Walking into the grocery store last week, the plants reminded me of my mother. Or should I say, the gifts that my mother taught me and passed on to me. My mother had an incredible green thumb, and I had a black one. Until that is, I changed that paradigm, and told myself the crown had been passed to me. Since then, I have been amazing with plants. It is the CLAIMING of it.
My mother was also an incredible cook. That she did not pass on to me either. In my 20’s, I realized a lot of the “family recipes” were on the back of the cans of baked beans and the flour cartons. Not a slam to my mother, a woman who could make dinner for 29 men in half an hour and stood up and waited on them all thru out the meal. I worked outside with the men, sat and was waited on with the men. I saw a woman’s position as powerless in many ways, and patterned myself after my father.
The only time I was relegated to cooking was during specialty cooking, like canning corn, making jelly, Christmas cookies. I was sent out to pick vegetables for the noon meal, and grew up to not like almost the entire garden grown produce. Tomatoes always reminded me of blood and raw flesh, we raised so many green beans I would pull the plants out by the roots because I was tired of picking them. I loved green garden peas, and one season if they didn’t know where to find me, they would look in the garden & I would be standing there, ingesting fresh peas, snapping open the pods and pouring the delicious morsels into my mouth. The next season, my mother stated her determination to not plant peas, because she never got enough to “make a meal.” I listened to that, judging silently that apparently the vegetable that meant so much to me was not valuable to her at all. What I ascertained from that was that if the produce was not available to “feed” the men, it wasn’t important. (The farm women actually say, “feed” the men, as if they are going home to do chores like feeding the calves or hogs.) From that I deduced that I wasn’t important, at least important enough to my mother to plant peas. I held it against her for many years, perhaps still do.
My mother also told me that we could not plant any flowers, they did not produce anything. In retrospect the flowers that we did have were almost all perennials- if you gave up good soil for flowers, the least you could do is not spend additional time on them!
My mother taught me what kind of pans to cook with, what utensils to use, and sent me off to college with a scale so I would not gain weight. She worked outside in shorts and jeans, but wore housedresses when inside the home. She wore a bandanna scarf over her head outside, and so I did too. She washed and ironed my laundry from when I was a child until when I moved out after college, the two of us having some heated arguments about ironing “painters pants”. It was like there were little laundry elves; I would come home on Friday with a week of laundry and by midday on Saturday it would be done & waiting to go back to college. My mother and I attended church together without my father on many Sundays, and she was the one that taught me how to do a “diet float” with diet raspberry soda and ice cream. She taught me how to pick violets, plant asparagus and tell when an ear of sweet corn was ripe without pulling the husks down. She created the memory of who I was and am in a million unfathomable ways and many visible ones.
Once, driving home from a long day’s work in Tucson, I had the vision that my lack of grace and clumsiness in physical education in grade school wasn’t really mine: was my mother’s. Her imprint isvon me being like fingerprints, there even though neither of us did anything to create them deliberately.
After my mother had lost her memory to Alzheimer’s for several years, she succumbed to cancer and died in hospice. At her funeral I realized that I did not have one memory of her telling me what her childhood was like, or one memory of someone else telling me what her childhood was like. It was as though she was born the day she married my father, and transformed herself into a farm wife with grace and aplomb. It couldn’t have been easy: she had been the oldest daughter of six to man who was an alcoholic, and a clinging violet of a wife. Years into their marriages, these women still met once a week and shared their lives. Yet even being present at many of those events, I do not have one drop of family legend about my mother as a child. To me, it seems like she was always responsible, always cleaning, and always busy. She did laundry everyday, cleaned house, and cooked three meals a day for the family and my father. We also had two lunches, one mid morning and one mid-afternoon. My mother always made sure these were delivered and scrumptious. This was no small feat because she also worked outside on the farm, raising pigs, feeding calves, cleaning the milkers and the pipeline for the dairy. I remember them coming home fighting late into the night, my father screaming because she had let it slip that she worked outside on the farm. My father would yell and throw things, and she would yell back. He continued with the charade that “women did not work outside on the farm” long thru my teenage years. By then I was milking cows 5-7 hours a day, and wondered whom he thought everyone “thought” was doing the labor. We would have had to have something akin to the Keebler Elves working round the clock to have all that was done on the farm accomplished by just him.
There is a book called “my mother, myself”. I will save you the time reading it, because it is over 600 pages long, and can be condensed into one simple fact. That fact is that what we do not accept or like about our mothers, we are “doomed” to become. Now that my mother is dead, I see her in many different lights, which is what this blog is about. She was my best friend at times, my teacher, and my disciplinarian, at times superior to me and at times inferior. She has passed fears, dislikes and loves down to me, and at one time caused me to pattern myself after men. I did the books for the farm one year with my mother (she did them every year, we did not have an accountant) that experience changing my opinion of her forever. That year the farm was taking in close to $20,0000 a day, yet they were only making $60,000 between the two of them for the year. Anyone with the intellect and skill to handle those numbers and made sure a profit was made was not an unintelligent being. She did the books quietly, and did not complain about the amount of work or brag of her skill. My father routinely did both. I saw him blaming her for a lot of what went wrong with the business, yet nothing was ever his fault. That was another stone on the scale of who I was to become: it seemed like men had a lot more fun, and perhaps less of the responsibility.
It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I tried integrating my feminine softness with my male ambition and energy. I realized that I saw everyone in my world in one of two ways: either above me or below me, and very few I considered equals. It had been the judgment scale I had inherited, but it started to feel like I was doing others and myself a disservice. I don’t approach people like that anymore; do not automatically sort to see if they will be valuable to me in some way or not. I still feel some clinging and stickiness to judging people who play the victim role, and I know that comes from living with my parent’s relationship. As strong as my mother was or could be, she never stood up to my father, never walked out on him or said it was enough. I would like to think I would have. It made me angry that she stayed, put up with the abuse. But that too, is who my mother was. She allowed me to see who she was, a very complex and faceted woman, shaped by genetics, morals of her time, family beliefs and pressures. I honor her on this mother’s day, and thank her for who she is, and who she has helped me become.
Don’t take your mother for granted: call her and bless her with love now, regardless of where she is!
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