So… our darling daughter thought an appropriate Xmas gift for her tired old parents was to make them work. She decided to give us the gift of StoryWorth, compelling us to comb our memories every week to answer —- in writing — questions about our lives that can be shared with our family and, at the end of the year, published. Hmmm.
Seems like a good idea to some, perhaps, but combing my memory seems, at times, as futile as combing the hair on top of my head….which, of course, has long since flown the coop just like many of my memories. Perhaps they’ve taken up residence in the Islands (it’s a snowy day here so my thoughts flee to warmer climes).
It feels like it could be a futile exercise. But, because it’s our daughter…and because I’ve never shied from a challenge, I will try nonetheless.
The question of the week was about my memories of my mother when I was a child. Now that I am relieved to say, is something about which I do have a few memories. And, my revenge on the whole Storyworth concept, is to write so much that they’ll have to publish my commentaries in multiple volumes when the year ends! We’ll see how I fare.
So, let me turn to the subject at hand.
When my mom passed a few years ago, we included in her memorial program a quote from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” “Though she be but little, she be fierce.” It was fitting. I think. She never topped 5’2’’ — even on her best day of wishful thinking.
And she could be fierce, especially when reminded of her stature. But I don’t ever really recall her being fierce with me.
I was the fourth of six kids — and the baby for 8 and a half years. I think my older siblings thought at times I was her favorite…you know how it can be with the “baby,” right? I’m don’t think that was necessarily true. I’d argue that each of us just related to her in a different way.
I was the kid who went shopping with her. She didn’t drive, so we’d ride the bus together. We’d catch it at the corner of St. Clair and Snelling in St. Pul (and later as Cleveland and St. Clair when we had moved to the Highland – Groveland neighborhood). We’d ride it down St. Clair to 7th St. and then on to the heart of downtown.
We’d go to the Emporium, or Field-Schlick or the Golden Rule (later bought by Donaldson’s) and to Schuneman’s (later acquired by Dayton’s) and it was there that we would almost always have lunch at the “River Room.” (It became fancier over time, especially after taken over by Dayton’s, but the clubhouse sandwiches remained a classic).
That was one of the treats. A reward for my patience as I’d sit quietly and read a book as she tried on clothes. I was a pretty good kid to bring along on these outings and I still remember always ordering a clubhouse sandwich (held together with toothpicks with colorful cellophane frills), French fries, and a coke. There was something about that combination. Mmmmm
I remember Mom reading to me at bedtime. Books and poetry, that I talked about that in my first posting for StoryWorth She sang too…often colorful songs many of which had been taught to her by her mother…”Babes in The Woods,” “Puddin’ Head Jones,”
“Little Man You’re Crying,” “Bury Me Out on the Prairie,” “Five Little Fiddlers,” …there were plenty of them.
She took the time to listen to me even though there were times she couldn’t quite figure out what I was saying (s’s and f’s were my particular nemeses — she would always tell about how I told her about how I love her “hudge” and wanted a “hecond” piece). She helped me with my school projects — (I still remember a poster she helped me create in the first grade for the the school carnival. It used the “Campbell Kids” (who sold Campbell soup in the ads) and I was so proud of having something artistic that I wasn’t embarrassed by (scissors and paster were never my forte).
For the All Saints Day pageant at school, she even managed to convince me that since there was no St. Scott, I could be St. Henry (my middle name is Henry). Now St. Henry was not, as I recall, a particularly exciting character, and the St. Henry costume didn’t quite fly (kids CAN be cruel – smile) …but she tried. And I wore it because….well because my Mom made it.
That costume may not have been inspired but she rocked when it came to Halloween costumes. She loved to come up with those…and some were quite elaborate. I remember that I was six or so she had me in blackface (don’t judge, it was a different world then) or dressed as a little old lady.. There was always something in her bag of tricks it seems and I was her willing subject.
She was a great cook too but occasionally tried in vain to convince me (and some of my other siblings) that Brussel sprouts were truly edible and that beets (which she made for my dad who loved them) were truly not the food of the devil. She accepted her occasional defeats in this area with patience (I don’t recall any desserts being denied).
She had greater successes though with other dishes. Her breaded veal was incredible. Her goulash was a delight. Baked spaghetti, her mom’s recipe, was a Lenten treat. Mac and cheese? Wonderful. For breakfast there were soft boiled eggs with a dab of butter melted in them. There was bananas, sugar and cream which was another morning treat — even for a guy was wasn’t a great banana fan.
There was sugar bread as a treat midday (butter on bread with sugar sprinkled on top). And there were lettuce mayonnaise (Miracle Whip) and cheese ((Kraft Old English cheddar) sandwiches which I just loved to eat while watching Lunchtime with Casey — and Mom would make sure I was home for lunch in time to see it if I was outside at play.
And I still recall how on Saturday mornings, when I got up to watch the cartoons that began at the crack of dawn, there would be a bowl of popcorn waiting for me in the oven — left over from the Friday night treat I missed because I went to bed too early.
I remember making Mom laugh (it was always great if we got her to snort) and sitting together and playing gin rummy or casino or cribbage. She taught us all Zioncheck, and Triploli and Hearts. Life was good.
Of course I can’t think of Mom without her countless sayings coming to mind. Crazy, sometimes silly sayings — “That will last from 12 o’clock ’til noon.” Sayings that were carryovers from her own childhood in many cases. My siblings and I even compiled a list of Gloryisms — as we came to call them — for her 90th birthday celebration. I look at them from time to time. But I don’t need to look — they are ingrained to such a degree that I couldn’t forget them if I tried.
I still want to say “If it was a wolf it would have jumped up and bit you” when someone complains they can’t find their glasses sitting right in front of them (OK..maybe that was me who couldn’t find his glasses). Or, I still recall how we’d be told “your eyes were bigger than your stomach” if we left that extra helping of pasta we had begged for on our plate. There are many — many — more. They were….Mom.
These are some of the memories that flood back as I cast my mind back sixty years or so and reflect on my mother.
She was there. She listened. She cared. She loved. And I’m grateful she was mine.
Someone once asked me about what made me a good diplomat. I’d answer that I always had an image of my mother sitting on my shoulder as I considered my choices and if I risked stepping off the path that reflected my core beliefs about decency, humanity and respect for others, she’d remind me…”Scotty, I taught you better than that.” And she did.
Late in her life, my mother wrote, in response to a series of questions not dissimilar to the types of questions I may confront this year, that she wondered if she had had an impact; — if she would be remembered.
I like to think that if she could read this now she’d know her answer.