Monday, March 14, 2011

Lessons from Mom

My mother seemed to enjoy telling us how spoiled she was as a child, perhaps trying to preempt our own spoiling during our young years. One story in particular that I remember was when her mother grandmother had a dress made for Mom, who was then about three. Mom did not like the color, as it turned out, and cried and fussed (and probably held her breath) until her mother agreed to have another one made in the color Mom preferred.

I don’t think we were particularly spoiled, though we had a pretty good life. Mom was not afraid to say no to us, and not afraid to tell us she could not afford this or that wish of our hearts. Yet we always had what we needed, and most of what we wanted, as well.

Dad told the story of Mom’s going to the local A&P grocery store when the family was still very young (right after they were married). She carried with her a bag box of coins – loose change they kept in a box on the top of the refrigerator -- planning to use them to help pay for the groceries. The grocery clerk refused to take the coins and gave Mom some rolls and told her to roll them first. As Mom (with I don’t know how many kids in tow) moved to roll the coins, the bag burst and the coins scattered on the floor.

[Prodded by my sister, I'm retelling the story correctly below:]

Just after my folks were married, Mom wanted to do some shopping, but had no money (only checks from wedding presents), but had Dad's shoe box of saved coins. She went to the bank, thinking they would roll them for her (which they did not -- they gave her paper rolls to do it herself). She then stopped at the store on the way home (before rolling the coins, with the box still in hand) planning to use some of the bigger coins to pay for the groceries. As she approached the counter the box broke, spilling coins everywhere. She reports: "Someone gave me a bag and helped me pick up the loot, but I was embarrassed and very happy to return to Coulter Street! What a way to begin married life!"

I can only imagine my mother’s embarrassment – first that she was trying to pay with a bag of coins, second that she was told she could not use them (after waiting in line with her groceries), and finally having to scramble to pick up the coins from the floor.

And yet, that was who Mom was – she did what needed to be done, whatever it was.

Despite Mom’s being spoiled as a child her life was not always easy. She had a complicated health condition about which the doctors knew very little in her youth. She had an ill-fated surgery to “correct” the problem as a young woman, and the complications of that surgery made the problem much worse for the rest of her life. She was prone to infection which would last for days, and then watched as three of her four children inherited the same condition from her.

And yet, there was something about Mom that kept her moving forward. She did not allow her medical condition to stop her from serving her family and serving others. She supported PTAs and polling places, classrooms, Cub Scouts and Brownies, and later, after joining the church, taught children and adults and eventually served twice as a Relief Society president and more than once in the stake Relief Society.

Her life was a living lesson to her children that one does not stop; one does not wallow in self-pity. One does what one needs to do.

When she was diagnosed with cancer in her 70’s, her observation was characteristically upbeat: she said she had already lived longer than she ever expected to, and that she had enjoyed her wonderful husband and children and grandchildren. When the doctor who diagnosed her wondered why the pain of the tumor on her lung had not brought her to him sooner, she said, Do you expect me to come to you every time something hurts?

I miss my mom some days. I’m grateful for the lessons she taught me. Today is her birthday.


  1. A wonderful woman. Thanks for sharing her tribute with us.

  2. Thanks Little Brother. (I hope you consider that an endearing moniker. Maybe you hate it. If so, you should tell me...)

    I always thought the coins-at-the-grocery-store episode took place right after they were married. They needed groceries, and the only cash on hand was Dad's shoebox full of change. I wonder which is the correct version!

    Mom did tell lots of 'spoiled child' stories. My favorite was when she came outside wearing her new spring coat, all full of herself, and a bird did its thing, right on her coat. She made such a fuss that her mother, who was watering flowers, turned the hose on her.

    Remember all the summer days she took us to the pool, and then to the ice cream place afterward? (It wasn't Dairy Queen, what was it?)

    Remember all the times she & Anne split a sundae at Kresge's, and popped the balloon to get the prices, and then scrambled to come up with enough money to pay the revealed price (which was always the full price)?

    Remember the time your mouse Nephi got loose, and she saw it, and forgot it was a pet? We came home from school and she was sitting on the counter waiting for us.

    Remember her selling pop at Dave's Little League games?

    So many memories... I do miss her, often...

  3. Thanks for introducing your mother to us, Paul. You have some good memories.

  4. Robin,

    You are right about the coin story (which must be why (or because) you are the wise big sister...).

    It was when they were first married, so there were no children in tow. (I just looked it up in Mom's history.)

    And that dress story -- her grandmother had the dress(es) made, and her mother wondered why there were two identical dresses of different colors...

    So, Ardis, you see that while I have some good memories, my memory is not as good as I wished. I should follow your lead and check my sources first.

  5. I've made a few corrections to the original post as noted above.