items I’ve collected just to share with her – tiny little pine cones from a hemlock tree, a beautiful feather from a ruffed grouse, two paper ice cream cone wrappers that I know she’ll love – American flags. One time, a snowy owl landed on Mom and Dad’s dock in Copper Harbor. She sent one of its feathers to our family, wrote to tell us how to hold it and drag it quickly through the air – it made no sound. That owl was a very silent predator. On one of her visits, Mom brought snow from the Upper Peninsula, thoroughly delighting her grandchildren who made snowballs with it that summer! In 1976, I dubbed Mom “Bicentennial Bess” because of her propensity for wearing red, white, and blue throughout the year and taking us to any and all Bicentennial exhibits near Detroit. I teased her, yes, but I loved it all. And I’ve shared her abiding love of history with my own children and the students I’ve taught over the years. So Mom’s even been with me in my classroom!
Mom has a very large collection of rug beaters hanging in her laundry room; I have just one rug beater, hanging on the wall of my laundry area, but I think of her each time I see it. We share a fondness for quilts, too. And real maple syrup. Mom attended Green Mountain College in Vermont, where I must assume only real, 100% Vermont maple syrup was featured at pancake breakfasts. To this day, I just can’t enjoy homemade buttermilk pancakes unless they’re topped with real maple syrup. Thank goodness West Virginia is a maple producing hotspot – my local favorite is Dry Fork Maple Works in nearby Randolph County. I bought a quart of his delicious syrup for $16.00 – then phoned him to say I would’ve paid more for it! It’s still $16.00, still delicious – and even Mom approves of his syrup. That is high praise!
So, although Mom hasn’t been to West Virginia in person, and I haven’t been to Copper Harbor, Michigan in years, we still visit through letters, emails, blog posts, and occasional boxes of “stuff”. And Mom’s with me everywhere I am. She’s a part of me. I can hear her voice without needing a phone – “Hershey Bar!”
That’s another story.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you to bits!