Many of the plants I have remind me of family members. Since those are much happier thoughts than my recent realization that creeping bellflower wants creep into our homes, drink all our booze, scare our pets, and dirty all your clothes, I’ve chosen to share my brighter thoughts.
A few daffodils are up and they always remind me of my mother. She loved all the daffydowndillies and jonquils. Neither of us ever really learned if all daffodils are jonquils or if it’s the other way around. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the joyous color of butter shining above the crusty brown crumbs of winter. I have well over 100 daffodil bulbs in my yard and each one was planted with just a little bit of Daddy’s ashes. So now these flowers remind me of him, as well. And of Mom and Dad together playing cards or telling each other their dreams from the night before.
The first flower I was ever allowed to pick was the grape hyacinth. I never found them as attractive as other spring flowers, but being allowed to pick a bouquet is a big deal when you’re only four years old. My Meme let me do that. And the flowers lasted, unlike my bouquets of dandelions.
Dandelions count as flowers in my book or blog post. Finding my first bloom meant that I could go outside barefoot. I even liked their sticky, nasty-tasting sap. I didn’t know of any other plant that could leave you with a yellow chin and brown fingers after picking and smelling it. And what fun their seed heads are when you’re a kid watching them fly away from the force of your breath. I love seeing a roadside reflecting the sunshine with all those yellow heads. I do pull up every one I find in my garden, however. I mean I’m not crazy.
Pansies remind my of Meme. I do not know why. I think there’s some story about her planting some along a garage at the schoolhouse. The schoolhouse does not refer to an actual school building. It’s what my family calls the house they lived in before I came along and which was removed in order to build the new high school (built before I was born, but still referred to as new.) Something happened during the planting–or maybe it was painting–and the something was memorable for my mother. All I remember is she told me a story that involved a garage, pansies and my grandmother. She enjoyed the story and I liked seeing that. Also pansies have fat little faces, just like my Meme.
The irises I plant to remind me of my father. I remember going to a farm when I was young specifically to select and buy a few new rhizomes. We bought one called Babbling Brook, which is blue with ruffled edges along the falls. It went into one of the three rows of iris we had inside the circle of our driveway. There were also ones that smelled like root beer. In high school I wrote a poem in praise of the Celestial Snow iris Daddy planted the year before. He planted and fertilized the plants, but it was always Mom who weeded them. So they also remind me of her.
Louie and Lulu Leisure were not relatives but they lived down the street. They had a huge bleeding heart somewhere near their house and so I think of Louie when mine are in bloom. I marvel at how he was able to yell at me and the neighbor kids when we ran through his backyard, “Don’t drown in the pond.” I believed there was a pond behind his barn or outbuilding or garage. I have a much stronger memory of the fictitious pond than I do of his outbuilding. And Lulu once had a dark purple iris in a vase sitting on a table covered with a white tablecloth. I think she or Mom picked off a faded bloom and it oozed a deep purple liquid which stained her cloth. So sometimes iris also remind me of Lulu. Which is good because, really, I don’t remember either of their faces.
Mayapples remind me of my sister, but not because she cultivated them. I simply recall her advice that morrells were often found near them. That is a very important bit of information to have.
At some point I was told about a May Day tradition of giving bouquets anonymously. So one year I took a construction paper basket I’d made, filled it with violets, and headed down the street in my raincoat and galoshes. I stopped at the end of the street at the house of a lady who let me play with kittens in her yard once or something delightful like that. I didn’t know her name, but I wanted to give her my flowers. So I hung the flowers on her doorknob, rang her doorbell and ran and hide in full sight behind some structure in her yard. She came to the door, yelled at me, then found the flowers and tried to coax me out of hiding. Eventually she gave up and I went home confused. But I still loved violets and planned on having my wedding bouquet made out of nothing else but violets. That didn’t happen, but I still think it would be very attractive. Especially with the freckled variety I grow now.
One last, lowly, flowering plant: white clover. It’s not much of a flower, but it also makes me think of my sister. She taught me how to make them into a chain. And we had a perfect patch of clover near the barn when we were young. You could be sure of finding a four-leaf clover in that patch. And Beverly once found one with five (5!) leaves. I wanted it badly. She didn’t give it to me, but I was very impressed nevertheless. Clover should be respected and planted more often. When I seeded my lawn many years ago, I used half clover seed so I’d have a soft mat to walk across in my bare feet. It grows low to the ground and means you don’t have to mow as often. And you get bees visiting which are always good luck even if you’re stupid enough to step on one like I do most years.
I hope there will be those who remember me when they see a checkered lily, dried globe thistle, thyme in bloom, or smell cinnamon basil. Or any plant, really. Just try not to think of me when you’re trying to dig for the hidden roots and rhizomes of the creeping bellflower.
The Bullwinkle clan has gathered for an annual reunion since before my time, even though there are very few people who still bear the name. A less well-attended wiener roast was later in the fall. The is still August and usually held in a church basement, but it used to be held at our house.
I remember Daddy getting the ponies out for rides or hitched up to a wagon or cart for additional rides. I remember the year we planned to have the reunion at a park unless it rained. It didn’t rain at our house so we went to the park and found it empty. Everyone else had seen rain and when we got home tables were set up in the yard. I also remember my mom saying “You don’t clean before you Bullwinkle reunion, you clean after.”
Less well attended, and perhaps not even regularly scheduled, was the Bullwinkle Wiener Roast. It was held on someone’s farm. Grandma B always held court near a heat source such as a stove. I don’t really remember her being anywhere near the fire. The cousins my age all called her Grandma Great which made me intensely jealous. As the very last of the 23 grandchildren I had to call her Grandma B.
The cousins would all play together and occasionally ask important questions like “Who do you belong to?” The correct way to answer was to name one of the Bullwinkle siblings. I got to answer with my father’s name while others had to name a grandparent. Or maybe they were one of Tom and Jean’s foster kids. Or a cousin’s friend who was instructed to give Tom and Jean as an answer.
I remember playing around the old threshing machines my uncle kept. There was a bee’s nest in one and I got stung. I ran towards the house crying. I had to get past all the men who were sitting outside and who responded to my cries by arguing about bees and telling bee stories. Luckily I made it into the kitchen where some aunt or cousin took care of me. In case of injury, always run to the kitchen.
We would typically play hide and seek in the dark. It’s terrifying to be outside after dark trying to hide in a yard you don’t know. This year my great-nephews and great-niece tried playing in their own yard after we had eaten and it was dark. They are very brave children.
My sister and I have done our best to recreate this annual event from our childhoods. Essential to the wiener roast are hot dogs, a big fire, popcorn balls, caramel apples, and exaggerated story-telling. This year I skipped the popcorn balls, and made Daddy’s donuts. Beverly skipped the carmael apples, but I did bring some Sweetangos. Larry and Beverly probably took care of most of the stories.
The Bullwinkle Wiener Roast has become a very small event. I don’t think it occurs any longer in Illinois. We now hold it in Minnesota with Mom and I being the only actual Bullwinkles.
This year we didn’t have Mom but we did have my brother and his wife. The year before we had a bigger event with my oldest sister, her grand-daughter and her husband and kids. It’s more fun when there are lots of kids around. And it’s sad not to have an elder Bullwinkle on hand. (I am not yet an elder Bullwinkle!)
I wish I had photos from the 1970s but all I have are these more recent ones. We’re building our own traditions now. Enjoy.
Only Daddy can use the horse medicine
Sometimes Daddy would come in from the barn with purple splotches on his skin. I envied these, but was not allowed to use the horse antiseptic myself.
Sometimes teeth can be found in the barn
My father did not like to wear his teeth. But back in the days when he was trying to get used to them, he would take them out when his mouth got too sore and then he’d lose them. He found them in the barn more than once. And once he picked them off the bale of hay and put them back in when someone came by.
Falling Rock is a missing Indian boy
I loved hearing the story of why there are highway signs asking people to watch for Falling Rock. I hope he’s reunited with his mother someday soon and they move back to the mountains he loves so much.
Bread and butter saves relationships
See frames around 5:49
Whenever two people are walking and something comes between them like a post or a tree, you must say “bread and butter” or you will fight. I taught this to my great-nephews and great-niece this spring. I’ve got to do all I can to keep those relationship strong so they’ll visit me in the nursing home.
Friends, foes, money, beaus, travel
Look at your fingernails. If there’s a spot on your thumb then you have a new friend in your future. If you have one on your index finger, you’ll make (or have made) a new enemy. You get the idea. There’s nothing in my future.
From my sister
You can be identified by your bite marks
Yes, I frequently bit my sister when I was little. But she was a lot bigger than me and she would sometimes hit. You can also be identified by a handprint left on a thigh.
I started this post before Mom died and found that I couldn’t write while her body, her heart, was failing her. So I’ll attempt it once more.
Mom was not athletic or particularly proud of her body. Not until she had dementia did I ever hear her refer to her body with pride. At age 88 she let it slip that she thought she looked better in her jeans than anyone else at “the home.” She was correct.
I feel lucky to have grown up in a home that really didn’t pay much attention to body image. Nor did anyone show any shame. I don’t recall Mom ever shutting a bathroom door. I find this hard to believe as an adult, imagining how the bathroom could be the one place you could be alone as a mother, but perhaps my sister and I were very independent kids.
Mom was never embarrassed when I asked her questions most kids probably have. I remember asking her, while we were bathing together, why people had hair on different parts of their body. She tried to explain pubic hair. I was curious about eyebrows. Around this time I really wanted a raccoon mask and a monkey tail and was probably hoping I could grow out my eyebrows until they covered my entire face. I think she told me that we had eyebrows to shade our eyes. How dull.
Later, in first or second grade there was a playground argument about where babies come out. Most kids thought that babies came out the mother’s butt like poop. I insisted that this was not the case, but I just wasn’t sure. So Mom showed me on my own body. That was the end of that issue ’cause it is absolutely impossible for a little girl to imagine pushing out a baby from that small little opening. It hardly gets any easier after you’re an adult.
I only remember being embarrassed once about my body or my attire. The girl next door liked to be outdoors without a shirt like her brother. And my cousins came over and the boys and younger girls were all topless so I decided to try it to. Not a problem. Until we all got into the pony cart and someone decided to take pictures. I’m not sure if I was embarrassed to have my photo taken because my nipples showed, or because I was doing something like a boy. My guess is that since I was about 5 it was probably the gender bending that bothered me.
It seems like most girls argue with their mothers about wanting to wear skimpy clothes. My mother made me mid-drift shirts, taught me how to make a halter top out of a scarf, and let me go to school in a smock top with hot pants shorter than the top. My high school home ec sewing project was a Daisy Mae tie front crop top. I never thought about any of this clothing as being sexy or revealing or anything. I don’t think my sister had any mini skirt arguments with Mom during the late 60s either.
I know that when I tell this story the listeners are a little horrified, but I wasn’t. When I was in sixth grade I had bites or a rash across my breasts that just wouldn’t go away. Mom wasn’t sure what caused this problem so while eating dinner with my grandparents she asked me to pull down my tube top so everyone could take a look. I did it and not until afterward did I think that was a little unusual.
I recall teasing Mom, telling her I didn’t want any fat mama, when I was young. But I don’t think she ever dieted or had any weight issues. My sister dieted in high school a bit, but in order to gain some weight. I was a size 5 in high school and ate whatever I wanted. I think weight wasn’t an issue because we had so much home grown foods, no pop unless we were sick or Daddy wanted some, and I lived on peanut butter anyway. I didn’t have any weight issues until I started living with an obese person.
No one in the family was an athlete. Dad had muscles from working. I don’t think Mom had any. She claimed that she couldn’t reach down and touch her toes without bending her knees until after her first child was born. But after about age 70 she really started to limber up. You’d ask her how she was doing and she’d declare “I can still got my foot in the sink” meaning she could lift it up and into the sink. I’m not really sure why she did this, but it must have been a regular occurrence. Maybe that’s how she clipped her toenails.
Many girls have dramatic stories about their first menstruation. I knew exactly what was happening and told Mom. Her response was something like “I wonder if we have anything for that. I hope your sister left something.” She was already through menopause. That was pretty much our entire talk, beyond me asking if I could use tampons and her saying yes, but that she didn’t like them herself. I told Mom and Dad both if I needed any additional supplies. I was surprised to find out that my best friend had already started her period and hadn’t told me. Where I grew up everyone would know. I’d go back and visit with old friends and get the entire listing of girls who had crossed into that stage of growth. It really wasn’t much different than talking about which guys were shaving.
It’s too bad that there are so many messages out there about how sexual or flawed a woman’s body is because I did not learn any of that at home. I no longer feel so comfortable with my body. I look at wrinkles differently and no longer want them to become as deep as my grandfather’s were. I look at my stomach and feel fat. I wonder if I’m showing too much cleavage. I miss the innocence I was able to keep in early adulthood.
Mom never lost it, as far as I could tell. I once asked her about the very large varicose vein on her ankle and she told me that sometimes it scared her when she’d see it out of the side of her eye and think it was a snake. Otherwise it didn’t bother her. I pointed out that I bought her a shirt with 3/4 length sleeves so no one would notice her floppy arms. Her response was “I don’t care if anyone else sees that. I just don’t want to have to look at it.” She made Daddy show me the dimples that had developed near his hip bones after he turned 80 or so. She was curious about what happened to their bodies as they grew old. She came out of the shower once when I was in the bathroom with her and laughed at me when I turned away. She warned me that I was just seeing what was going to happen to me in the future. During her first visit to the nursing home she almost changed clothes in front of her grand-daughter’s husband. OK some of that lack of judgment could be attributed to delirium but she probably thought that since she was keeping on her underwear he could just politely look away as she changed.
I remember the time on our way to her eye doctor when she informed me that she had lost her belly button and we looked for it together while waiting for a light to turn. That misplacement can be attributed solely to her dementia. She didn’t normally lose track of her body parts, she just wasn’t worried about how they looked or what people thought of them.
I have more stories about my mother.
She was a dancer. She began as a child when her parents went to dances. She’d play and then wander into the room with all the coats, try to find a fur one or two, and snuggle in to fall asleep. She danced as an adult to Big Band music and dated men based on how well they could dance. I just heard a story about her dancing in the kitchen and kicking the handle off the stove. She and I would dance in her apartment to Brooks and Dunn, and Gretchen Wilson, and just let the assisted living staff laugh at us if they caught us. My father couldn’t dance at all.
So did my mother date a lot of men? Apparently she was the party girl. She said that her neighbors once commented that she was always coming home as they were getting up in the morning. Once we were visiting her folks in the late ’70s and a man came over and we all visited. After she left she wondered out loud, “I wonder why I never dated him.” She told her daughters that she was frequently just curious about what made some guy tick. I don’t think she dated anyone for very long.
Dad had MeMe (Mom’s future step-mother) to help his cause. MeMe had moved in with Mom and PaPa after leaving an abusive marriage. She took care of the house and shared a room with Mom. She was very interested in PaPa and getting his daughter married off was in her interest. She she kept inviting Daddy over for cake. My father never really like cake much, but he kept coming anyway. Mom decided that he’d be good to her and let the two of them lead her to the alter.
Mom and Dad and MeMe and Papa got married one right after the other directly after a church service. It was a quick ceremony because the minister had to get somewhere else for a dinner. The two couples acted as each other’s witnesses. Mom and Dad honeymooned in the Ozarks. They would periodically quoted some weird sign they saw during the trip. I can’t remember the saying because it never made any sense to me, but it was special to them.
Mom had almost no chores as a child, but I think she did iron. She probably didn’t think of it as a chore. If Mom was upset, she liked to iron out her problems. She’d turn my corduroy pants inside out and give them a crease down the leg. I was the only kid in school with creases in her jeans and cords. One of Mom’s favorite memories of Bev’s childhood was playing Mrs. Chipmunk (little Beverly) and Mrs. Squirrel (Mom) while she ironed and Bev pretended the ironing board was a tree and made up stories.
LaMata also loved to weed. Daddy planted very large vegetable and flower gardens. Mom weeded them. She spent so much time weeding the huge strawberry patch that she burnt her back black. She was weeding just last fall. We walked over to the nursing home and she started weeding their foundation plantings when she fell, hit her head, and ended up getting two stitches. Daddy didn’t like it when she weeded public places, but she did it a lot. I do it, too.
She was a mean card player. Mean in a mostly good way. She refused to play Go Fish or War, but she would play Kings in the Corner with children. She once drew the entire draw pile without ever being able to play a card. (This is a favorite memory of those of us there, but I realize it doesn’t shine as an anecdote.) She would apologize for winning, but she never held back. Bev swears they played cribbage for two years before Bev won a game. Mom wouldn’t help her count or give suggestions. She and Dad played gin every night for years. Dad won so rarely that he recorded the dates on the card box. It seemed like she always knew what cards you had in your hand. I could beat her at Canasta with some regularity and am very proud of that fact.
There were a couple of things Mom perhaps didn’t do as well as other mothers. One was sing. She sang a lullaby which my sister and I love. Her grand-daughter and I both sang it to her as she was dying. But these are the words: bye, oh bye oh bye, oh bye oh bye, oh bye oh bye. It’s sung to the tune of the “Missouri Waltz.” I just now learned that it’s also known as “Hush a Bye Ma Baby” so apparently those were more words than Mom could recall.
The other thing I thought Mom was good at, but she didn’t, was cooking. She didn’t learn to make anything but pies until after her mother died. She suddenly had to cook for herself and her father and never felt confident in the kitchen. She frequently went to her neighbor for help. Then she married into a family of amazing cook. Some of her sisters-in-law literally cooked for thrashers. They made meringues back before power mixers. Their recipes fill church cook books. But Mom could hold her own. I didn’t know it then, but several of my elementary school classmates remember my mother as the one who baked snicker-doodles. She also made a great rabbit carry-out (think chicken and stuffing casserole) and pecan caramel rolls.
I’m going to be a little ornery and end with three stories about my mother’s own orneriness. As a child she tried to make her own cigarettes. She tried corn silk, coffee grounds, and string. None of these worked. She started smoking the real things around age 16.
As an adult she was at a dance and a guy came by and said something she didn’t like. Nothing really offensive that she could later recall exactly. But enough that she wondered what it would be like to put her cigarette out on his face. Which she did. It was a bit more satisfying than regretful.
She threatened my husband, and apparently she did this only to my husband. Her words were something like “If you ever hurt my baby, I’ll come back and haunt you.” They got along fine and Mom seemed to like him. She came behind him at a dinner once and tweaked his ear, just because she felt the itch to do it. At least she didn’t say things just to try and make him blush like she did with my niece’s husband. She was still trying to find out what made a guy tick.
OK, one more. This isn’t ornery, but after she said this one word she wondered why she sometimes just let out whatever came to mind instead of watching what she said. My nieces and I were in the ER with Mom in Colorado and the doctor came in. He was a young handsome man and he asked “How are you feeling?” She replied, “Foxy.”
My family doesn’t seem to be one that does things the normal way. We had no funeral for Daddy, nor did we place an obituary in the local paper. (Mom was afraid of being robbed as other recent widows had been.) We’re not having a real funeral for Mom either. And I’m writing her obituary only for this space.
LaMata Faye Bullwinkle, née Anderson, dies at age 89
LaMata Bullwinkle passed away January 24 at Have Homes in Maple Plain, Minn., from coronary heart disease.
LaMata was born in Berwick, Ill., to Eva Faye and Emil Anderson. Her brother, Wyatt, preceded her in death. She graduated from Roseville High School, Roseville, Ill., and was employed at the lumber yard, telephone company, and Methodist Church at various times. She moved to Maple Plain, Minn., in 1973. After retirement she resided in St. Petersburg, Fla.; McAllen, Texas; Mission, Texas; and then returned to Maple Plain to be near family after the death of her husband, David Albert Bullwinkle.
She is survived by her children, Sharon Dixson of Griggsville, Ill.; Larry Bullwinkle of Ocala, Fla.; Beverly Nohr or Glencoe, Minn.; and Kristeen Bullwinkle, of Minneapolis, Minn. She is also survived by six grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren.
The more interesting stuff
I know only a couple of stories from her childhood. Her first memory was of being rocked while she was sick with whopping cough, I think. When she was a toddler her parents used to ask her to say what she was and she’d screw up her face like she was working really hard and shout “I’m a svede!” And she couldn’t say the words “corner” or “moccasin” for a long time.
As a child she worried at night about the possibility of her mother dying. She was surprised to learn that I never worried about that. She did lose her mother the summer she graduated from high school in 1939. She didn’t want to visit her mother in the hospital because she was afraid of remembering her that way. She was finally convinced to go, but was too late. She missed her mother terribly and I’m sorry I never got to meet her. I think she taught Mom some good lessons.
She was close to her cousins and used to spend time during the summer with them at Aunt Ivy’s. Ila and Una, I think were the names of two of them. And their Grandpa Hall used to hide bananas for them to find. They kids played and gossiped and had a great time together.
She loved to make mud pies. She made the best mud pies in the world, I think, and used suds from the wash to imitate meringue. Sometimes she added rose petals to the top. She forever lamented the fact that once cars with their fat tires and gravel for the roads came along, you didn’t get the proper dirt for making a proper mud pie. I remember her making Daddy stop the car once on a road trip because she thought she saw the right kind of dirt, but, alas, it was sub-standard.
She was very close to Wyatt, her brother, even though he would sometimes get her in a corner and punch at her. She never did anything in return because she didn’t want to hurt him. They double dated or went out with the same crowd to dances. When he entered the service during WWII, she took the train with him and his new wife and baby, to Florida where he was stationed. She thought every girl should have an older brother.
She had several marriage proposals. I think even with her dementia, she remembered this. About a year ago she asked me how many times she had been married and scoffed when I told it had been only once. She laughed at the first poor guy. I have the necklace and earrings another beau gave to her. She lost a friend in WWII, but I don’t know if he ever spoke of marriage. Daddy never actually proposed. He just gave her a ring, told her it could mean whatever she wanted it to mean, and her future step-mother went ahead and planned their double wedding.
She didn’t marry until she was 32. Prior to that she remained at home and lived a very independent life with her father. After she’d return from a date, he’d ask her if she had swapped spit with the man. She had the kitchen remodeled and spent money on clothes. (This was always hard for me to believe because I almost never saw her spend money on herself.) She met Daddy at a roller rink. A friend pointed out David Bullwinkle and asked her if she wanted to meet him. She replied, “If I had a name like that, I’d change it.” But they married and she had an instant family with him and my sister and brother whose mother had died a couple of years prior.
The first couple of years of marriage were hard for Mom. I’m not sure she ever talked about her ambivalence with anyone but me. She was terrified of being seen as the evil stepmother. She was afraid she wouldn’t get pregnant. Then once she had Bev, she was afraid that she’d break her. She got past all of that, however. She eventually learned to give Bev a bath and only pushed her out of bed twice while nursing her.
I came along later in her life. I don’t think her father thought it was proper for her to get pregnant at 40. She was a bit more confident with me, but when I threw up all over myself, my crib, her, and her bed, she cried until Daddy came home from bowling.
That’s as far as I can go right now. I’m hoping Bev or others will correct me where I’ve made mistakes and let me know of facts or stories I should add.
One last thing about her name…
She was ahead of her time in making up her name. She was named after a friend of her parents, named Lumata. She was named after two aunts, Lu, and Mata or Mattie. Mom said that she changed the spelling to LaMata in grade school because she liked the way it looked. Mom would call herself MaLata Faye when she was upset with herself. Others called her LaM’ata with a short a sound or LaM’äta (LaMahta). Her mother called her Angel Face.
I’ve now watched both my parents die and I have a few observations.
It’s a powerful experience being with someone as they die. Even as you sit in silence, it is very intimate and humbling.
No one really knows how to make it an easy experience for the person dying or the witness. Nevertheless, little comforts matter.
It’s an emotional road trip for the witness. When I got the phone call from the nursing home suggesting that I come in, I felt all of the following: elation, fear, grief, relief, love, gratitude, anxiety, anger, love.
I placed elation first in that list because it was the first emotion I felt. No more tossing and panting and restlessness Mom was experiencing during her struggle to depart. No more frustration over the loss of a word or concept. No more waiting and worrying for me or for others who love her.
My more consuming feeling about death is that he can be a laggard. That’s where the anger in that list of emotions comes from. I’m not angry that death came, but that he seems to take his own time about it. Both Daddy and Mom were ready to go. Neither was scared of death. Both had a strong belief in heaven. Yet both had to wait days for him to arrive. Daddy did it quietly for weeks; Mom was in bed waving her arms trying to get his attention for days. I have a large chip on my shoulder about this. If I ever write a fantasy story in which Death appears, I’ll show him as easily distracted from his task, a little soft in the head, dragging his scythe along the ground; or he’ll be sitting in a bar somewhere watching a football game when he should be out releasing souls or oiling and sharpening his scythe.
But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps it was my parents’ choice to go slowly. It gave their loved ones time to understand what was happening and complete a bit of grieving before they actually left us. They would be that generous. Or perhaps it was just part of their characters. They both taught me to use something up before replacing it. It’s because of their examples that I unroll the toothpaste tube and give it another long squeeze before I throw it away. And just like Mom, I wash sandwich bags and reuse them until they are no longer transparent. Maybe they both felt like they didn’t want to leave until they’d squeezed the last bit of life out the bodies they had been given.
Today, a day after Mom’s death, I’m willing to be a bit more forgiving. Mom would have forgiven a Death who stopped to watch squirrels at the feeder or stayed with another client longer than he should have because that client was scared. She was a patient woman.
As Mommy, she was the soft, warm grown up who covered me up when I feel asleep on the floor, brought me juice and cookies when the kids on Romper Room had a snack, and cleaned up after me when I vomited. She was the one who told stories about how wonderful the dirt was in her day and how much fun she had making mud pies. Then when I tried making pies from mud, she made me strip at the pump and washed me down right there outside the back door.
She made snicker-doodles when I had to bring cookies for kindergarten. She would clean my bleeding knee every time I fell while walking home from school. She put up with me trying to make her say “wash” instead of “warsh.” She made me eat salmon patties, but let me put peanut butter on them first. She called me a “Do-bee” when I was good. And she still cleaned up after me when I vomited.
Then slowly she became my mother. She sewed my clothes, kept track of how long I practiced my bassoon, and took me to orthodontist appointments. She shoveled the drive so I wouldn’t have to wear boots to catch the bus. She investigated strange smells to determine if I might be smoking pot.
Then as my mother, we developed a relationship of two adults. She dealt with my coming out. She ate food I cooked. She called me long-distance with a list in front of her of topics to cover, covered them, and then said good-bye. She no longer sewed any of my clothes. She never pestered me to get married or have a child. She treated me like an equal, but remained my mother.
While Daddy was dying she was almost Mommy again. We washed his body together after he died and cleaned the carpet the following day, never anticipating all the visitors who would arrive with casseroles. As a widow back to Minnesota, she was just Mom who I visited once a fortnight or so to play Canasta. When I told her I’d be sure to introduce Hab Moo to her before I married him, she responded “Why? I won’t have to live with him.” And she was simply happy for me.
Eventually, as her independence faded with her memory, she has become Mama. My sweet little Mama. I took her to doctor appointments and to Colorado to visit her grand-daughter. I helped her resolve an at-the-door sales scam. I listened to her confession that she no longer balanced her checkbook to the penny each month.
Now she’s in a nursing home and greets me with a smile when I visit. We don’t talk much. Mostly I just touch her and smile back. She’s even tinier now that she’s in the wheelchair. She credits me with pretty much anything anyone does for her. Yesterday she showed me her nails, telling me that I had trimmed them for her even though one of the aides had done them just a few hours prior.
She’s always thought the best of me and trusted me. That’s what has made her such a good Mommy, Mother, and Mama.
I write about Mom to help me synthesize all the emotions and changing realities surrounding my relationship with her as it evolves during her dementia. I feel like I’ve neglected my father.
Right now, my father’s ashes are in a wicker basket covered with leather. They rest beneath a table in my living room. This seems appropriate because he insisted in dying in the living room and not the bedroom. I don’t think he liked being ignored, although he never tried to take up all the space in a room or dominate every discussion.
He’s also in my garden. I use his ashes when I plant bulbs. I think that’s why I have such a great bloom every spring. I like to feel his continuing contribution to my life. It certainly simplifies our relationship.
Our relationship was complicated by difficulties in communication. There’s a family story–told to illustrate the strength of my childhood temper–about how he whipped me with a real whip, creating welts, and I was too angry to notice. He never hit me after that time and I think I might have been his only child who never got a spanking. I think the experience embarrassed him and he didn’t have a lot of tools to use with me. Mostly he just had his lap, which I loved sitting on, even as a teenager.
He tried to teach me how to ride and I know he was frustrated by that experience. I think he learned by getting on a horse and riding. And I think that’s how my older sister learned. This did not work for me. I did not understand how I was supposed to grip with my legs until a few years ago after I took a tai chi class and learned the horse stance. He had a hard time explaining what seemed obvious to him. I have that exact same problem.
But I went on trail rides in order to be near him. I loved the way he smelled when his own sweat mixed with the smell of horse sweat and leather and manure. (I get teary eyed just thinking of that smell.) Daddy was confident and comfortable with horses. They trusted him. He had the same confidence when he worked with leather or tools. He just didn’t have that same confidence with people.
Daddy didn’t have much education. He tried to make it through high school, but had to work. His sisters could find work in town and continue to go to school. He found work on farms and had to drop out after attempting to finish tenth grade a couple of times. His vocabulary was less than mine. I recall arguing with him when I was in high school and he shut down completely, saying something about not being willing to argue with my words.
He was great at reciting old poems he learned in grade school. Or in making up words to a song. I loved sitting with him while he drove because out of the silence would come some crazy story or poem. Or he’d honk the horn and tell me he was honking at a little green bug in the road.
We communicated best while he was dying. I recall every sensation of lying on the bed with him and assuming he was asleep. He reached out and rested his hand on my head and then began to play with the curls on my head. His fingers were rather short and thick, but he could make delicate movements with them. I felt a tremendous rush of love from him in that action. I hope he felt something similar when I massaged his feet and legs and tried to ease some of the aches caused by continual bed rest.
I don’t feel like I knew him as well as I knew my mother. It’s impossible for me to imagine his childhood, his young adult years with little money and two children, serving on the front lines in WWII, or being a widower. I’m very interested in hearing my brother’s memories of him because I feel like we had different fathers in so many ways. Mine had 19 more years of experience and less hair, for a start. And he had the guidance of my mother in how to raise a child.
I can’t keep using his ashes in my garden. Mom wants to have her ashes mixed with his. I think he would have been very touched by that desire.
Today Mom tried to tell me some story she obviously thought was hilarious about some man who sat across from her at bedtime. But she just couldn’t get the correct words out of her mind. When this happens she says, “Well anyway” and laughs.
That got me to thinking about sayings Mom used to have. Here are just a few.
Has the shick o’shock train came yet?
This means “Is it time yet?” A little boy used to ask that question regularly of Mom since he had to go home for supper once it came.
DeeDee TYE Toddy
No idea what this means. Sometimes she’d say it when we played cards. It came from her high school days, I think.
Well, I guess I’m sucking the hind tit.
This came out when she was losing at cards. I don’t recall her ever losing at cards, but she must have been behind a few times.
Scared the pee waddin’ out of me.
I say this too, but don’t like to think about it.
Damn it to hell. Or Shit Fart. Or Shit, fart and apple butter. Or Hellty Poop.
These were the only swear words I ever heard her say until she was at least 70.
Crooked as a dog’s hind leg.
I thought everyone said this. I’ve discovered that this is not true.
Ornery as owl shit.
I don’t understand this one at all. I asked her for sayings for some English paper or project I had once, and she shared this one.
Don’t cha know nothin’? Ain’t cha never been to Bushnell?
Bushnell had a dance hall when she was a party girl. But it was still one of those towns of a size that “if you sneeze you’ll miss it.”
added Oct. 26th or later
These are the entire lyrics for Mom’s only lullaby. It has a tune that’s about five measures that get repeated and repeated. It might not be much, but I loved it as a child and can stand it as an adult. I’ve also sang it myself.
Get out of my dirt!
Mom got possessive of the dirt she accumulated when sweeping the floor. It made her angry when a pet or a child walked through it.
Hell, shit, STAP!
This was something Mom heard in a car while her friend was driving. It was screamed by the friend’s mother. Mom says it with much less hysteria. I just used the phrase myself today while running a large multiple search-and-replace on a website.
Remembered by my sister:
Don’t wear that I just washed it!
It was supposed to sit in your drawer for awhile and rest, I guess.
By request of my niece’s husband:
I’d eat just about anything with nuts in it.
Mom loves nuts more than chocolate. So do I.
Archaic terms Mom uses
In the 21st century my mother mentioned that she did her trading at the local grocery store, but she used to trade at Red Owl in Wayzata. So I think she only trades for groceries.
Since I say fireplug instead of fire hydrant, I assume I get that from her.
As in “I was just setting there when…” I never saw Mom with an egg under her, so I assume she meant sitting. She uses this pronounciation almost exclusively now. It used to come and go.
Mom warshed the clothes and hung them on the line. This was a common pronounciation where I grew up. But my first grade teacher didn’t like it and I took on her fervor to eradicate it for about a week. I changed my pronounciation, but couldn’t get Mom to change hers. But at least she never said “this here” or “that there.” Or, at least, not very often.
Her own vocabulary
My sister created this word as a very young child. It means monotonous and tedious.
My other sister says this instead of “no wonder” for some unknown reason and Mom picked it up.
This is Mom’s euphemism for female genitalia. It might actually be spelled cudigi like the spicy Italian sausage sandwich. I saw that once on a menu in some little town in the UP and thought I might have to leave the cafe.