I remember coming home from church on Mothers’ Day, looking forward to dinner and mom’s surprise when she opened her presents — a cookie sheet, a three-pack of Dentyne chewing gum and a boxed set of lace-trimmed handkerchiefs — gifts my siblings and I had purchased despite our mother’s repeated claim that all she wanted was an entire day when we didn’t fight, scream, cry or tattle.
As the car bounced along our potholed lane, I admired my mother’s bouquet: tissue-paper flowers we’d made in our Sunday school classes, sprayed with Lily of the Valley perfume and attached to pipe-cleaner stems. Then, during the following services, selected classmates talked about their appreciation for their mothers and we’d distributed the scented blossoms. “Your flowers are pretty, aren’t they, Mom. Hard to make, too. Did you like the speeches?”
“They were nice, but I hope if any of you are ever asked to speak on Mother’s Day, you’ll mention things you appreciate beyond the way I cook your meals, clean the house and do your laundry. Surely mothers do things more important for their children than maid service.”
Well. I had to think about that; but Bob didn’t. “I’d do better, Mom. I’d tell how you make me weed the garden. Which I hate.”
Unfortunately, I was never selected as a Mother’s Day speaker and so never told my mother how grateful I am for the important things she did for me.
My mother shaped me in great and small ways: She gave me her generous lips, sparse eyelashes, enjoyment of school and belief that a day without dessert was a sad day indeed. We drank buttermilk and ignored the wrinkled noses of others. Both of us could carry a tune, though no one in our songbird family expressed interest in hearing us do so. Public speaking, teaching and napping came naturally to us, but a cheerful attitude before breakfast did not.
Mom noticed and appreciated the details of the world around her: one of my earliest memories is of her teaching me to be in the moment: to swish my fingers through the cool pond where we gathered watercress, sniff the plant’s pungent aroma, then sample a peppery leaf.
When we moved to Lander, Wyoming, I heard her marvel at the tilted red cliffs, rushing river and towering pines of our new home and so paid closer attention than I would have if left to my self-centered teenage ways.
She once showed me a spoon she selected when she and her siblings were choosing keepsakes after their mother died. “Of all the things I chose, I treasure this the most,” she said, holding out a large silver spoon for my examination. “This was your grandmother’s stirring spoon for as long as I can remember. See how the curved edge on one side is worn flat from constant use? When I hold this spoon, it’s like I’m connected to her.”
My mother also taught me empathy. My sister and I both fled to her at different times when marriages we thought were forever crumbled. We arrived wounded, angry, frightened and left with a sense of peace and resolution. Neither of us can remember Mom’s words, but we remember the gifts she gave us: our favorite foods, her undivided attention when we needed to talk and the tears she shed as we cried together.
Although my mother didn’t speak the words “I love you” easily, I never questioned her love for me. My siblings and I thrived under her care, as did my tempestuous father. She valued us, and we loved her.
Her home was where our hearts were.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. You did the important things.
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.