If you come from a family even marginally normal, the first person to show you what love meant was probably your mother. That was certainly the case in my family. For seventy years my Mom has been mothering our whole family.
Her task is now done. Tuesday night Mom passed quietly away in her sleep. She was 90. Dad left us last May, and after he was gone, a light went out in Mom; without her husband of 71 years a great deal of her purpose in life just wasn’t there anymore.
Growing up on an eastern Iowa farm during the Depression certainly shaped my mother’s outlook and attitudes. She was a staunch believer in the “fix it, fudge it or make do without it” school of thought. My maternal grandparents did have one advantage during those difficult years that a lot of farm families lacked; the lived on a century farm, homesteaded by an ancestor of mine in the 1830s, and there was no paper on the land. So, while they went at times with very little money, they always had enough to eat and a secure place to live; Mom was fond of pointing out that her family was among the “…landed gentry of eastern Iowa during the Depression. We owned the wall we had our backs to.”
Mom was fond of recalling the first time she met my father, at a wedding, when she was eight and he, thirteen; “he was a little out of my league then,” she would say with a laugh. But that didn’t last. Mom graduated high school in 1944 and spent the last year of the war working a Western Union switchboard, all too often having to call farm families she had known all her life and tell them they had a telegram from the War Department.
Those telegrams were never good news.
When Dad got home from the Army in 1946, he didn’t waste much time waiting to propose. The folks were married in Independence in March of 1947 and were happily married for 71 years. They spent 30 of those years on my childhood home on Bear Creek in Allamakee County, in a house they planned and built together, where they were the happiest they’ve ever been.
A farm wife for many years, Mom mastered a variety of skills. She was a pretty fine pistol shot, an accomplished angler, a master at patching skinned knees and comforting the normal bumps and bruises country kids accumulate. She also invented the energy bar, which she called a ranger cookie; this was a marvelous combination of brown sugar, oatmeal, chocolate and butterscotch chips, crushed corn flakes and coconut. One would keep you going for hours.
Mom loved camping, fishing, the outdoors. Some years back when the folks came to visit Mrs. Animal and yr. obdt. in Colorado, we took them camping in the White River National Forest up on the upper reaches of Blacktail Creek. Mom and Dad spent the nights in a big tent we had, and one night they were wakened by two bull elk bugling in the creek bottom a few hundred yards away, an experience Mom recounted with awe for the rest of her life. She was an avid birder and a fixture in the Allamakee County Audubon Society for years. College botany professors from around the
Midwest would drive for a day to come to the folks’ Allamakee County home to walk in the woods and mine Mom’s extensive knowledge of Midwestern wildflowers; as far as anyone is able to discover my mother is the only person that ever succeeded in growing the tiny, rare white lady’s-slipper orchid from seed.
But most of all, my mother excelled at being a Mom.
When I became a father the first time, she repeated some advice on parenting that had originally come from her mother: “Hug them, kiss them and feed them, and they’ll turn out fine.” And I have to say, it works. Throughout our childhoods my siblings and I were always confident and secure in knowing she loved us. My kids, all grown now, have always said the same thing.
And late in my mother’s life, she was delighted to have a great-grandchild – my granddaughter – named after her.
You can’t really do much better than that as a parent.
I was very lucky when it came to parents.
Throughout my life I’ve encountered plenty of folks who had troubled childhoods; screwed-up parents, dysfunctional extended families, that sort of thing. Sometimes I almost feel guilty about the happy, secure, idyllic childhood I enjoyed.
Mom and Dad are gone now. But life is water, not stone. It’s sad to suffer the loss of a loved one, but in this case, I prefer not to dwell on the loss but to take joy in the happy, wonderful, long, long lives my parents shared together.
Not too many people get both quality and quantity, but Mom and Dad sure did. The world would be a better place if more people had a marriage like theirs.