Richer than I you can never be; I had a mother who read to me. – No, that was not the case in our home growing up, for our father did the reading. Our mother sang. She sang her way through life and along the way dropped morsels of wisdom I never noticed until she was gone. She lived a busy, full, exhausting life and then she stepped out and left me with far more goodness than I deserve. The mother I knew – and of course in a family of nine children, each child experiences their parent differently – the mother I knew speaks to me daily, for I carry so much of her in the way I view life and the things I hold important.
My older siblings remember a time when our mother did not work outside the home. Some remember coming home from school to hot bread, fresh from the oven. That was not the experience for the last of us. MY mother arrived at 4:30 each afternoon, dressed in a white nurse’s uniform complete with white hose, white shoes, and her elegant nurse’s cap perched neatly on her head. She would have her hair done once weekly at the beauty parlor for she must look her best. She took great pride in her appearance and profession as a nurse. How well I remember attending our mother’s capping ceremony. It was a magnificent accomplishment for her and we, her children, along with our father, were there to honor her. You see, she did not start her nurse’s training until after the birth of her ninth child. The mother I knew worked full time, sang in the choir, sewed dresses for the holidays, fed the masses (that would be us), welcomed people into her home….my mother, in her everyday life, did so many things, and just when I think I’ve remembered them all, someone tells me of something else she did. I found this out when speaking to a colleague of hers, another nurse, after her death.
“Oh! Your mother was ‘The Singing Nurse’. That’s what she was known as in the hospital. She helped me through the hardest time of my life.’
So this was what my mother was doing while I was at school and completely unaware. I thought she was simply doing her job and then coming home to us at day’s end with fruit she had picked up at the P&C. But no, my mother loved people and so she must always have an open heart and an open door, for we had many people in our home over the years. And truly, no matter what society says, it is the lady of the home who creates a welcoming atmosphere.
When I look at the parents of today, so afraid they might not do things right, so afraid to let their children out of their sight, so afraid to let their children simply BE without being entertained, so afraid of EVERYthing, I wish they could sit at the feet of my mother. She approached each day with a common sense attitude. There were no podcasts to listen to to give her advice on mothering. She simply parented with a confidence, not in herself, but in the fact that one must do what must be done and with the humility of knowing things would not always turn out right, but that was to be expected. God was in His heaven and all would be right with the world even when things were hard. Now, parents stress and cause their children to stress over the littlest things. In a world that professes to let go, we are holding on to control more tightly than ever.
I admire my mother for her fortitude, for the complete confidence that we would be alright as we spent our summers running through the fields, swimming in the ponds, climbing trees, and much too high in the haymow. We rode high atop hay wagons, burdened with far too many bales, having no sense of fear as we swayed back and forth. We ran down the lane to find the cows who came running at the sound of our voices, eager to be fed and milked. We rode our bikes and horses skinning our knees and galloping at the fastest speed our little horses could manage. And she let us! She let us! I will always be thankful to her for this. She was not the prissy mother, allowing only two cookies per child and nagging with unneeded correction. When my mother corrected me, it was because I needed it. Few and far between were those corrections, which is just as it should be when the correction is honest and true.
She was not a person without standards. There were certain things that were extremely important to her and I learned to treasure them. They are standards in my life today. We must love music. It was her doing that drove me to learn to play clarinet and piano – never a maestro in either. I remember those Thursdays getting off the schoolbus and trudging up the long walk to the parsonage so Mrs. Colson could teach me. What patience she must have had. And later, when it was time to continue with piano and voice lessons, there was the wonderful Mr. Mobley, a true gentleman, who would patiently guide me through ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’. There were musicals on the record player and Jerome Hines and George Beverly Shea singing beautiful hymns. I listened to her sing Ave Maria as her friend’s son was married. And once, in my memories of long ago, I watched my mother join a choir to sing Handel’s Messiah. When I was 13, it was expected that I would join the choir, for we were a singing family. This was the world my mother opened to me.
Without a word, she walked me into the value of tradition and respect for beauty as each holiday, tucked up in our very rural corner of the world, we took part in special observances — Christmas mints must always be put out along with nuts for cracking. The Currier & Ives china must always be used. It was she who reminded us of our Norwegian heritage when we helped to make the sandkaker or stood watching her make the krumkaker. I think of her when I make these treats even now. I have quoted her admonition to my own children — ‘Make sure you don’t make the sandkaker too thick!’ They are hearing her through me. She has spoken to them so many times over the years and I am honored to repeat her words.
Yes, my mother, without ever noticing, taught me many lessons of life. She was strong and faithful, with a tremendous sense of humor which stood her in good stead. Even this was a lesson. So many people in our present society have lost their sense of humor. I suppose it comes from thinking too highly of one’s self. Not my mother. She knew how to laugh – at herself and at others. With her quick wit and love of wordplay she equipped us with a knowledge of language that has served us well. How many times did she tell us we must clean up for ‘You look like the Wreck of the Hesperus’. Of course we knew that was a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about a ship that had wrecked. How many little poems and ditties she taught us, all of them sharpening our use of words and without any spoken admonishment, leading us more deeply into an appreciation of language.
Sometimes I think the art of parenting is a vanishing art. It is not because it is impossible. It is merely that society has changed. Whatever the reason, there is a great temerity in parenting in these present times. It makes me remember once again that lessons are often not spoken, but rather lived, and that we ought not rely upon our words as much as our actions. Traditions, routines, example – these are the tools of learning. Parents don’t have to be perfect, just committed, as was my mother.
And there is one more thing, one very little big thing —– there is love. With all the busyness of life, me in school, my mother working, entertaining, singing, living…..she loved me. She loved us all. We never doubted her love. Not the frilly, silly love we hear so much about today. This was the day in, day out, I’ll be there in the good and bad times love. The love that expects something of you because they treasure you. The love that gives its all. There is a great confidence that grows in the heart of a child when they are enveloped in this kind of love.
Can it really be forty years since she stepped from this world to the next? For it seems she is still here, teaching me every day. I look forward to all I have yet to learn.