Sunday, May 14, 2017

Remembering Mom

My mom was a badass.  

She was the epitome of a homemaker.  When we were young she made a majority of our clothing and eventually taught me how to sew.  I’m pretty sure she was self taught out of necessity.  When our family was struggling financially on my dad’s piddly Navy salary we kids never knew.  She had the gift of stretching a dollar.  I remember one year she gave us all copies of the list of Columbia House records that you found in magazines – the kind where you buy one record and get 10 “free”.  She asked us which records we would want if we could have any.  We didn’t think anything of it at the time but at Christmas she used those lists and the free records as part of our gifts since money was tight.  I didn’t realize this until years later when something sparked my memory of that Christmas.  

When we lived in Illinois in the 70’s there was a house we passed all the time with huge apple trees and apples all over the ground.  We stopped there one day and asked the old man that lived there if we could have the apples and he said to take as many as we wanted because he lived alone and was too old to pick them anymore.  My mom was a master canner so we had endless Mason jars of cinnamon apples and homemade applesauce which was amazing!  As a thank you to the man we made apple pies, apple strudel, apple bread and baked apples and brought him so many cans of apple goodness he probably died before he could finish them all.  She canned her ass off.  Dad always had a garden so when you went into the cupboard to grab a vegetable it more than likely wasn’t in an aluminum can, but instead a glass Mason jar.  

She was the model Navy wife.  When my dad was gone for months at a time she took care of us three brats, paid the bills and ruled the roost.  Actually my mom was the CFO of the house my entire life!  She was incredibly involved when we were kids and was always my room mother in elementary school, was my Brownie troop leader and then my Girl Scout leader.  She was at every softball game we played and each football game we cheered for.  She always volunteered to chaperone every field trip we went on which was embarrassing at times.  My friends loved my mom but as a kid I would just roll my eyes at their adoration and say that they were crazy.

Mom was an amazing cook and I never saw her use a recipe though she had a ton of cookbooks and clipped recipes from magazines and newspapers constantly – I found hundreds of clippings when I was going through her things after she passed away.  I had to make sure I wasn’t throwing away any important pieces of paper so I had to look at every damn one of them which took days.  My friends loved coming over for dinner because she usually cooked every day and was especially known for her lasagna and meatballs which were incredible.  Our neighbor in Goose Creek was always after mom for her meatball recipe but she would never give it to him.  When he passed away she finally wrote it down on a recipe card and slipped it into his pocket at his wake.  I still think about that recipe and where it is in Jim’s pocket each time I pass Carolina Memorial Gardens…  How I wish I had it!!  Another thing she made every year was rock candy.  She made us kids help her and although the house smelled heavenly because she made upwards of 30 different flavors during the holidays I hated helping because I always burned my fingers on the hot candy mixture when she poured it into the powdered sugar filled pans.  She sold the candy every year and also gave jars away as gifts to her doctors, friends, people she knew at the grocery store and elsewhere.  Every flavor of candy had a signature color and she always made a list of the flavors and what color they were and attached it to every decorated jar.

There wasn’t a craft that mom couldn’t do.  She quilted, attempted knitting but didn’t really care for it.  She tried macramé in the 70’s and needlepoint in the 80’s and floral arranging in the 90’s...  You name it, she did it.  She would have craft parties and invite friends over and teach them how to do whatever she was into at the moment.  For years she sold her crafts at the flea market in Ladson and was so excited when she got her own tax ID number for her business.  Dad always joked that when she died he was going to put a cash register in the attic where all of her supplies were and open a craft store.  She was an amazing artist and unfortunately I didn’t inherit the gift of drawing or painting.  I can craft my ass off but can’t paint to save my life!  One time I took her to Charlotte to go to the Society of Decorative Painters national convention.  She saved money for over a year to go to this thing and little did I know that she brought me with her so I could carry her bags of purchases!  We were at this one booth and she was looking at paint brushes and when she went to pay for them I saw that one of them…  ONE of them…  was $30!  She looked at me and said “You tell your dad and I’ll kill you!!”  She probably wasn’t joking.  My dad had no clue what she spent on those paint brushes!  It’s a good thing she saved her pennies all those years by making our clothes and canning!  I still have the ribbons mom won at the county fair for painting competitions.

Mom was always up for an adventure.  I would say “let’s go” and she would always say “Where are we going?” and I’d say “Trust me” and she always did though she would bitch the whole way to wherever I was taking her; wanting to know where the hell we were going.  I got my love of history from her so I’d always take her some place cool in Charleston that I had discovered.  She especially loved when I would take her to movie or TV sets when they were filming in town.  One time mom shut down the filming of the miniseries Scarlet because the sound guy could hear her talking from the 3rd floor piazza where we standing as the scene was being shot.  He shouted “cut!” and then looked up at us and yelled “I can hear you!!”  All of the actors, including Joanna Whaley Kilmer, Jean Smart and Julie Harris looked up at us as I was smacking my mom to be quiet.  Oops!

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of my mom or want to pick up the phone to call her.  When I go to the beach I think of the last time I went with her.  I went to get the car so she wouldn’t have to walk far and after she didn’t show up for over 10 minutes I went back to find her sitting on a sand dune.  I asked her what was wrong and she said she fell and felt unstable walking in the sand.  As I was helping her up she said to me “I guess this is the last time I’ll ever visit the beach” and sadly, since I moved away soon after, it was.  She loved any kind of beach.  Every summer we lived at the beach or lake.  We’d pack a huge picnic basket (which us kids had to carry!) and go to the beach for the entire day.  She’d read her book while us kids swam for hours.  We’d only see her when we got hungry and then we’d get mad at her for making us adhere to the “no swimming for ½ hour after you eat” rule.  So lame.

She was the kind of mom that went to the club with us and gave us dollar bills to tip drag queens.  One time at The Treehouse she told me “I hate it when you play this music at home but I love listening to it here!” as she danced back and forth to the throbbing rave beat that vibrated the entire building.  

There are constant reminders of her.  Every time I see something with a painting palette on it at a store I pick it up to purchase it for her collection and then I remember she’s not here anymore.  When I visit historical places I always think to myself how my mom would have loved it.  When my photo was on the cover of Charleston Magazine I so wished she was alive because I know she would have carried that damn magazine around for weeks to show everyone she knew.  She would never tell us that she did these things when she was proud of us but we’d eventually hear about it from friends.
In early 2009 I called my mom to tell her that I was going to be moving back to Charleston that summer and she was so excited because I always took her on those crazy excursions – she said she couldn’t wait!  At the time she didn’t have a car and never really went anywhere fun (If only Uber existed then!)  Two weeks later, at the young age of 62, she died very unexpectedly and I’ll never believe she died of anything other than a broken heart from missing my father who died on the same date, February 3rd, six years earlier.

Mom was an exceptional woman who took care of her family and made it seem effortless.  I really wish I would have told her this when she was alive.  If you are lucky enough to still have your mom don’t hesitate to tell her how much of a badass you think she is.

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