Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


When we were kids and my mother was recovering from an operation, my brother gave her the nickname "Scoots" from the way she shuffled from room to room.  The name stuck with us kids. My father called her "Peg," from the song "Peg o' my Heart."  Her birth name was (most unfortunately) "Millard." a name that supposedly honored her parents, MILdred and BernARD (get it?).  Her middle name was Harriet and that's the name she went by, although with two ts and an e:  Harriette.  To her grandkids, she was "Mimi," a name she felt more dignified than "Grandma" or "Nana" -- no one told her it sounded like a French courtesan.  Whatever her name, she would have been 91 today.

Like Kitty's mother, she was basically orphaned at a young age.  Although Kitty's mother lost both parents, my mother lost only her father, in a major gas explosion and fire when she was seven years old.  Her mother, who was a bit scatterbrained, could not cope and decided to take my mother and her baby sister to Florida to start a new life.  Her mother (Harriette's grandmother and my great-grandmother) put the kibosh on part of that plan, keeping Harriette while Mildred took the baby South.   My great-grandmother, whom I loved dearly, was a fairly strict, albeit liberated lady of the time, an educator, and one of (if not the) first female members on our local School board.  So Harriette grew up in a stable environment, loved and cared for by her grandmother, uncles, and her step-grandfather (a kind and sweet man with a vocabulary that would make a sailor blush).

She was a popular girl with a fine singing voice and a talent for the piano.  After high school, she studied nursing for a while, but gave it up when she married my father at age 19.  My father was working on a farm, and that was their home (and mine, while growing up).  She ended up with three kids -- my sister, myself, and my brother.  Between my sister and myself, she suffered three miscarriages due to incompatible Rh factors -- something that was not well-known at the time.  (I was the first Rh baby to survive in our area -- something I am very grateful of.  My younger brother was so ill that the hospital sent him home to die; the stubborn bugger fooled them all and thrived.) 

Times were hard, but never very hard.  The farm closed when I was nine and my father concentrated on his burgeoning construction business, and things got better.   My mother remained a stay-at-home housewife.

I have often criticized my mother's cooking.  Truth to tell, she could boil the hell out of everything and meat came out a uniform grayish brown and toast was often burnt.  ("Charcoal is good for your digestive system.")  But my mother was a wonder when it came to certain desserts:  her apple pies had the flakiest crust, her chocolate cake was to die for, and her sour cream cake and pineapple upside-down cake were wonders.  I never dared to get her recipes because I would have eaten myself to obesity -- not that I'm doing a bad job of that on my own.

After my father died, she was lost for quite a while.  Eventually she started seeing a friend, recently widowed, and they were together for two decades.   They ended up getting a shih-Tzu, a rat-like animal with the undignified name of Muffin, and the three of them voyaged into old age together.

My mother was not a person of the world.  She had no political views and little sense of money.  The one thing she did have was a strong sense of friendship, something that would occasionally keep her from the truth.  She believed in her friends and would form opinions based on what they said.  When the teenaged son of one of her friends killed a ten-year-old boy while speeding, her sympathy went to her friend and her son; while acknowledging the sad event, she never fully realized or appreciated that the boy's family had been destroyed.  This was a unique occurrence, however, and the majority of my mother's friends were one of her most positive assets.

She was a child of the Depression and it marked her, as it marked so many other persons in so many other ways, throughout her life.  Looking back, I see that she was fearful of the world and coped the best way that she could.  I wish that she had been more able to tap the inner strength that lay just below her surface.  I wish that she was capable of fully viewing the world the way that we -- her children -- were taught, as a place of wonder and delight and beauty.

She did a yeoman's job of raising us.  I had the independence of going my own way and I will be ever thankful to her for that.

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