This October day, I try to capture my mother in my memory as I first knew her..and then I realize how little I really knew her. Her life, as a child, was hard. She accepted that and seldom mentioned it. It was years later I learned that neighbors on Rowe Hill made sure she was warm and well protected from the cold as she walked to school past their houses. My grandfather did the best he could and it was evident all my life that she loved him deeply; that she held no malice because she was given the role of housekeeper looking out for her siblings with a sickly mother and doing all correspondence for her father, who left school at age seven. Instead, as I grew older and we rode together over Rowe Hill and down into Velvet hollow, she’d tell me tales of how she and her father took the sled in winter and walked to Bryant Pond for bread and molasses. She loved sliding down the hill; the hard part was making sure the molasses stayed on the sled on the way home.
Early memories are of Ma getting ready for work with a “kerchief” tied around her head and wearing a housedress. It was years later that she began wearing slacks to the mill. She was first out of bed in the morning, warming the kitchen for the family, and the last to go to bed at night. Her final chore at night was lining up four paper sacks on the short cupboard counter and making a lunch for her four children to take to school the next morning.
As I grew older and in high school, I appreciated my mother more. She worked all day in the mill but did not hesitate to load me in the car and drive me to the Woodstock High School gym so I could play a basketball game. Being a typical teenager I did not appreciate how very tired she must have been as she sat on the wooden bleacher and cheered as loud as the next person.
Sunday afternoon, we took in a few summer baseball games between towns played here and there..or if a Doris Day musical was playing at the Bethel Theater, we did not miss it!
It is strange the memories that are stored…she loved Gene Autry and his singing “Back In the Saddle Again.” I remember my “Oh, Ma, puhleeze” and she defended her choice.”Hey, he knows how to sing.” When she returned from a rare visit to Boston, she handed me a paper bag. Inside was a 78 rpm record of Tony Bennett’s “Stranger in Paradise.” Yes, I remember squealing and the look of delight that came over her face.
Oh, we had our ups and downs as most teenage daughters and mothers. She had little patience with her only daughter who would rather play baseball then learn to sew. It must have been a great disappointment for someone who made her children coats from discarded adult coats given her. Ma could sew anything..no pattern..she “eyeballed” it. Hey, that’s what she said.
The day came when I became a mother and slowly all her sacrifices seeped into my mind. I understood her moments of impatience; her frustration at not providing what she thought her children should have.
Oh, but the funny memories creep in and I smile. I HAVE to smile. I was riding shotgun the day she took the wrong turn and we ended up gong the wrong way on the Jacques Cartier Bridge. I yelled while she put the car in reverse. I fell in love with Canadian truck drivers that day..they actually blinked their lights and slowed as we backed off the bridge. Phew! We didn’t tell Dad about that one.
–And the time we went camping in Rangeley at a lake I want to say was named Cupsuptic…beautiful country. Ma was indignant to think our fireplace was almost non-existent. She waited til dark and took one rock from each fireplace in the camping area, and the next morning we had the best looking fireplace in the area. NOOO I didn’t help her. I called her shameful while she laughed and drank her coffee.
The last adventure in Maine was in 1976 when she, noticing my yearning for the Maine coast, reserved a cabin for two nights. We wove our way through Augusta, right down the middle line until she could decide which way she wanted to turn. Tthe cabin turned out to be fly infested, the breeze from the ocean so hot, we sat with beads of sweat on our brows. Not to be defeated, we jumped in the car and found an air conditioned restaurant. It was inevitable that we return to the cabin where we spent a sleepless night, whacking at huge house flies. We packed for home at 5 a.m. and didn’t bother to ask for a refund.
Later on, after I left Maine, Ma came to visit. We spent week-ends visiting garage sales and returning home with treasures. There are tales that could be told regarding those sales! Sometimes when she visited I knew, in her heart, she still saw me as her little girl. As we shopped, she’d reach into her purse, draw out a bill and tuck it in my pocket. The first few times I protested violently until one day she said, “it’s the only thing I can do for you now” and I realized even though I didn’t need the money, how much it meant for her to give it to me.
It was during her last two or three years that I noticed, out of the blue, she suddenly would look at me and say, “I told God I wanted a little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes and my prayers were answered.” She realized that I had mastered the bumps in my road and she knew I understood, at last, some of the decisions she had to make and the hardships she endured. Gone was the impatience at having a tomboy for a daughter.
So, Ma, here’s to your donuts draining on the kitchen table, the Thanksgiving hen we singed in the woodstove , the red jello cooling in the snowbank, your pumpkin pies and fluffy biscuits. Here’s to the edge of the porch you backed into with the car, the snake you killed with the shovel in the shed and here’s to your four feet , ten inches of just plain guts and courage.
You left us eight years ago today, October 16, 2007. Here’s a Mayflower to tuck in your hair. Thanks for the memories. I love you.