Tag Archives: Mother

Scissors, Tissue Paper and General MacArthur

Before I leave to get busy with paper, scissors and glue at Campamento Estrella today, I want to share this crafty tradition passed on by my mother.  It was my favorite family tradition.

The Daily Post prompt was traditional.

lifelessons - a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown

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Every year, my mom helped us make May baskets to fill with candy and leave on the doorsteps of our friends. As mentioned in an earlier post, we’d ring the doorbell and run. If the recipient caught us, they could kiss or pinch us—their choice.

Some years we bought fancy handled nut cups from the dime store and used them, but I liked best to make my own. One year, my mother showed us something special to use for May baskets. Her family knew how to make these incredible tissue-paper ornaments that, with a cupcake liner filled with candy glued into the bottom, hung down in a web-like form. We’d pin them at the top and when you held them up they would fall down in a lacy accordion effect so they were a foot or two high. The only way you could really get the effect…

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Untold Stories

Untold Stories

When her death left us all behind,
so many questions came to mind.
Why couldn’t I have asked them when
she could have answered, way back then?
What she told voluntarily,
about her life and family tree
was always very carefully chosen—
the details all rehearsed and frozen.

The same stories she told over again
about the things that once had been,
but so many things she didn’t say,
afraid, perhaps, she might display
sad facts of life she always hid—
the underside that she forbid.
We would laugh and joke and kid.
Unpleasantness we never did.

She was a good mother. Supportive, kind,
always helpful in a bind.
Generous and always there.
Full of loving, thoughtful care—
that same care that I tried to show her,
although, I fear, I did not know her.
That little girl who lost her dad
and favorite sister.  Was she sad?

Mom never talked of it so we
simply let the subject be.
The stepfather she didn’t care for—
what were the details and the wherefore?
How did it feel to give her hand
to a stranger, then to move to land
so bare and rolling with grass like seas,
empty of people and of trees?

Was she lonely? Did she have friends?
How did they come to make amends
the time she left my father and
took my sister by the hand
and went on home, angry and bitter.
Did my father come to get her?
All these family stories bold
were hinted at but never told.

My mother’s foolish Southern pride
would not permit the underside
of life to show. She tucked it in—
to display unhappiness was sin.
To please her, we followed the rules.
Joking and kidding were the tools
we used to hide unpleasantness
and thereby circumvent the mess

of sadness and humiliation.
Easier to show elation.
We told our secrets to friends, but we
withheld them from our family.
What stories took they to the grave,
my parents, generous and brave?
All those things they thought to spare us
come about to greet and stare us

in the eye on occasions when
we reminisce about back then.
“I  wonder what?” is perpetually
my thought about my family.
With parents gone, I don’t know how
we’ll ever know the answers now.
And because I barely knew my mother,
I am still looking for another.

 

 

The Day 10 NaPoWriMo prompt—yes, two days late—was to write a poem that is a portrait of someone important to you. The WordPress prompt was “pleased.”

The Emperor of Chocolate

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The Emperor of Chocolate

I am the emperor of chocolate. I conquer every bar.
I can detect its presence in wrappings or in jar.
When there’s no chocolate to be found, I simply can’t abide it.
I can find it anywhere—wherever you might hide it.
My tendency toward chocolate is a tale I hate to tell;
but I cannot help it, for it’s congenital.
My mother abused substances—namely, Russell Stover.
She could not close the box lid until eating them was over.

She couldn’t resist chocolates, though she was not a glutton
when it came to other foods like hamburgers or mutton.
She received a box of chocolates on every holiday—
on her birthday and for Christmas, and for sure on Mother’s Day.
When it came to appreciation, my mother never failed them,
for when it came to chocolates, she always just inhaled them.
One time my dad decided that he would have some fun.
He bought my mom some chocolates to dole out one-by-one.

He hid them underneath the cushion of a chair
to give her one piece daily, but she knew that they were there.
She ate the whole box in two days. It really was disgraceful.
Every time I saw her, it seemed she had a face full.
Only with my father did she manage to save face,
For she bought chocolate-covered cherries and put one in the place
of every chocolate she stole. My father never knew.
She was not tempted by the cherries—a taste she could eschew.

My father always thought he’d pulled one over on my mother,
although I’ve always known that the true jokester was another.
When the box was only cherries, and he offered them to her,
she’d say, “I’ll save it for later,” or sometimes she’d  demur.
To resist chocolate cherries, she was fully able,
and I was fully loyal to preserving mother’s fable.
That’s how my addiction was learned at Mother’s knee,
because the chocolate-covered cherries? She gave them all to me.

The prompt today is conquer.

“I Imagine” dVerse Poets, Prose Poetry

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I Imagine

I imagine one more holiday.
My mother sits at a large picture window
looking out over a broad beach,
watching dogs fetching sticks.
Then, because she cannot help it,
she takes her shoes off to walk through packed sand.
I imagine her sighting the offshore rock
where puffins nest.
I imagine footprints—hers and mine
and the paw prints of the dog—
someone else’s—
who joins us for the price of a stick thrown
over and over into the waves.

My mother could count her trips to the beach
on one hand,
and most of those times have been with me.
Once, in Wales, we sat on the long sea wall
under Dylan Thomas’s boathouse.
A cat walked the wall out to us,
precise and careful
to get as few grains of sand as possible
between its paw pads.
As it preened and arched under my mother’s smooth hand,
its black hairs caught in her diamond rings.

The other time we went to the beach
was in Australia.
We stayed out all afternoon,
throwing and throwing a stick,
a big black dog running first after,
then in front of it,
my dad sleeping in the car parked at the roadside,
my mother and I playing together
as we had never played before.

My mother and the ocean
have always been so far divided,
with me as the guide rope in between.
I imagine reeling them both in toward each other
and one more trip.
My mother, me, a dog or cat.
Wind to bundle up for and to walk against.
Wind to turn our ears away from.
Sand to pour out of our pockets
to form a small  volcano
with a crab’s claw at the top.

So that years from now,
when I empty one pocket,
I will find sails from by-the-wind sailors
and shark egg casings,
fragile black kelp berries
and polished stones.
The bones of my mother. The dreams of me.

From the other pocket, empty,
I will pull all the reunions I never fought hard enough for—
regrets over trips to the sea we never made.
And I’ll imagine taking me to oceans.
Walks. Treasures hidden in and hiding sand.
Someone walking with me—
someone else’s child, perhaps,
and a dog chasing sticks.

Note: I never took that last trip to the ocean with my mother, but I think of her every year when I come to stay at the beach on my own, and this year in particular, every time I throw the stick for Morrie and every time children come to play with us.

Written for the dVerse Poets prompt, Prose Poetry.To play along, go HERE.

Believe

Believe

I don’t know of anyone who loves Christmas as much as my mother did. She could barely wait for Thanksgiving to be over to put up her tree. Those trees were covered with icicles, bubble lights, angel hair and boxes and boxes of ornaments saved and added to over the years: blue or pink plastic birds whose legs fit over the branches so they seemed to be standing on them, a treetop angel with spun white hair and a face cracked and marbled over with age, strands of large lights and later dozens of strands of miniature ones, homemade ornaments, glass balls, plastic stars, candy canes—each year the number of ornaments grew. The tree was always fresh and the largest she could find, screwed into the Christmas tree holder that held water to keep the needles from falling off for as long as possible.

Under the tree was always a skirt of White pull-apart Christmas “snow,” a plastic church that lit up inside and presents, presents, presents: handmade gifts from the church bazaar, clothes and toys purchased in Pierre, 60 miles away or ordered from the Montgomery Wards or Sears catalogs. The tree went up the day after Thanksgiving and came down only after the new year had arrived, but the pine needles in the carpet crevasses and its borders along the wall remained like hidden memories to be discovered for months afterwards.

The year my mother died, my sister Patti could not bear to think of putting up a tree or celebrating Christmas. I was far away in Mexico and it was the first year in her life that she hadn’t celebrated Christmas with my mother. I knew she was grieving, but I was deep in my own sadness of the past year. In January, I had a hysterectomy and on the day I returned from the hospital, I learned that my mother had gone into the hospital.

My doctor had forbidden air travel but we considered putting a mattress in the back of the van and having my husband drive me from California to Wyoming, but my sister assured me there was no need. It was nothing serious—just a bout of pneumonia. We’d been there for Christmas less than a month before and we could come again once my mother returned home from the hospital.

But that trip was never to be experienced, for within a week, my mother had passed away. In March, my husband Bob flew to Michigan to be with his mother who had gone into the hospital, and after ten days, she, too, passed away. Then in September, two days before we were to drive down to Mexico to move into our new house, Bob discovered he had cancer and lived just three weeks. All-in-all, a sad year that had been moderated by our happiness in looking forward to a new life in Mexico.

A few months after Bob’s death, I went forward into that new life, but my sister was left in the town where she and her husband lived and where my mother had lived for the last six years of her life. Everything around her reminded her of my mother; and with the advent of Christmas, those memories grew more poignant.

The small Wyoming town where my sister lives is two hours south of Billings, Montana, which is her usual shopping town and where she goes to get her hair cut and to the doctor. A few weeks before Christmas, when a friend asked her to accompany her on a shopping trip there, she agreed. Even though her heart was not in it, as they browsed in a local store, she bought a few items, paid for them with her credit card and carried the bag to the car.

It was not until she got home and unpacked the bag that she found the small  package in the bottom of her bag. She unwrapped it, trying to figure out just what it was––nothing, surely, that she had purchased. As she removed the final layer of paper, this is what was revealed:

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Where had it come from? How had it gotten into the bag? She had not purchased it. It was not listed on her receipt. Nor had her friend purchased it, so it wasn’t a case of the clerk putting it in the wrong bag.  Was it the last Christmas miracle provided by a mother who over the years had so faithfully purchased the new boxes of fragile icicles to hang above wrapped boxes that contained dolls, new Christmas dresses, ice skates, princess phones, bottles of bubble bath or miniature formals for our favorite dolls? Skunk games and paper dolls and books, first watches, necklaces, music boxes and drop seat pajamas? With no other explanation, my sister could not help but consider that perhaps it was a little message from my mother, urging her not to give up her faith in and enjoyment of Christmas.

It has been fourteen years since my mother died, and my sister has hung the ornament on her tree every Christmas since. It has been a few years since I spent Christmas with her, and I had forgotten this story, but yesterday, when I arrived in Phoenix to spend Christmas and took pictures of her tree, she repeated the story again.

Her tree is miniature in comparison with my mother’s tree, but it is infused with my mother’s love of Christmas and everything it entails —a childlike sense of wonder that to this very day, my mother encourages us to share. Tonight, as my sister and I fill stockings for each other, her husband Jim and the longtime friends who will arrive tomorrow, I’m sure she feels as I do––both of us “good girls” who are minding our mother by remembering to BELIEVE in the magic of Christmas.

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For more Christmas trees around the world, see: http://silverthreading.com/2015/12/06/christmas-trees-around-the-world/

and, consider posting a picture of your tree-topper HERE in Hugh’s blog to provide a meal for a hungry dog.

Generational Drift

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My mother and Scamp in an uncharacteristic upright position. Note reading material to their right.

                                                                Generational Drift

My mother would have been the first one to say that she was lazy.  To be fair, this wasn’t true. I had seen her iron 32 white blouses at a sittingher at our large mangle, running the fronts and the back of the garments, then the sleeves and collars through the large rollers, my sisters or I then taking our turns ironing the details near the seams and around the buttons.  We had a regular assembly (or wrinkle de-assembly) line going every Saturday morning.

She cooked every meal and kept the house reasonably clean.  But on weekends, she was the commander and we were the workers.  One vacuumed while the others dusted.  We were the window cleaners and the front walk sweepers, the table setters and dish washers when school or social activities allowed.

But there were times when a good book consumed each of our interests to a degree that weekend chores were lost in a blur of fantasy–each of us in thrall to a different book–my sisters in their rooms or on beach towels spread out in the sun of the back yard, me on on my back on the porch roof just outside my older sister’s bedroom window, and my mom flat on her back on the living room sofa.

Or sometimes it was the same book–taking turns reading 9-year-old Daisy Ashford’s memoir “The Young Visiter” [sic] as the rest of us howled–holding sore stomachs, tears running down cheeks.  At times like this, a week’s clutter might sit untouched on surfaces, that morning’s dishes still in the sink, last night’s shoes still lying like rubble in front of the t.v. or half obscured beneath piano bench or assorted chairs around the room.

In short, housework, although generally done weekly, never got in the way of activities or a good book.  We were a family of readers, and generally this reading was done on our backs.  My mother’s spot was always the living room couch–some family pet (a tiny rabbit or raccoon, kitten, or the family terrier, Scamp) spread out between her side and the divan, my dad in “his” comfy rocking chair, feet up on the foot stool. I loved my bed or the floor or in the summer, outside under a tree.  My older sisters’ bedrooms were sacrosanct.  A closed door meant privacy.  No one entered uninvited.

This was in an age before computers, cellphones, or other texting methods.  The one telephone in our house was on the kitchen wall or counter.  It was a party line in more ways than one.  Not only were our conversations held within earshot of the entire family, but also could be “overheard” at will by the two neighborhood families who shared our party line.  Today’s technological wheel had not yet been invented.  With no TV possible until I was 11, I spent a youth devoted to two things:  my immediate surroundings and the people or book readily within sight.  If company was called for, it walked or drove to you or you drove or walked to it.  The rest of life was family, homework, housework, play or books, and my mother, luckily, considered the play and books to be equal in importance to housework.

“I’m basically lazy,” she always said, but I must repeat again that this was not true.  Our house usually assumed a state of more or less perfection at least once a week.  It is unclear the degree to which this was motivated by my oldest sister, who was an excellent commander. “Mom, we’ll do the dishes.  Patti, you wash and Judy you wipe,” she would instruct, while she herself disappeared into her room for an after dinner nap.

I do remember a certain Saturday when each of us lay on her back or sat sprawled in a different chair reading when a knock sounded at the front door.  Impossible!  No one in our small town ever dropped by uninvited.  Even sorties to or from my best friend’s house just two houses away from me were always preceded by a phone call. We remained silent, but the insistent knocking continued. I peeked out at the front door through the living room drapes and the eyes of two girls and an older woman all shifted in unison towards the drapes.  Caught!

Each of us grabbed a different pile of garments, books, shoes or ice cream dishes from a  living room surface and stashed them in a closet, drawer or cupboard as my mother answered the front door to a woman and her two daughters from a neighboring little town, just 7 miles away. They had dropped by because they were building a new house and had been told by my dad that they should stop by to see our house, which had been built a year before by a builder they were considering.

My sisters and I stayed a room ahead as my mother s-l-o-w-l-y showed them the house.  I cleared dirty dishes from the last meal into the stove as my sister hastily made beds and tossed dirty clothes into closets, sliding them closed to obscure reality as the visitors probably wondered what all the banging closets and drawers were about.

This was not the norm.  All of Saturday morning was traditionally spent cleaning floors, dusting my mother’s salt and pepper collection, neatly piling stacks of comic books on the living room library shelves, washing windows, straightening kitchen shelves.  We were not slovenly, but neither was my mother a cleaning Nazi. Life and literature often intervened.

Now, more than fifty years later, my mother has been gone for 14 years.  One sister has been lost to Alzheimer’s, the other is the perfect house keeper my mother never was.  But every morning, I lie in bed writing this blog until it is finished.  My favorite location for reading is still flat on my back, and I do not need to compete with my mother for my favorite reading spot on the living room sofa.  Sometimes Morrie, my smallest dog, spreads out beside me, and I can’t help but think of my mother–feeling as though I’ve taken her spot–stepped into the role set for me by the preceding generation.

Yes, the day’s dishes lie stacked in the kitchen sink. There are books piled on the dining room table from Oscar’s last English lesson. Papers are piled on the desk next to my computer, a pair of shoes under each of several pieces of furniture. Bags of beads and Xmas presents purchased during my trip to Guad a few days ago are still on the counter, ready to be whisked off to cupboards or the art studio below.

But my book is a good one and Yolanda will be here tomorrow, bright and early, looking for tasks to justify her three-times-a-week salary.  With no kids of my own to boss around or delegate bossing authority to, and salaries cheap by comparison here in Mexico, I have hired myself a daughter/housekeeper/ironing companion.  Sometimes we stand in the kitchen and talk, letting the dust remain undisturbed on surfaces for ten minutes to a half hour more, or go down to the garden to decide where to move the anthurium plant, to just admire a bloom I’ve noticed the day before or an orchid recently bloomed that she has noticed in the tree I rarely glance up at.

Every generation cannot help but be influenced by the last, and in spite of many differences, I am still my mother’s daughter. It is in my genes to place some priorities above housework, firmly believing that this is good for my soul as well as the souls of those around me.

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My mother and Scamp in a more characteristic pose, resting up from reading.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “I’ve Become My Parents.” Do you ever find yourself doing something your parents used to do when you were a kid?

Happy Mother’s Day!!!

With everyone posting pictures of their moms, I couldn’t find one on my computer, so this will have to do. The wet hair tells me my mom has just finished washing my hair by having me lie on the counter and put my head in the kitchen sink. I have on my pink chenille bathrobe with brown flowers with yellow centers and I’m sure I’m talking to Lynnie Brost on the phone. Someone on our party line might be listening, but what secrets might two five-year-olds have that the whole neighborhood cannot know? Later my mom will put my hair up in curlers for those awful sausage curls that I thought were the only way I would ever wear my hair. Mom, in an hour and a half, I’ll leave to go read a poem about you at Open Circle. Wish you were there in the audience. Perhaps you will be. oxoxoxooxox to Eunice King Dykstra—remembered by all who knew her as “Pat.”

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