Today I honor you.
Yes, I do.
Let me live in the house by the side of the road and be a friend to man. Your cross-stitch from this lovely Sam Robert Foss poem now resides on my kitchen wall. It speaks the essence of your beauty. Mother, you didn’t seek the limelight and didn’t stand out in a crowd,nevertheless, in your own quiet way, even though you’re gone from this earth, you still shine as a bright diamond star.
I am reminded daily of the rich treasure you still are.
I remember you positioned patterns on fabric on the living room floor, cutting, shaping, and sewing them into your own clothes. (Oh, how dad hated stepping on the stray straight pins that remained in the living room carpet afterwards.)
I remember you worked up a sweat picking garden bounty and came inside laden with strawberries or rhubarb from the garden, ready to make delicious jam.
I remember you canned beans and tomatoes and ground cherries. You even canned chickens. (chickens?)
I remember you wrestled an old wringer washing machine to wash clothes, carried them up from the basement to the outside to dry, and brought them back in to iron.
I remember you used to sit outside on a rickety lawn chair and use a hammer to crack walnuts for the ice box cookies and your homemade caramel corn.
I remember you cooked lunch and dinner every day AND still worked as teller at the bank.
I remember you did the furniture store books at home on the kitchen table at night.
You so enjoyed having family gatherings, cooking for groups of us, and you knew how to organize and present a well-dressed table with your red dishes or Nortake china or Fiesta Ware.
I loved your high heels, your Chanel No. 5 perfume, your red lipstick, and nail polish carefully touched up especially on Sunday mornings. I so enjoyed your laugh, your smile, your hum, your quiet presence.
And that’s not all. At one point or another you were President of Tabitha Society, Progress Club, Camp Fire Girl’s leader, Cub Scout’s leader, and faithful church choir singer. You always celebrated the holidays in grand-style decorating to the nines. We were one of the first in town to have a flocked Christmas tree. We even made May baskets on May Day to distribute to neighbors and friends.
You had such a positive attitude. You never criticized others and didn’t hold grudges. You never complained and didn’t gossip. You were easy to be around and a good friend. I remember fondly evening coffee with neighbor, Irene.
I’ll always remember your smile. It lit up your whole face…even toward the end, in the nursing home, you were a favorite of the staff because of your positive attitude and your big smile.
You taught me by example–the importance of home, of family, of community, of faith, of service to other, of courage, of endurance, and of the intricacies of unconditional love.
The mother I remember epitomized God’s kind of love: she was patient and kind; not envious; not boastful but meek, seeking not her own way; Mother, you patiently bore every fault, endured all things…and Mother, your love didn’t fail.
You were so self-sacrificing. After completing high school, you enrolled in junior college and studied among other things, the French language. I fondly remember you speaking French to me when I was very young. You told me later that you really enjoyed learning and loved speaking French, but when your mom and dad needed your to help with finances, you willingly quit school and went to work in a bank as a teller to help support them.
Later after you met and married dad, and after the stint in the Army in Texas, you willingly moved with him to his small home town of Elgin, Iowa where you knew very few people at the start…to make a home…willingly blending in, making a whole town of new friends—-being with all of dad’s relatives all of the time, even on weekends since family meant communal meals every Saturday and Sunday, a family business, and common church to boot.
I am especially grateful for your sacrificial giving on my behalf. I now know that the Jonathan Logan red dress you bought me once for Christmas took lots of your hard-earned saved money from your bank job. $35. In cash.
Yes, you served your church and community and family well over the years. And with the ultimate in self-sacrifice…you opened your hands and let my family and me go of all places to Siberia. Though extremely difficult, you treasured us in thought and prayer and offered us the sacrifice of a giving spirit as we went…praying for us…and holding the ropes for us here. Your quiet faith sustained you and gave you courage to let us go.
You relished simple joys. You delighted in your family, treasuring the times you could be with us. You enjoyed Texas with dad, Holly the poodle, coffee with Irene, Moore’s Store, Sweet Corn Days, word puzzles, Scrabble games, church activities, going out to eat, and shopping.
I remember when you used to visit us in Hopkins how you loved it when I’d drop you off at Southdale for the day. I was always amazed that at the end of the day you’d usually only have a small bag of treasures you’d purchased. You loved “just looking” and were very good at it!
Oh, you had your share of trials in life. You couldn’t hear too well. You had three eye operations and suffered from poor eyesight. Your knees were sore. And you agonized over caring for dad during the several years before he died. Yet in all these things, you kept smiling; kept your quiet faith and simple charm.
Even when you had to move from your home of 50 years and out of Elgin, you adapted with courage to Thornecrest: first the retirement apartment, then assisted living, and then the nursing home—meeting each change with acceptance, determined to make the best of it.
The hardest thing about all of this for me was watching you slowly fade away. One day in December of 1996 I went to visit you at Thornecrest to say “goodbye” one more time as I was returning again to Siberia.
You were beginning to lose your memory and your self to dementia/Alzheimer’s and I was struggling with the changes so I wrote this poem for you entitled Mother.
When the time comes, will I be able to leave you?
Will I leave you?
Which you will I leave?
What will you remember of me?
Your mind like vapor
evaporates around me like the morning mist.
Sometimes you are there;
the old you—
the one I grew up with.
The one I knew.
Other times you are not there.
Your eyes say, “I am not home;
I have gone for a long walk in time and I am not to be bothered.”
There are not words for this change.
Can it be that your mind like the sand in an hourglass is slowly moving downward? That it is going to the other side?
That it is leaving me with only the memory of what was?
You were my mother.
You gave me life and nurtured the life in me.
You baked cookies for me when I came home from school.
You bought me an expensive red dress at Christmas.
You played Scrabble with me.
You shopped with me.
You listened when I had something to say.
You prayed for me.
You were always glad to see me.
So patient if I didn’t appear when I should.
Grateful for the times I could.
Today you are glad to see me, too.
That is still the same.
You remember me and like to be with me.
So when the time comes, will I leave you?
I like to think that I will still be in your mind.
Until when I see you again.
But even if you don’t know it now,
or know me then,
it will be true;
that will never change.
Some things never do.
©15 December 1996. Barbara A. LaTondresse – All rights reserved.
Foss, Sam Robert. The House by the Side of the Road. Found in http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/foss01.html
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