I’m Becoming My Mother!
I’ve never thought of myself as being much like my mother. I look like my dad, identified with my dad more, and considered myself closer to him. I thought of myself as a “Daddy’s girl.” But I’ve been surprised it has been my mother’s death I’ve grieved most passionately. As I get older, and especially in the two months of quarantining, I realize I’m more like her than I thought. I am becoming my mother.
When we were preparing to quarantine two months ago, one of my first thoughts was to check on my parents. It seems rational, right? Not too rational when you consider the fact my parents have been dead for ten years. When I mentioned it to one of my daughters, she said she had the same instinct to check on her grandparents. We both agreed that if they were alive, they would be managing the quarantine better than us, better than most.
My mother was born in 1925, her childhood on a Kansas farm severely impacted by the deprivation of the Great Depression. Living through the tough time taught her to be frugal with food and material goods. Every scrap could be used for something, including the cotton sacks the flour came in. The flour companies soon caught on to the fact many little girls were wearing dresses made from the flour sacks and began printing the fabrics with colorful prints. My mother said there were many times during the Depression that potatoes were all the family had to eat. They were simultaneously grateful for and tired of potatoes. Although they had chickens, they had to sell most of the eggs to pay bills. Like most people, living through the Depression impacted her perspective for the rest of her life.
One of my mom’s catchphrases was “Waste not, want not,” and she was known for following through with that by cutting mold off cheese, eating food clearly past its expiration date, and holding onto way too many material possessions. Growing up with rationing and scarcities left a mark. Although my parents weren’t wealthy, we always had enough. I never worried we would go hungry, which led me to a careless retort of, “If in doubt, throw it out.” And I lived in that reckless manner until recently.
I never understood my mother’s ways until about six weeks ago when I found myself washing aluminum foil. I had lived my entire life being able to go to the grocery store and buy anything I needed, but now I was looking at restricting myself to what I could order online and pick up curbside. Who knew when I would find more paper towels or aluminum foil? The wastefulness of my old ways began to make me understand my mother’s thought process. Although I would never compare going without paper towels to the hardships people faced in the Depression, it has made me more aware of how wasteful I’ve been.
One of my favorite stories about my mother’s “waste not, want not” philosophy was about bird food. One evening we were sitting in front of her bay window looking out on her array of bird feeders. She couldn’t understand why her beloved birds were not eating the food she had made for them. As the discussion progressed, she revealed she had made the bird food with some flour that she had brought home from her mother’s house. My grandmother had been dead twenty years at the time! My mother protested my disgust by saying, “But I’ve kept it in the freezer!”
My mother and father grew all of our vegetables and some of our fruit on our acreage. We had chickens, which meant fresh eggs every day and hives of bees that provided delicious honey along with a few stings every year. Our dark, cold cellar was always full of home-canned Mason jars of vegetables and also jars of honey, thick with honeycomb. It was a good life, but it was a labor-intensive life. I swore I would be a city girl someday.
I didn’t keep my promise to stay home forever and help my dad with the garden.
I became a city girl, far removed from the world of growing, harvesting, and canning. But in the last two months, I find myself looking at my postage-stamp back yard, wondering what vegetables I could fit in my meager space. Nothing tastes better than organically grown vegetables plucked from your own garden. Little lightbulbs in my mind went on; maybe my parents had the right idea of self-sufficiency.
A rare picture of me with my parents in the ’90s. My mom usually avoided the camera.
If you lived in Tulsa in December of 2007, you most certainly have stories to tell from the Ice Storm that left most of us without power for at least a week! I was pretty much a frozen popsicle that week, a miserable, bundled up, whiny mess. I spent most of my days shuffling between the library and Starbucks, dreading the return to my igloo. I do like to read and drink coffee, but mostly I was trying to suck up the warmth without being arrested for loitering.
Early in the “ice storm” week, I went to check on my elderly parents. Take note: they were in their 80s and 90s at that time. I walked into their house, the house they had built from the ground up with their own two hands, to find them sitting happily in front of the fireplace, dog and cat peacefully slumbering at the hearth. They had sealed off the rest of the house with a thick tarp and were living in the toasty and cozy kitchen/den area, warmed by the blazing fire. They hadn’t ordered a rick of wood; they were burning the wood they had chopped and stacked themselves. They had pinto beans and cornbread going on the gas stovetop and enough vegetables in the cellar to feed the neighborhood. My elderly parents could live happily for a year without any outside intervention, whereas I was about to fall apart after two days of no heat and electricity.
My parents were strong and self-sufficient, like many in “The Greatest Generation.” They lived through incredibly hard times and had an inner fortitude I certainly lack. I’ve thought of my parents many times over the last two months, and my guess is they would be staying home, content with their stockpile of homegrown vegetables and well water. They would busy themselves with creating art, working on jigsaw puzzles, and playing games of dominoes. I would be shocked if they complained about the inconvenience of having to quarantine. They lived through much worse.
With Mother’s Day rapidly approaching, I think of my mother frequently. I try to channel a little of her attitude and strength, but usually come up short. When I say I am becoming my mother, it is more of a hope than a reality. I may be washing my aluminum foil and eating beans instead of lobster these days, but I stop short of eating moldy cheese or wearing dresses made of flour sacks. The title of this is a little misleading; I can only dream of being the strong, competent woman my mother was.
My beautiful mother. No matter how long it’s been or how old we are, we never stop missing our mothers.