Mother’s way.

Dear friends,

My mother, circa 1985.

Like any daughter, I have a wealth of memories of my mother from my childhood.

But as a grown up, I have one abiding memory, a thread of recollection that runs throughout my life from young adulthood to now.

This memory is of my mother’s words – the question I most often heard her ask: How can I help?

How can I help?” is the question she asked more often than “How are you?” “How can I help?” are the words she offered more often than “I love you.” For my mother, service was love, and she stood by to help in any way that she could, on any day that she could, with anything I needed.

If Mom heard I was going to paint, she’d ask how she could help then show up with a roller. (My mother and I must have painted thousands of square feet together over the years.) If she heard I had purchased wallpaper, she’d ask how she could help then show up to watch the kids. (Strangely, she could do most anything but never learned the art of wallpapering.) Garage sale? She’d show up to tag and organize everything — and she was a master at pricing for a quick sale. Spring cleaning? She’d volunteer for the most difficult tasks, like tackling my oven. When I bought my first house at age 26 and declared I was going to spend Memorial Day weekend refurbishing the oak floors, she spent three days on her hands and knees beside me.

Mom, helping me string twinkly lights for my wedding reception, 1991.

When I was seven months pregnant with Kate, my mother heard me talking about taking a week’s vacation to decorate the nursery (on a shoestring budget, of course, because Mr. Mom and I had little money). She decided to take a week’s vacation, too. We set up two sewing machines, side-by-side, in the soon-to-be nursery, and together we made curtains, blankets, a quilt, a dust ruffle, a crib bumper and more out of coordinating fabric purchased on clearance. Then she painted while I wallpapered. I was 30 and she was 63 and it was one of the loveliest, albeit exhausting, weeks I ever spent with my mother. But when it was over, I had a dream nursery for my first child, purchased with not much more than the elbow grease of an expectant mother and her tireless assistant.

Sweet baby Kate in the nursery her mother and grandmother made, 1993.

And as if she hadn’t done enough over the years, she raised my children, serving as our nanny, cook, laundress and errand girl for the first 11 years of Kate’s life. She’d show up at 7:00 am so she’d have to time to prepare breakfast for anybody who wanted it — and, invariably, before I walked out the door to go to work, she would ask “Is there anything special I can do today?”

As a young woman with my own selfish interests, I always thought it odd that my mother was so eager to help. Every once in a while, I wondered why she never seemed to cultivate her own interests. As I grew older, I also grew to understand my mother’s heart and to realize service in any form – cooking supper, ironing a dress, scrubbing a shower – was a tangible expression of love for her, and expressing her love was her primary interest. I truly never knew a woman more selfless.

In recent days as I have contemplated Kate’s impending move and our diminishing time together, I have been unusually attuned to her needs, and I have stepped in to offer more assistance than is typical for me given that is Mr. Mom’s territory. As I helped Kate paint a sign Wednesday evening, it all of a sudden hit me – that’s why my mother was so eager to help! All that time she spent working beside me was not only an opportunity for her to express her love, it was also a chance for her to spend time in the presence of her “busy” adult daughter.

I can’t believe it took me 49 years to figure this out. I always thanked Mom for helping me, but I don’t recall ever thanking her for spending time with me.

And that was her real calling in life.

With gratitude {for the priceless blessing that comes with being loved beyond measure},

Joan, who will give her children an extra hug today on behalf of their Grannie who loved them so very much

I miss thee, my Mother! Thy image is still
The deepest impressed on my heart.

                                                             -Eliza Cook

An unexpected Easter blessing.

Dear friends,

So many of you reached out to me yesterday, both on this blog and my Facebook page, with kind words and expressions of sympathy for our family’s loss. I can’t thank you enough. Your loving messages buoyed me so much, especially those of you who knew and remembered Frito and shared your memories with me. I deeply appreciate  your support.

Many of our neighbors are as shocked as saddened as we are. The beautiful plant is from a young family a few doors down. I adore gerber daisies and pink is my favorite color, so I am cheered by this very thoughtful gesture. The warm embrace from those near us and from all of you has been an unexpected Easter blessing for which I am most grateful.

Easter is a tough holiday for me in the best of times because it is the last holiday I spent with my mother. So even before Frito passed, I was feeling more than a little melancholy. Our last Easter together was in 2010. Mom was frail, but happy as could be to share the day with us.

I’ll never forget the incredible meal I made — salmon en croute with lemon cream sauce, steamed asparagus, and lemon meringue pie. Mom always thought I was a good cook (that’s sort of like the pot calling the kettle black, but in a good way), but on what ended up being our last Easter together, she was  absolutely wowed. I had made the pie — her favorite — just for her and she called it “outrageous,” as in outrageously good. I thought I had let the meringue get a little too brown, but Mom thought it was perfect.

I am reminded of something my friend Deb said in a comment on this post a few days ago. She talked about “living in the warm reflection of (her mother’s) loving gaze,” and I never felt it more strongly than on that precious Easter with my mother.

I searched through my computer archive and couldn’t find a photo of Mom from that day, but I found the pie that knocked her socks off and it surely made me smile.

So, dear readers, happy Easter. And thank you. I hope you have something wonderfully, marvelously outrageous to enjoy on your Easter Sunday.

With gratitude {for all those who have lifted some of the weight from my heavy heart},

Joan, who gathered up her family and dined out today as both a distraction and a much-needed day off