Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Remembering Mama

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of my mother, Helen Rose. A petite woman, she had more than sufficient energy and fire to make up for her small stature. I remember that she was pretty, had a ready smile and a lilting laugh. Her complexion was perfect, "peaches and cream" or rosy like her nickname. Her eyes were large and brown and both her daughters inherited them.

Her hands were always busy and once when I was small I commented that her hands were beautiful--I had been watching her ply a needle deftly and quickly into blue fabric she was transforming into doll clothes for one of my dolls. She looked down at her hands and was startled. "These hands?", she said. "These are dish pan hands." But she never failed to keep her nails neat and I also remember sitting at her vanity watching her put on lipstick and wanting to be old enough to do the same.

My mother graduated from a Catholic girls school, in fact the same school that decades later her granddaughter, would graduate from, Notre Dame in Toledo, Ohio. The depression came soon after; Mama put aside her dream to be a music teacher and instead of going to a four year college went to nursing school at St. Vincent's School of Nursing. It was a boarding in school, so even though she lived within walking distance of home, she "boarded in". She told wonderful stories of how strict the nuns were (the nun who taught dietetics threw things if the students got the material wrong), mutton cooking in the cafeteria and smelling so bad that she never again ate either mutton or lamb, and of hiding with other girls in the walk in closet, a blanket carefully stuffed along the bottom of the door so that no lights from their flashlights would show as they devoured a goodie basket someone had received from home, or studied after lights out for exams.

Her graduation picture in her starched uniform is on the buffet in the dining room and I can look over as I write this. The formal uniform with its cap speaks of her accomplishment and professionalism that I totally took for granted growing up. Mama described herself as "just a housewife", in today's terms a "stay at home Mom". How blessed we were!

She taught us to cook and bake, to sew, to sing, to pray, to laugh, to believe, to serve others, to hope and to love. She made the best birthday cakes--mine were usually chocolate with chocolate frosting and I still have her recipes. I remember that when a bad thunderstorm threatened she would unplug the tv (after we got one in 1952) and put the kitchen stool in the middle of the living room floor with her little statue of St. Anne de Beaupre and kneel and say the rosary that the storm would pass.

In fact, so far as I know, the only real vacation trip she ever took before she married was to the shrine of St. Anne in Canada. The statue was her souvenir and she bequeathed it to me.

Her piano still sits in my living room, virtually unplayed now for twenty-five years. It will find a new home soon,again and a voice with someone who will play it.

I miss her today and remember her with love, gratitude and joy.

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