Mothers are Forever Friends

img244When I was a little girl, I never thought of Mom as a person.  I mean, yes, she was a person, but not a person who was once a little girl, or who had fears or hopes or things she liked to do other than be a mom.  She was just there to know, love and serve me.  Sure I had to share her with my brothers and sisters, but she was there for me, not the other way around.  She did know me; better than I knew myself sometimes.  She did love me; more than I loved her.  She did serve me; but she insisted I pull my own weight, too.

Once I asked Mom how she knew I liked science.  I always got science books for Christmas. She told me it was obvious.  She took me seriously; not like Dad who told me a rock I found was a petrified potato.  I went to school and told Teacher, “Look what I found: a petrified potato.”  Teacher never even told me the truth.  Mom would have.  That’s for darned sure.  She had a streak of no-nonsense in her.  Even if she did like to laugh at a lot of stuff, she never laughed at me, except when she thought I was clever, even if sometimes my cleverness was on accident.  Like the time I said, “It’s a bug, step on it.”  When we played count-the-cars on our way Up North and I spotted a VW beetle.

Mom suggested I pursue a career in science, when I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher.  Mom thought about moving the family to Chicago, so I could go to better schools.

As much as Mom knew me, she did not know me from the inside out.  That’s why she got me lipstick and nylon stockings for my twelfth birthday instead of a microscope.  Oh, for Pete’s sake.  That was the worst birthday present ever.  I never wanted to be bothered with girly-girl stuff.  Never in my life.  I wanted to spend time learning stuff and thinking stuff up, and writing stuff down,  and building forts up in the hayloft.  I was never going to wear lipstick, and especially not nylon stockings.  It was bad enough she made me wear a bra.

I’m pretty sure there was a bunch of stuff about me that she shook her head about and asked Dad what he thought.  Like the time I took a bite out of her rubber spatula just because it looked like it might taste good, or when I said I wanted to try answering the phone with a tuning fork like the murderer did on the Outer Limits.  To tell the truth, I probably could have thought those things through a little more.

When I got older, in my teens and my twenties and even into my thirties, Mom hurt my feelings a lot.  She just never seemed to understand me.  She said and did queer things:  she prayed to the patron saint of lost causes for me; she told me Dad got drunk the day I was born because he thought he had a son; she wondered out-loud what would have become of me if I never met Loved-One; she said she was tired of walking on egg shells around me because my feeling got hurt so easy.

The older I get, the more I appreciate my Mom.  Sure, I saw her through a whole different light when I had kids of my own.  I saw how she understood me in ways I did not understand myself.  I saw how sometimes the best of intentions back-fired.  I understood that Mom was human, just like me.  Yesterday, I began to understand how we got to be such good friends.   My son revealed it to me.

I know a lot about my son because I paid attention while he grew.  I know things that interest him and a little about how he learns; I know what he likes and dislikes.  I know he’s clever and has an eye for detail.  I know he loves order and predictability.  I know he’s strong and athletic.  I know he seeks peace in his life.  That said, I do not know him from the inside out.  My 40+ son told me that he has nightmares about high school.  He dreams he forgot an important assignment, or he dreams he did the assignment and left it at home. I never knew he carried school-anxiety around inside him.

Learning this new thing about my son, made me realize something.  Mom’s secret to success is three-fold:

  • You never know your child from the inside out;
  • You never stop learning things about your child;
  • The end of childhood is the beginning of friendship.

There’s probably a lot more.  I’m still learning.  I invite you to share what you learn from your mother and what you learn from your children.





Mom and Witch Cats

We had lots and lots of cats when I was a little girl.  Cats had a job to do.  Sure they were pets, too, with names and everything, but never, ever in the house.  That would be like bringing Old Belle or Red Rose into the house.  Even Bernie, our dog, only came in the house when it was super-duper cold outside.

istockbarnMom said cats and cows and pigs keep each other warm in the barn.  Plus they had on winter coats just like us, only theirs was attached and they grew it instead of going to Penny’s or getting a hand-me-down from Uncle Frank’s kids.  Not the Uncle Frank  that was Dad’s brother, the Uncle Frank that was a doctor and was Grandma Z’s brother.  Dr. Uncle Frank had a whole different last name that made it seem like he never saw Poland.  Mom said that’s because it was hard in the old days to be Polish and be a doctor.

Anyways, Uncle Frank gave us lots of clothes his kids got tired of or never wore in the first place.  Sometimes they still had the tags on.   Sometimes we wore the clothes just like they were, but most the time Continue reading

Mrs. Brown, Can’t Get Me Down

When I was a little girl it was important to be nice. Captain Kangaroo told me the magic words: “Abracadabra, Please and Thank you.” If I forgot, Mom or Dad reminded me, “Now what are the magic words?”

DSC00428In Kindergarten, I had a bunch of teachers, one at a time, most of the names I forgot, but I remember Mrs. Brown. She was mean.

Deanna had Mrs. Markley, she was just like a grandma, so nice. For some reason Mrs. Markley was out of school when I got to Kindergarten, I never figured out why; I thought maybe she died, ’cause teachers lived in the school, so if she wasn’t there, she must have died. But the next year, Mrs. Markley was back; all the rest of the kids in my family had Mrs. Markley. Maybe she just went on a long vacation the year I was in Kindergarten.

The new teacher, Mrs. Brown was not nice. She was nothing like a grandma.  Mrs. Brown was mean.

Mrs. Brown told me I had to drink white milk, no chocolate milk, even if that’s what Mom wrote down for me to order. “We don’t need to bother Mr. Rex with all these special orders.” Mrs. Brown told the class. Mr Rex always smiled when he delivered the milk. He was Continue reading

Crazy Love

“I’m afraid my mom will lose her mind,” I confided to Father D, one day at high school catechism.

“Why in the world would you worry about such a thing?” he replied. “She’s got a more active mind than anyone I know.”

“Still, that can change.”

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

To tell the truth, I never was much of a worry wort. Still Grandma Crandell lost her marbles, and Grandma Zyber was always saying crazy things, so it could happen to my mom. It could. I never shared my concerns with mom, but I kept a close eye on her. When I wasn’t studying, cheerleading, or writing my boyfriend notes that ended with “Secret,” which was code word for “I love you,” ’cause Mom said I was too young to be in love, so me and Boyfriend kept it a secret.


Grandma Crandell lived most of the time with Uncle Merle; in his basement. She might have lost her marbles because she missed Grandpa so bad. Her heart got a crack in it when he died from a heart attack. Mom and Dad and my sister, Deanna lived in Grandma’s Little House way back then. That was before Dad and Uncle Merle started a farm together and before I was born.  I never knew Grandpa Crandell.

No ambulances came out on the dirt road where they all lived. Grandpa had his heart attack in the middle of a thunderstorm. Dad and Uncle Merle and Grandma got Grandpa in the car, but the car bogged down in big muddy ruts and got stuck.  Mom said that Grandpa probably died before they got the car out of the mud; right there in Grandma’s arms.

That’s when Grandma’s heart cracked.

The crack in Grandma’s heart  got bigger and bigger until she hardly had energy to do anything. After lots of years went by, Grandma had a hard time even remembering things. She had trouble following her diabetic diet, and sometimes she wet her pants because she forgot she needed to go.
Dad and Uncle Merle stopped farming together because both families got too big for one house and Uncle Merle wanted to save, save save, and Dad wanted to buy, buy, buy. Anyways, that’s what my cousin, Linda, told me, which is hard to believe, ’cause everything I learned about pinching a penny and how 10 pennies make a dime and 10 dimes make a dollar, came straight out of my own Dad’s mouth. I sorta feel sorry for Linda if Uncle Merle was more of a penny pincher than Dad.

Most the time Grandma Crandell lived with Uncle Merle and his family.

When she forgot who everybody was, Grandma lived in a nursing home and I visited her there. I guess the nursing home was a good, safe place, but I hated the way it smelled: like old birds’ nest and diaper pails, covered over with Glade air-freshener and rubbing alcohol.

“Now, who are you?” Grandma said when I visited.

“It’s me, Deli,” I said. “And Boyfriend.”  He and I went everywhere together, because, of Secret.

“You can’t be Deli. She’s a little girl,” Grandma said. “I remember you, Boyfriend.”

That made me a sorta mad at Grandma because she remembered Boyfriend and not me. I guessed I stuck in her memory as a little girl, back before the crack in her heart got so big, and she never knew Boyfriend when he was a little boy, so she only had a big version of him in her head.

Grandma Zyber was a different kind of crazy. She was the crackpot kind, not the lose your marbles kind. Grandma Zyber said what she was thinking and said bad words like hell, and damn.

“I bet it did,” she said, with a nasty laugh when the Little Girl Mom told her, “Joseph knew he was going to marry Mary because God said ‘his staff would rise when first he saw her’.”

Mom got mad at Grandma, even though she was just a little girl, when Grandma said that. Mom didn’t really know why she was laughing, but she knew it wasn’t good. Mom got mad at Grandma all over again every time she thought of St. Joseph and his staff.

Grandma Zyber pushed her teeth out of her mouth to clean out raspberry seeds, which was funny as all get out. She told me she hated celery and that’s all the Doctor let her eat when she was expecting Aunt Annie and she almost had Aunt Annie on the toilet, she thought Aunt Annie was just a big turd, and that turned out to be part right. Turd was another bad word Grandma Zyber said. Sometimes she said that other word that starts with Sh**. That’s a bad word to even write down.

Grandma told me she was super-teensy-tiny when she first got married, and Grandpa gave her airplane rides on top his feet, same as my dad did me. Once Grandpa flew Grandma right out the open window and she landed in the bushes.  That story made me split a gut, ’cause no matter ow hard I tried I never could see Grandma as a super-teensy-tiny newlywed.

Grandma had a drawer full of pretty cotton nighties, still in the crinkly cellophane wrapper, just in case she got a long sickness before she keeled over dead.  She wanted to look pretty when people came to visit her when she was dying.

Grandma Zyber ended up in a nursing home, just like Grandma Crandell did, except Grandma Zyber could only smile and squeeze my hand. That’s when Grandpa told me what a sickly, skinny woman Grandma was when she he first met her.

“The first time I danced with her, and she felt so tiny,” he said, ‘I told her, ‘You feel like you could just die right here in my arms.” Grandpa looked at me.

“You know what she said to me? She looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘I want you to know, I intend to die in your arms.’ I just had to love a woman with that much spunk.”

Grandpa’s heart cracked open, even before Grandma died, but he filled it in and plastered it over with a bunch of other things in his life. He never forgot the crack was there, but I think it hurt less than Grandma Crnadell’s crack, which seemed to get bigger all the time.

Mom never lost her marbles and she never became a crackpot either. I guess Father D was right, because Mom still has the most active mind in the world.  She has a crack in her heart, because the man that she prayed a years worth of Novinas for because she loved him so much, got called back home before she did. Her heart keeps healing up on its own, even though she’s so sad, she’d like to join Dad.

I told her, “It seems like God has something more for you to do here.”

He might be leaving her here for another reason: there’s a whole lot of hearts that will be left with holes in them when she’s gone.

This week Mom is taking Amtrack to visit me. My Loved-one will pick her up in Chicago and bring her home.

“He doesn’t have to do that. I can take the Metra,” she said to me this morning.

“He wants to.”

“Okay. If that makes him happy.” 

“It makes him happy.”

She listens to me talk about my new job, and laughs at my stories. She’s the best listener in the world, plus she has good advice that seeps out while she’s listening. We talk about politics and religion.  Mostly we disagree with a lot of love heaped on top, so it’s less disagreeable.

I might end up losing my marbles and I might already be a crackpot. I do say bad words, and I think that story about St. Joseph is pretty damn funny. In the meantime, I intend to hold on to every moment I have left with Mom, and plant all her wisdom deep down in my soul, where I can pull it out when I need it most.

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Who Rules the Roost?

I just read a great article in The New Yorker:   Spoiled Rotten, by Elizabeth Kolbert. “Why do kids rule the roost?”  

 Oh my, that question would never even be thought of when I was a little girl.  Not in my family, anyways.  Kids were there to make things easier on the adults. Even Little Kids helped out as much as they could.

Big Kids had jobs:  mowing lawn, washing dishes, setting table, dustGirls carrying water, Angleseying, sweeping, helping with the Little Kids.  When a Little Kid lost something, which was just about every day, everybody jumped up and looked for it.  Nobody wanted to see

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