My Mom recently passed away unexpectedly at the age of 77. I didn’t see it coming, and it took me very much by surprise. Quite frankly I am still processing her death. It still doesn’t seem quite real. She still feels very much alive to me, and I can feel her presence with me, which is comforting.
Some of my earliest memories of my Mom, and my Dad as well, is when we lived in Grafton, ND. I was about four years old. It was just my sister Julie and me back then, although we would eventually be joined by two brothers. We lived in a small green house on a corner lot next to a cemetary, and sometimes we would play among the gravestones, although I don’t think my Mom was wild about the idea. We soon moved to Devils Lake, ND, and initially lived in a small white house not far from a larger white house my parents would purchase when I was in grade school.
Throughout her life my Mom loved cats. The first cat I remember Mom having was in that small house when I was about five years old. We had a beautiful, fluffy calico cat named Kitty, who eventually had a litter of kittens. My sister and I slept in twin beds back then, and I remember we tried to stuff all the kittens and our dolls into the bottom end of one of the twin beds, with us in the front end. As you can imagine the kittens were not cooperative, and I remember them biting our toes and making us scream and giggle. We eventually went on to have other cats, including my Mom’s cats Buddy and Liddy.
When we were young, my Mom enjoyed watching musical movies. We would watch (in an era of a different kind of TV) the annual airing of movies such as the Sound of Music and the Wizard of Oz, the latter of which I am pretty sure I cried at every year when I thought the Wicked Witch of the West was about to get the best of Dorothy. We also went to watch movies at the drive-in theater on summer nights in DL, my sister and me in our pjs in the back seat of the car.
My sister and I always sat in the same spots in the car, Julie behind my Dad in the driver’s seat and me behind my Mom on the passenger side. Some weekend days or weekday evenings we would go for a “drive” around town or the surrounding countryside. I can still remember my Mom telling my Dad, aka Fast Eddie, “Eddie slow down you’re driving too fast.” My Dad, with a twinkle in his eye and a wry grin, would sometimes temporarily step on the gas and then, of course, slow down. These drives often included a stop at one of the drive-in diners in DL or the Dairy Queen.
Most Sundays for many years involved driving some 30 miles from DL to Oberon, ND, for Sunday dinners, or what is often referred to as lunch in some parts, at my maternal grandparent ‘s house. My Mom was extremely close to her parents, particularly her Mother, who would often sew matching outfits for my Mom, Julie and me. These Sundays were generally sedate affairs, definitely no electronics involved. I remember looking through my grandparent’s bird books, reading Little Lulu and Archie comic books and playing dress up in my Mom and her sisters’ old prom dresses. They were often nearly day long affairs ending with an early supper with leftovers from dinner and my grandmother’s legendary homemade buns.
My Mom wasn’t particularly fond of cooking or baking but one of my favorite dishes she made was something we called Chop Suey that included browned beef and canned Chinese vegetables over rice. Also sometimes we would make a pie and sprinkle the extra pieces of dough with cinnamon and sugar and bake them. When my Mom and Dad went out for a “fancy” meal, such as to The Ranch Restaurant in DL, she usually had shrimp, and for many years she enjoyed peanut brittle at Christmas time and other sweets.
In addition to enjoying watching musicals, my Mom liked to watch figure skating, something I still enjoy doing to this day. Although my Mom was not a texter, my Dad is, and I would sometimes text him and tell him to let Mom know when a skating competition was airing.
My Mom liked to swim. I have very fond memories of going to family swim time with Mom and and my siblings in the late afternoon in the summers at the Devils Lake swimming pool. She would swim laps, often with her eyeglasses intact, back and forth across the pool. I remember driving home from those swims feeling so refreshed and relaxed and at peace. My Mom saw that we took swimming lessons and also ice skating and ballet lessons. I also took baton twirling lessons, although that might have been my idea. And she took us to the library, where we were part of summer reading programs at the Devils Lake Carnegie Library.
In her younger years, my Mom was part of a weeknight bowling league with her lady friends, and although I was never part of those outings, I bet they had a good time. These outings usually meant that back at our house my Dad held rather raucous poker nights with his buddies, most of them the hubbies of my Mom’s fellow bowlers.
These same bowler/poker friends were part of numerous camping trips over many years, both on the shores of Devils Lake and at place called Max Lake in Manitoba. We started out tent camping and eventually bought a small white camper with a large vertical red stripe. We fished, we swam and we boated, including on pontoon boats built by my Dad and his buddies. My Mom, and all us, enjoyed campfires at night, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows and making S’Mores. Even though as my parents got older and no longer went camping, they still enjoyed backyard campfires, especially my Mom, both in their own backyard and at friends’ Don and Colleen’s family farm, where in the summers there was always a new batch of kittens for my Mom to enjoy.
One activity that my Mom enjoyed throughout her life was tending to plants and flowers, something her Mother also appreciated. I remember many a spring buying flowers – petunias, marigolds, impatients and more – with my Mom that she would plant along the borders of their home. In addition, there were usually orange tigerlillies and fragrant petunias in a variety of colors. I also remember cutting fresh lilac blooms from the bushes bordering our back yard, fresh lilacs still being one of my favorite fragrances. Later when they added a deck on the back of their house it would include pots full of flowers, with Mom always stringing colorful lights above them, illuminating them in the dark.
My Mom always had a strong faith and growing up we were members of St. Olaf Lutheran church, where we attended church services every Sunday. Although I have fond memories of participating in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School in my grade school years, I grumbled quite a lot as a teenager about attending Sunday morning church. I thought I had found an out when I went to Saturday evening mass with my best friend Shelley, who was Catholic, but my Mom said it didn’t count. 🙂 There also was the annual church Mother/Daughter Lutefisk Banquet. Lutefisk. Awful stuff. More recently my parents were members of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, where my Dad still works part time as a custodian.
I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that I wasn’t particularly close to my Mom for most of my adult life, and now that she is gone it is hard to not feel guilty or bad about that. In writing this post and reflecting on my upbringing I am grateful to her for introducing and experiencing with me so many things that she enjoyed or appreciated and that I still do to this day, including gardening, swimming, reading, pets, faith and more. I also don’t think I fully appreciated her thoughtfulness. And from both she and my Dad and my grandparents instilling in me good manners (most of the time) and the importance of being a decent, caring human being.
Thank you so much Mom for everything. I so appreciate you. I love you, and I miss you.