“Remember, childhood only lasts 10-12 years. There’s a lot needs to be squeezed in to make for a lifetime of happy memories.” ♥
I wrote the phrase at the top of this post in my 2000 Calendar. And this is one of the pages I did for the scrapbook our family put together for my mom for her 80th birthday.
I could not go away to England without taking a moment to celebrate one of my favorite days of the year; which affords me another chance to tell my mom what a FABULOUS WONDERFUL HEAVENLY MOTHER she’s been to me.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
My mother’s singing was the background music to my childhood. She sang as she washed dishes, hung clothes on the clothesline, poured Cheerios onto the highchair tray for the baby, and in the car on the way to the supermarket; and we all sang along with her. As our family backed out of the driveway at 4 am, on our way to Sequoia National Park for a week of camping, she sang “We’re off to See the Wizard . . .” How can you be sad if your mother is always singing? You can’t. She had the happy gene and she spread it around like the frosting on a three layer cake.
Because of my mom, I know the words to songs most people have never heard of. I can sing all the Shirley Temple songs from her movies, because my mom and Shirley Temple were born on the same day and my mom loves her, so I love her too. My mom is also responsible for alot of my other hidden talents. She taught me how to twirl a baton (even left handed!), play jacks (my mother still does a mean ‘ups-downs’ and always gets me on the ‘down-downs’), walk-the-dog with a yoyo, juggle oranges, diaper a baby holding safety pins in my teeth, fold hospital corners when I put clean sheets on the bed, iron starched puffed sleeves on a baby’s dress (try it sometime, it’s a true talent! That I never use ). She watched American Bandstand and bought our first 45, “Rock Around the Clock” through a TV offer, for us, her almost-teenagers; then she taught us how to dance; she helped us put on circus’s for the neighborhood kids in our backyard that included man-eating-tigers (one of my brothers eating animal crackers behind a blanket curtain); taught me how to knit, make my own clothes, how to play poker, embroider, cook, be self-sufficient, speak “arf and arfy” fluently (as you can see, there’s a reason so many of these talents are kept hidden), sing mares-eat-oats and does-eat-oats, and believe that if I really want something, I can probably make it myself. Both my parents made something from nothing every day.
“Here, you’ll love this,” my dad said as he pulled a large flat box from the rafters in our garage and handed it down to twelve-year-old me. Inside was my mother’s teenage scrapbook. Glued to the yellowing pages were black and white photos, my mom and her best friend Alla, Aunt Jose and Uncle Roy, Grandma Carpenter, women with corsages, men in sailor suits, newspaper articles, dried flowers tied with ribbons, bits of crepe paper steamers, ticket stubs, match book covers, restaurant menus, and handwritten captions for it all. My dad held the big album for me as we carefully turned the heavy pages, under stress with all that she’d glued to them, to read her teenage handwriting; she wrote about her friends, family, school, dances and boys. I was enthralled. Talk about windows into new worlds. My mom wasn’t my mom anymore, she was that elusive romantic thing, a teenager, woman of mystery, like the girl in one of my favorite books, Seventeenth Summer. She was me.
My mom wasn’t a carefree teenager for long; my dad, just home from the war, knew a good thing when he saw it. They’d only been dating for a few months when they discovered they both really loved pork chops; it was their favorite food, so he charmed her with a letter that said, “Let’s get a house and have pork chop wallpaper, pork chop furniture, and a whole bunch of little pork chops running around.” Who could resist pork chop wallpaper!!!? And so they did. When she was seventeen and he was twenty-two, their very first pork chop was born, me. There were seven more pork chops to follow.
Because she was so young, my mother had a clear memory of what it was to be a child; she loved to play with us, and teach us her games. And there is no one better at Kid Food than my mom. She never met a miniature marshmallow she didn’t like; and if they were pink? Even better. Potato chips were “garnish” and Jell-O was a basic food group; bananas inside made it a health food. She made cookies every week, including these delicious Potato Chip Cookies (which I knew you would love as a Mother’s Day gift from my mom! ♥). She became an expert Birthday Cake maker; she baked dimes into her cakes, which was OK then; it was before “choking hazards” had been invented, no one got hurt, and we loved it. She was a strong believer in food as scientific fuel for building strong bodies; she never referred to food by its actual name such as potatoes, chicken, and lettuce; she called it “starch,” “protein,” and “roughage.” ”Honey,” she would say, “You’re not eating enough roughage,” filling a yellow melmac cereal bowl full of what the rest of the world called “salad.” We all, including the adults, drank milk at every meal. Even at Thanksgiving.
If we didn’t have a lot, we sure didn’t know it; she was constantly “thanking her lucky stars” for her blessings, so we truly believed we had it all!!! And believing is the same thing as having! On Mother’s Day we would pick dandelions to bring to her as a gift; she put them in water in a jelly jar on the kitchen table as if they were the most beautiful roses in the world. We would go back outside to play, feeling wonderful that we had made her so happy. Smelling like a mix of Ivory soap, Breck Shampoo, grilled cheese sandwiches, and Johnson’s Baby Powder, I’ve never met anyone more naturally adept in dishing out the little things that make life sweet than my mom. ♥
It won’t surprise you when I say that motherhood actually isn’t all a bed of roses; most of you know that by experience, although, from my front row seat, I really think my mom made it look that way. Dealing with us could not have always been easy, the noise, broken bones and stitches, the teasing and spilled milk, the muddy feet and dirty diapers; teething, colds, flu, chicken pox, the terrible two’s (times eight); getting us from here to there, I don’t know how she did it. My mom received no days off, no raises, no gold stars to tell her she was doing a good job; barely a thank you. She considered the time spent in the hospital after giving birth (which in those lovely civilized days could be up to a week) a “vacation” because she was so “pampered!” When I moved out of the house at eighteen, I thought I detected a look in her eye that said, “Can I come too?”
She made a game out of everything. Here I am with my brother Jim; I’m wearing one of my Great Grandma Carpenter’s embroidered dishtowels as an apron; we’re “doing dishes.” (My mom’s very proud of the teeny little braids she managed to get my hair in, she always mentions it when she sees this photo; and look, I’m wearing my favorite kind of pants!). That pan we’re doing dishes in, a couple of years later, throughout my time at home and after, became known as “the throw-up pan.” In fact, if any of us saw it today, that’s what we would call it. This is our door knob, this is our cat, this is our kitchen table, this is our car, and this is our throw-up pan. Perfectly normal family.
Because of my mother (and dad!), the twelve years of my childhood provide memories that have lasted a lifetime; they’ve brought me solace in times of trouble, given me a foundation to stand on, made me believe that everything would be OK. My mom taught me that it was the everydayness of life that was worth celebrating; like the quote by Mark Twain, “We had mighty good weather as a general thing, and nothing ever happened to us at all.” Nothing ever happened to us, and that was just perfect. She gave me the kiss to build a dream on.
This is my mom, at my sister Shelly’s house with Shelly’s twins, Mason and Paden (still wearing the pirate makeup from Halloween; no he doesn’t already have a beard!).
When I wrote my first book, Heart of the Home, I discovered that almost every word could be a kind of thank you to my mom, by showing her how the little things she did made such a difference in my life. That book and all the ones to follow, became a thank you, not only to her, but to all moms, as a way to tell them that even though we seem to take it all for granted, we were watching, that we could see, and that we’re grateful to the tips of our toes for the dedication our mom’s had to their home and family, for the sacrifices they made for love, for all those delicious homemade cookies, and for the memories! I wanted to tell them that what they do really does matter. Not to just one kid, but to the world! THANK YOU MOTHERS OF THE WORLD!
The most important door a student walks through, is the door of their own house. ♥
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to my own dear Mother, Patricia Louise Stewart, and to all you moms, aunties, and “other mothers” who make such a difference in the lives around you every day. ♥ Here’s an old children’s song for you, one of my mom’s favorites that we would sing doing dishes together, called Forevermore (turn down the sound a little bit first) . . . You had the words, now you get the tune!
And we’ll be jolly friends forevermore . . . ! ♥