Monday, April 14, 2008

Memories of My Mother

My reflections at the memorial service for my mother:

I’d like to talk about six qualities of my mother that influenced me most.

1 Her generosity, impulse to help others
One day in Boulder when I was 10 or 12 years old, “I gave away your mittens and the sled to this poor family up in Nederland. But don’t worry, I’ll buy them for you again.”
· Giving her time as a visiting nurse—old man dying of cancer, poor families with 5 kids in apt.
2 Her seriousness about her career as a nurse
· When I was 13 and discovering nail polish, I asked her why she didn’t polish her nails. She laughed and said she had no time for such frivolous things nor for the P.E.O. clubs and parties that were her mother’s life.
· In 1943 she enlisted in the Navy as a nurse, much against the wishes of her parents. She loved being a WAVE, teaching maternity nursing in Bakersfield (she always loved newborns), and later in Baltimore was courageous about leading her students into the ghettos to teach them public health nursing.
· But after retirement at age 60, she did volunteer work with Red Cross and Meals for Wheels, did inspection of nursing homes, served on the board of the PEO Chapter House in Colorado Springs. She also sewed doll clothes and smocked dresses and baby clothes for grandchildren, did needlepoint, even joined PEO. A women’s circle at First Presbyterian Church of Boulder met in her home.
3 Her valuing of education.
· When I was about 11 or 12, she told me, “You need to go as far as you can in education, otherwise you’ll have to work for someone you don’t respect.
· Earning MS from 1958-60 with four children 12 and under.
4 Her mistrust of doctors “often with the comment, “He thought he was God’s gift to women.” Or he didn’t bother to come to the delivery—I had to catch the baby.”
· in her last year or two of dementia, except John, Duncan, her sons and brothers… chased out Roche Vermak and chaplain from hospice… was initially not too friendly to grandsons she hadn’t seen recently
· Get that bad boy out of here! He’s going to eat all our bacon! (Beulah ________ )

5 Her impulse to control others, often with a touch of anxiety
· Like her mother, probably her grandmother Martha Brown
· Fearlessness, fierce determination—buying wall-to-wall carpet herself in 1960s though salesman wanted her husband’s signature
· Keeping Kermit working, moving to Bakerfield, then Baltimore for this purpose, buying and selling homes in those cities.
· Nursing Kermit until his death

She slipped into dementia in the years after his death:
· Reader’s Digest sweepstakes
One day in about 1997 she called me and said, "Hi, this is your mother. Don't tell anyone, but I am going to New York. I got a letter from Reader's Digest today saying I am definitely the winner."
"Oh, that's great. Congratulations. But are you sure? What did the letter say?"
"I have it right here. And I've decided I'm going to wear the red suit with the pearls. But of course I will have to pack a suitcase, and I need to get to Talbot's because I don't have a smart-looking winter coat--"
"Could you just read it to me?"

· Rebuilding her cabin at Trout Lake -- She was unstoppable; she got an architect to draw up plans; she paid for them and was ready to take bids from contractors when we were finally able to convince her that the money she had in savings and the cost of the house didn't match.
· Writing her autobiography

7 Another quality I remember is her concern for family status, for making a positive impression on others—
· When she was writing her life story, she insisted on viewing her marriage and her life as having been lived “happily ever after.” Originally I thought her book would be a family history, but as we were finishing it, I finally accepted that it was going to fall into the genre of romance. It had to be the Adventures of a Telluride Native—struggles and serious problems had to be left out. I found a one-sentence summary of the book: “Kermit and I were married on Oct. 19, 1947. There followed a happy and interesting life blessed by four children.”
· The best stories she left out of her book because they did not reflect well on her or the family. For example, she would often tell me about the Telluride High band competing against other bands in Grand Junction in 1935. They rode there on a school bus; something was wrong with the reed of her clarinet and the band director told her, "You just sit there and do the fingering, but don't you dare make a sound." Once she continued the story further: “My mother went along to ‘look after me,’ but really to do some shopping in Grand Junction. We had no shoe stores or dress shops in Telluride. My friends and I went to Woolworth's, and we were shoplifting--"
"You were shoplifting?" I asked.
"Yes, we were regular delinquents. We were putting things in our purses. I wanted to buy a present for my mother, but it was the Depression, and no one had any money. I saw these beautiful hair combs, the kind you put in your hair when it's done up. They had pearls set in them. I put one in my purse and came outside and showed it to my friends, and then I went back in and got another. When we were home, I gave them to my mother, and she wore them proudly for many years in Telluride--but probably everyone in town knew they had been stolen. Don't put that in the book."

Well, Mother, it’s not in the book, but these things will forever be in our memories of you.

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