On Losing My Mother (part 2): A Return to Blogging and the Creative Act
My mom was the quintessential first teacher for sure. And this, among other things, is what makes her so difficult to finally say goodbye to. She was just so much fun in so many ways. That seems a phenomenal thing to be able to say in the end about any mother…
I suppose I really wouldn’t know. When I went away to college, I remember being notably surprised to discover that there was such a thing as a bad mother—or even that some people actually favored their fathers over their mothers. I’ve always loved my dad, but I had also always assumed that everyone’s mother did the multitude of things that my mom did. When my father would relax after a long workday, my mother’s work would continue. Even though it was my job to clean the kitchen, my mom would be sewing and ironing, or getting something accomplished before bedtime. From knitting needles to crochet hooks to needles and thread to needle-nose pliers, my mom’s hands were always doing something. She even called it, “relaxing.” She was responsible and reliable in every important way, and I just assumed that everyone’s mom was also that way.
My mother was surprisingly industrious, and despite whatever might have ailed her, it was nothing to come home after school to discover the driveway painted free-hand with the paint left over from the window shutters, large boxes outlining games of Four-square and Hop-scotch, Sky Blue sitting ceremoniously on top. We would jump right in and play for hours, days, even years. She’s likely the one who mounted the basketball backboard and hoop above the garage. She was that versatile, that take charge. You’d often return to find her barbecuing the evening’s supper, snapping peas, or pulling rhubarb to make a pie. You never really knew what she would come up with, but you knew it would be good…and sometimes just downright funny.
Not every idea my mother ever had was a resounding success. One time, she decided to spruce up the kitchen by putting wood-grain contact paper over the pink tile. That didn’t look so good for obvious reasons. And because she was free-spirited and not at all stifling, she let me paint my bedroom with some random can of navy blue enamel. That didn’t look so good, either. She loved to try new things even in her cooking, which my dad the traditionalist did not always appreciate: “Do you have to experiment? Why can’t you just do it the regular way?” My mother loved the joy of discovery. In fact, she was so famous for her culinary endeavors that her kitchen was affectionately known as, “Caroline’s Café.” You could have whatever you wanted, and there would always be homemade soup, something exotic, and at least two or three entrees to choose from. If you said you liked something, it became “your favorite,” and you could count on having it again and again, and again if you wanted it. You were always healthily fed.
My childhood memories also include groups of us gathered around our kitchen table, laughing, concentrating, and creating. Homemade play-doh was something my mom regularly whipped up in minutes. Since Math was also important, there were endless games of Dominoes and all kinds of card games and board games to help us learn to add and subtract. I especially loved Michigan Rummy, because that was always a big, loud crowd, but by the time I was 9 years old, I had mastered the quieter one-on-one game of Canasta to the point that no one could beat me. Yet, it wasn’t the mastery my mother cared much about. She loved to see us engaged and learning, and she clearly understood that a young brain needed this kind of assistance; she didn’t just put the game on the table and leave (the way as a working mom I myself did too often). Her time was our time.
My mother’s hard work translated naturally in her to easily thinking of ways to keep us busy—not in a contrived or arduous house-cleaning kind of way, but in a fun, spontaneous, ever magical kind of way. It is a mystery how she came up with so many great ideas when no one else in the neighborhood seemed to bother or care. She was just naturally creative and imaginative–Pinterest before Pinterest was of anyone’s interest. While other moms watched soap operas with their hair rolled in hollowed-out orange juice cans, my mom was setting up the Boy Scout or Bluebird group activities for the day. It truly was her mission to “keep [us] kids occupied”…and this not only included my two older brothers, but also the neighbors’ kids, our school friends, classmates, and of course, our cousins.
My mother would do things like take record albums and heat them in the oven until they were moldable into bowls that we would decorate for chip-dip. She would give us each a beer class that we could slather with glue and glitter, then fill with wax and a wick to create glistening candleholders. There would be glitter everywhere, but my mom seemed only concerned with the process. She always put fun before housework—even though it was actually all work for her. Messes just didn’t bother her at all. She was much different from her own mother and even from me in this way. It was like having Mary Poppins around. But my mother was never persnickety and not nearly as anal-retentive (though of course, you’d rather she didn’t sing). I do wish I could ask her now how she came up with all the enchanting ideas she had. She was a marvel, and an equally amazing grandmother.
(to be continued in part 3 ——-)
© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved.