It is difficult to put pen to paper and begin to adequately convey the impact of my Mother and her teachings on my life.

The bond between a Mother and son is unique, special and, in my case, sacred and tender. I have always been a “momma’s boy” but not in the sense that most in the world view that term.

Being her first born and as she mentioned to me many many times growing up, I did not come with an instruction manual. Mom became a Mother at the tender age of 17. How young that was. Yet, how wise was her counsel and how effective her parenting skills. My siblings will look back fondly at the many creative discipline techniques my Mother deployed and, yes, the vast majority of them were directed towards me. I deserved them. I was the instigator of many conflicts and disputes within the family in those early years.

Why? Upon reflection and now having raised a family of my own and watching my own children raise my grandchildren it appears every family has, to quote Reggie Jackson, ” a straw that stirs the drink”. There is no doubt that I tested my Mother’s patience and yes, I deserved every punishment ever delivered. However, I also know that Mom loved me and that I played a very special role in her life.

Quite simply, Mom and I grew up together. Weird as that may sound, it was very true. As I have grown older, I have thought many many times that the difference in age between myself and my youngest sister is 11 years and the age between Mom and I only 17. I was in my 50’s when Mom was in her 60’s. We not only grew up together, we grow old together as well. As such, Mom was not only my teacher, mentor and Mom, she was my friend and confidante as well.

The exploits and stories of my youth have been chronicled by my siblings in their writing and memories of Mom. But it is their recollections of times past. For me, my fondest and most sacred memories and experiences with and of Mom have occurred during the 35 years when I did not live with Mom and Dad.

How grateful I was and am that my childhood was so fun and for the most part carefree. Mom and Dad worked very hard to make sure we had a wonderful childhood filled with wonderful memories, traditions, core values and teachable moments that would serve us well when we ventured out on our own and began to raise our own families. What a rare and special gift to know with certainty that my parents not only loved me, but would literally do anything for me, forgive every fault and make any sacrifice to insure their children had what was needed.

Mom as a mother provided me the example of what I wanted as qualities in the mother of my children. Loving, caring, willing to sacrifice and a strong love and faith in our Father in Heaven and the importance of family.

Mom as a wife provided me the example of how a marriage should be.. Love, laughter and kindness. Patience, a true helpmate, unconditional love and forgiveness. Family first. Selflessness not selfishness. The importance of marrying your best friend.

Mom as a Nana provided me the example of how a grandparent should be: fun, eccentric, reliable and loving. And most importantly an example and role model that provides your grandchildren a link to the past, someone to reach out to when times are tough in the present and finally someone who prepares them and instills within them the importance of an eternal family and a desire to live large, dream big and go for it.

Mom, thank you. Thank you for your teaching, patience, laughter, love, discipline and faith. Thank you for your example, your long suffering and willingness to endure to the end so that your children and grandchildren could see that there is indeed a plan in place that allows us to be together as a family forever. Mom, I love you and look forward to seeing you again. Enjoy your next part of your journey. Heaven became a bit more lively with your arrival. Let the party begin!

Tales from Mom’s Favorite Child

There are lots of benefits to being the youngest in a family of five children. Aside from claiming the Favorite Child title, I reaped the benefits of being much younger than my siblings so that when they were all leaving home, I was also beginning my “new life as an only child”. Mom and Dad were all mine.

As we gathered during the final week of Mom’s life and started to reflect on her journey and our part in it, we pulled out the photo albums and noticeably absent were my photos. Mom was pretty meticulous about chronicling her children’s moments but like Dad told me this week when we looked at the photos, each time she added a child, she did less and less with her hair. And so it was with these photo books. By the time I came along, she was up to her elbows in diapers, baseball games, Boy Scouts, teenage drama and more. Who had the time to paste photos in a book? It doesn’t upset me NOW that I am not in the albums although I remember when I was younger being a little disappointed for not being well represented. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t well documented in photos or that I didn’t get to experience things like my siblings. My brother asked me if I had felt neglected or that I had missed out on stuff. No, I don’t feel that way. My experiences were just different. I missed out on NOTHING.

One of the advantages to being an “only child” is that it was much easier to bring me along on their adventures. If you can call photographing the outside of a Longs Drug Store an adventure – Mom & Dad may argue that it was just a job but for this kid, it WAS an adventure. I was always in the car going someplace with them. In hindsight I think I must have studied Dad when he photographed these stores because he was always looking for the best angle. Let’s be honest Longs stores pretty much all looked the same and to get them to stand out he tried to photograph them at the right time of day, or at the right angle so the background would compliment the photograph. Mom was always at his elbow lending her advice about the photos as she lined up the Polaroid test shots across her lap and dashboard of the car.

These Longs photography road trips were pretty frequent and many times very early in the morning before the store was officially open. Dad needed “customers” to fill the shots and that was up to Mom and I. We’d grab a cart and we’d walk in and out of the store over and over again while he clicked away. So we’d talk, usually about mundane things and I can’t really recall any subject in particular but it sticks in my mind because this was something I was doing with her – just me. And I we did it A LOT. I didn’t think it at the time but you know what? It was fun. Mom was fun.

I could go on and on about the different trips that I got to take with Mom & Dad. Because there were so many from road trips to Arizona, to hanging out in Hawaii to flying to New York to attend a trade show to driving around New England to hit every single covered bridge in Vermont and filling up trunks with shoes they had purchased at every single outlet center they could find. We were traveling beasts. It was pretty cool. With some of the trips, I’d miss school. In order to miss school and still get decent grades, Mom would negotiate with the teachers by promising that I would write a report about the things I saw and experienced. I wasn’t too excited about the report writing but then there we were on a redeye flight back home – all three of us assembling the reports with photos and captions.

If I could describe Mom it would be as “my champion”… she would back me up in almost anything. When I thought I wouldn’t get to go to the Senior Ball, and then at the very last minute was invited to go, Mom took me out of school and we spent the day in San Francisco hunting down a prom dress.

When I met a guy in an online chat room she warned me about how he could be a hatchet murderer and when I told her his last name was Fluck, she didn’t miss a beat and declared, “Ah, crap! You’re probably going to end up marrying him.” Well, she was half right. I did marry him and thankfully for the rest of us, he was not a hatchet murderer.

When I planned my wedding, not only did Mom design all of the flower arrangements but with a picture of a wedding dress I had seen in a magazine in hand, she and Dad hunted down the only shop in California that carried it and drove hours to get there, see it in person and then call me in Tennessee to let me know they loved it and were buying it. I am pretty sure that is NOT how you buy a wedding dress – sight unseen, not tried on, etc. – but I had faith in my parents that they knew what they were saying. And they were right. The dress was perfect.

Mom may have been super supportive at most times but she wasn’t shy about giving her opinion. She was very vocal about the dangers of how I met Mike. And even after the wedding and we had moved into our first home, she and I had words about him. Mom came to visit us in Tennessee and I honestly can’t remember what her beef was but I do remember standing up to her. I remember telling her that I was not only an adult and capable of making my own decisions but that I had chosen Mike and it wasn’t up to her anymore. It was probably the most heated argument we had ever had…seriously…it was a “we’re driving in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee, stop the car, I am getting out and walking” kind of fight. She knew I was serious. And she never again said another word. But I kept that experience tucked in the back of my mind for future use if necessary. I never had to bring it up again.

When Mike died, Mom grieved almost as much as I did. We would talk about him and she would say to me, “Mike was my friend. He listened to me.” That touched me because it not only spoke of the man Mike was but it also meant Mom never stopped learning. Mike knew that he had his work cut out for him to win Mom’s approval and in his “Mike Way” he did that by fostering a friendship with my mother. Mom learned that people are not always as they seem and when given the opportunity they would rise above any expectations and surprise you. Mom loved Mike very much and she would provide me perspective about who he was, what he felt and why he did the things he did. Her words of wisdom in regards to her son-in-law would temper my anger and frustration. I will miss that the most because I am not done dealing with my feelings in regards to how Mike died. I still need her wisdom.

I could probably write a book about my memories of Mom.

In the mid-1980s, Mom LOVED going to boutiques. These were basically home-grown flea markets that people would set up in their garages or living rooms to sell their crafts on the weekend. We went to these boutiques nearly every weekend during the fall months. Eventually mom would get involved in her own boutiques so she could peddle her homemade afghans and padded photo albums. She would partner with some other ladies she knew from church. I would sit there all day as they would chit chat in someone’s living room. Mom would always put a pot of apple cider on the stove, throw in some cinnamon sticks and let the aroma fill the house. It was a marketing technique that worked. To this day whenever I smell that smell it reminds me of sitting there drawing pictures to pass the time while Mom tried to sell her wares.

If there was something iconic about Mom, it was her hair. Dad would tell me stories about how long, thick and dark Mom’s hair was when he met her in high school. I remember thinking “how could that be?” For as long as I have been around Mom has sported a wig and she has pretty much looked the same for ALL OF MY LIFE. The story goes that sometime way back when, someone got the idea that maybe Mom could do more with her hair if there wasn’t so much of it and so her mother – my Nana – one day did something to thin out my Mom’s luxurious mane of hair. My guess is that the plan backfired and whatever Mom was left with wasn’t what she wanted the rest of the world to see so she hid it beneath a wig. Mom was meticulously private when it came to her wigs and we not only didn’t speak of the wigs but not a single one of us was allowed in the room when she groomed her hair.

I can admit now – probably because she is gone and I won’t get a chickpot pie in the face in retaliation – I did sneak a peek a few times when I was a kid. Sorry, Mom.

When Mom had her stroke in 2010 and things got more difficult for her to do, I became Mom’s hairdresser. I know it was very difficult for her to allow me to see her this way. And I must have looked like Luke Skywalker when he took off Darth Vader’s mask the first time I removed her wig. This single daily act of service that I provided Mom is my favorite memory. Mom trusted me to brush what was left of her hair – and it really wasn’t that bad. But I get why she hid it. What was left was a mere reminder of what once was – she still had, even into her 70s dark strands peppered with gray. It was long and thinner but it provided me a glimpse of the girl she that she still was – spunky and fiercely opinionated.

Styling Mom’s wig was a challenge. I could never quite get it how she could get it and I am amazed at how she was able to turn what showed up in a box on our doorstep into what eventually lay on her head. I would style it very much how one would mold clay. And towards the end, I think she cared less and less with how it looked. She just enjoyed the looks of frustration on my face and my reactions when I would come home from a trip and see the state her hair was in. I would ask in horror, “WHAT did you do to your hair?” She would just laugh. And I think that is the best way to deal with what you can’t control – find the humor in it and laugh.

When I think about all these things and other memories that have come flooding back, I can say with certainty that Mom AWESOMED THE CRAP out of me. She is my role model in every way. If my own daughter can look back on my life one day with the same reflection that I look at my mother’s life, then I know I did ok. And I will have Mom to thank for that.

Memories of My Mom

As we celebrate Mom’s life this week I have asked my siblings and children and Mom’s grandchildren to contribute memories of her as part of her history. So I’m trying to lead by example here and it was a pleasure, of course, to do this. There is so much more that I could have said. I encourage others to please contact me to share your memories of Mom and help us build the record we’re keeping here. — jsw

135I have never figured out just how my Mom got her Mom-training. She was an only child, she didn’t have a lot of extended family around her and she married and had children so very young. She did not have a lot of role models. And it is not like there was a “How to Be a Mom” handbook out there either.

She just knew what to do.

My Mom had her own style, her own command of “mom-ness”. She was not keeping up with anyone, she had no peers and there were no fads she followed. It was all blazing trails for Mom.
Being a middle child I suppose I could just conclude that Mom had everything figured out before I came along. But that not only would be wrong it would do an injustice to Mom’s creativity and passion for being Mom.

And that’s the thing: she loved being a Mom. It was – and we were, as her kids – her life.

Mother’s natural abilities were frequently pressed into service. She was an artist. I can remember being very small and crawling up into her lap and asking her to draw me something – Mickey Mouse, or something similar – and she could do it brilliantly, without thought and in a second.

I remember one time being at a friend’s house and hearing about a school project an older sibling of my friend was working on. Their mother was trying to supply a hand drawing of Donald Duck. The finished project looked something like what a five year old would do. I asked when the “mom drawing” was going to be added and they told me that WAS the drawing their Mom did for them. I was stunned. I just thought all moms were great artists by nature. Mine was.

Halloween at our house around 1966 or so. Mom-style.

Halloween at our house around 1966 or so. Mom-style.

Her creativity took her in all kinds of directions. Halloween was a favorite time of year because Mom stopped at nothing with our costumes. Using everything from sheets to paper mache there were no store bought costumes for us. I was never Spiderman – I was always a creation of my ideas coupled with Mom’s creative impulses. We got wows when we trick or treated.

Summer vacation was also a time when Mom’s handiwork was on display. I grew up in the 60s and 70s and seat belts in cars then were not part of the equation. The only one stationary in the car was the driver, who was usually Dad. The rest of us roamed all over the back of the station wagon, especially on long trips. It wasn’t a car, it was a playroom. And Mom made it up. We had curtains on the windows that she made, complete with brass curtain rods. There was a massive foam mattress in the back, covered, of course, in a polka dot slip cover that Mom made. There were matching pillows. Mom put us in shorts, gave us sun glasses and we were styling down the road.

Mother was never a Cub Scout. But I was and we won awards. When it came time for the cake contest for the Blue and Gold dinner? Yeah, we won. Mom baked three flavors of cake, cut it into shapes and covered it with seven colors of frosting to make a Cub Scout cake. It was a work of art.

And the Pinewood derby? Yes, Mom was all over it. Dad engineered the basic construction and got the wheels running. But Mom was the body shop and while I never won a race I had the best looking car on the track.

The station wagon with the curtains in the back.

The station wagon with the curtains in the back.

Mother’s passion for creating things was not limited to art projects and holidays. She did not shy away from foods and food storage. Not everything worked out, of course. I can recall hot summer days when she would line up baskets of berries and peaches and apricots and we would can jams. What a treat that always was. But when she experimented with dry frozen foods or long-shelf life stuff things got a little weird. I remember Mom adding food coloring to pickles and getting these odd fluorescent pickles that no one would eat. They tasted fine but none of us could get over the idea of maybe eating something that looked radioactive.

One of the most famous incidents involving food came from something called TVP – “texturized vegetable protein” – and it was supposed to make things like meat healthier. The results for us were hamburgers so hard you could break teeth. It was hard to tell if Mom was making dinner with the stuff or building grenades to be lobbed. It was anything but edible.

Healthy foods were generally a failure in our house. Not that Mom didn’t try. Brussel sprouts were a horror that just kept coming back at the dinner table. I could not stand the sight of them. It took to putting them in house plants or stuffing them in pockets. Of course, Mom always discovered that when she did the laundry and I had to learn to line my pockets with sandwich baggies when such offending foods were served.

That worked pretty well for Brussel sprouts but broccoli with cheese was a bit trickier.

Mom was always on to us. It was like she had eyes in the back of her head. But she was out-numbered and while she could always suspect what we were up to she sometimes failed to understand our motivations.

Case in point: Mom always wore a wig. Always, ever since I was little. She made the Marge Simpson hairdo in the 1960s popular. And this was forever a tempting target for me and my brothers. We would sneak things into her hair at church. She could come home and pull a feather or a small paper airplane out of her wig and say “How did that get in there?” Mom could entertain us by just sitting there.

My Dad for his work would order duplicate slides by the thousands for training programs he put together and they came in small potato sized boxes that were perfect for throwing. On cold winter days my brother and I would occupy ourselves in the garage by building forts on the opposite ends of the garage and playing war by launching these hard, sharp-cornered boxes at each other. We had epic battles.

Unfortunately Mom would sometimes have to come out to do the laundry, passing through No Man’s Land with every load. She always felt she was a target and she would lecture us that chucking boxed towards her was no way for a boy to treat his mother. But we were not bombing her. We were trying to knock her wig off. We never once succeeded, though we tried every strategy. I’m sure she got hit a couple of times in our efforts to down the wig but she never complained.

She just got even.

Mom’s punishments were legendary. You just didn’t want to cross her. When one of us had a problem completing the chore of getting dirty clothes to the laundry you just ran out of clothes and had to walk around the house wrapped in a sheet.

Mom could sometimes throw food. It was usually because someone had a smart mouth but sometimes it was because Mom’s arms were short and throwing was easier than trying to give us a well-deserved smack. My brother once got a hot chicken pot pie to the face.

I'm not sure what is going on in this picture...maybe Christmas morning? But Mom's hair here is just epic.

I’m not sure what is going on in this picture…maybe Christmas morning? But Mom’s hair here is just epic.

Mom did other Mom things that used to horrify us. I have stubborn cowlicks in my hair and Mom fought them with a vengeance. Any time we would take pictures – and my Dad was a photo geek and we took pictures a lot – my hair could get unique treatments of hair spray and goop to fight the tendency it had to stick up in odd places. Mom sometimes had nothing to work with and sometimes she’d just lick her fingers and wet the hair down. I would always complain and she would always have to tell me to “be quiet and stop embarrassing her”.

If Mom took unorthodox methods to her raising of little boys she continued it into our teenage years. This was when I really remember my mother’s tender side.

Teen years are hard and I was no exception. I was always a little big, frightfully shy, a bit uncertain and never quite possessed of the confidence of my brother. He was a genius. He skated his way through school, while I struggled. He could play any sports where I was always the last guy picked for dodge ball. And Mom was always watching me, always cheering me on, always aware of my unspoken yet tender feelings and sometimes broken heart. Mom championed me in everything.

Even girls.

I can recall being about 15 years old and there was a girl I liked. I didn’t tell a soul about it but Mom had eyes. I can remember her once sitting me down and telling me how to wear my clothes, how to smile and how to compliment a girl. What other Mom does that with a teenage boy? Mom was sensitive to me and she knew my struggles.

I grew up, got older and moved away. It happens. We all go through stages, even Moms. But Mother has been a steady part of my life. I learned early on that home meant Mom – not the house where we lived. She set the tone, she controlled the smells, she made the warmth that was home.

She was always fun and sometimes surprising. Summer vacations meant a lot of travel and sightseeing. And sometimes some fishing. It was something we all did together – even Mom. And she loved it. Dad’s learned method for trout was to troll at a low speed over Fish Lake and we would hit that magic hour late in the evening just before sunset with lines cast out all over the boat.

Everyone wanted to fish but my big brother – the first teen driver in the family – was more interested in driving the boat. But controlling the course of the little boat with six lines out was something beyond his abilities. And that frustrated Mom who had a knack for reeling them in. Inevitably the lines would get crossed and Mom would begin to curse like a sailor. Oh, it was legendary. Mom wasn’t shy about the use of occasional language but nothing caused her to erupt like fishing interrupted. She took it to a level we never heard at home – only in a boat.

When it came to things like anger and frustration Mom actually rolled with things pretty well. She had a “don’t complain” approach to most things. We were all mostly close in age and she had to get production from us on everything. She didn’t put up with a lot of guff and she certainly didn’t like hearing us moan about anything. I think this came from her own growing up years as an only child. She had to do everything.

But occasionally a “damn” or a “hell” came out. And it never failed to crack us up. I can remember once being at church, of all places. And my little sister, who was NOT sick, turned an innocent burp into an accidental vomit projectile. She was watching her big brothers have a burping contest and it looked like fun to her. But she had to work at it, really reaching down deep to get that authentic belch to bellow, just like the big boys. We worked with her on her technique and she was doing pretty well until she tried a little too hard and we ended up with a mess. That earned a “oh hell”, right there in church.

Speaking of “Oh Hell”, we sometimes played a card game by that name on holiday breaks. I learned in later years it was more of a game of chance than a game of skill. It was supposed to be fun. But I can recall seeing a side to both of my parents playing that game that I never otherwise saw. I can recall my Dad slamming his cards down on the table in frustration or my Mom letting loose with a few choice words at the cards she would draw. Once she got so mad at a smirk on my father’s face that she dumped her cards in his lap before the game was over and walked away from the table.

Fall and Christmas were my Mother’s time of the year. She just relished the seasons and squeezed the life out of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our Christmas tree hunts were epic and the arguments over the right shape of the tree were legendary. I never, ever, ever agreed with Mom’s choice for the tree. She got it wrong every time. But by the time the day was done and the tree went from being in the ground in the morning to being up in our house later that night it was always a thing of splendor. Mom had the eye.

Losing Mom this past week has caused us to naturally consider all the many stages of her life. There is so much more to her than what I am recounting here because the stage I’m really talking about are the years of my childhood.

But I don’t want these years forgotten because Mother was really an attentive, creative, and engaged Mom. She was the center of my world as a kid and that is really how it is supposed to be. She anchored everything and everything was right with the world with Mom there. And she was always there.

I never wanted to disappoint her. Never. And that was the thing about Mom. Even when I did disappoint her she was gentle with me and would never, ever let me hear that she was disappointed in me. No, she loved me. No matter what.

Fish Lake -- where Mom was the fish whisperer.

Fish Lake — where Mom was the fish whisperer.

I had a magical childhood not because Mom was a teller of fairytales or an inventor of imaginary worlds. She used her own creativity in trusting the development of our own imaginations. I recall being about six and playing with my cars, which I had by the dozens. We had a brick fireplace, the lines of the grout serving in my mind as perfect lines for parking my cars and I covered the entire fireplace with my fleet.

I remember my Mom watching me in silence. I was, for some reason, a little embarrassed and quickly took my arm and swept everything off the fireplace at once. “Why did you do that?” Mom asked me. I confessed that I was embarrassed at her watching me. “But why?” Mom said, “I was learning how to do that and you took it away from me. Show me again! I want to know how to do it.”

That was Mom’s gift – she could see things within us we could not see and she taught lessons in less than obvious ways.

She always gets a lot of laughs as my siblings remember the chicken pot pies or incidents where she had one of us arrested for stealing a candy bar. Mom could be out there for sure.

But I remember her more for her subtleties. She could teach us when we didn’t know we were being taught.

I loved my mother’s handwriting. I struggled with handwriting early on because I was naturally left handed but made in school to use my right hand. Mom was always so fluid in her handwriting and I admired it. I wanted to write like that. And Mom knew that. She would encourage me and sit me down to show me how to maybe shape things a little different in very small ways. I remember learning cursive and her telling me to make my capital letter “J” like the head of a bird. She knew and I knew I would never be the artist she was. But she knew I wanted nice handwriting, just like my mom. We never talked about it. But she helped me over and over again because, being Mom, she knew what was important to me.

Knowing my heart is what I always loved about my Mom. Being a boy meant being brave and not always displaying hurt feelings or tears. Mom was aware of that. But she was also so aware of my sensibilities and she viewed them as strengths – something to be cultivated and encouraged.

I cannot go back to those days. And now I can’t have my Mom back either. Sad as that is I also know that Mom, where she is, still knows my heart. And she speaks to me that way. I know when she is happy and I know when she isn’t. That was always our connection and always will be.