Monday, January 26, 2009

Our Mothers' Voices

Saturday afternoon I went to an Estate Sale – a favorite pastime of mine – and bought a lovely old tablecloth and napkins. As I smoothed out the soft, worn cotton and refolded it to put it away, I thought, “Wait until Mom sees these napkins at our next family dinner.” The “Mom” I was referring to is my mother-in-law, who, unfortunately, has suffered a tremendous physical and mental decline from Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s. She will never again gaze with pleasure at one of my pretty table settings. Generally now, she is begging to go home before dinner is even cooked.

For over thirty years, though, we celebrated holidays and family birthdays together, and she taught me many of the fine points of entertaining and setting a beautiful table. And now, it saddens me that she is no longer able to give encouragement and approval to the efforts her daughter and I make to create warmth and atmosphere for these special occasions. Every time I prepare a special meal and set the table with my lovely china, I think of her.

And, of course, these thoughts led to deeper reflection. Little girls are influenced from their earliest years by the special women in their lives – mothers, grandmothers, aunts – and their voices linger in our heads long after their physical presence is gone. If we are fortunate, these voices are uplifting and give us strength.

My grandmother lovingly taught me “ladylike” behavior for a girl of the 1950’s. She taught me how to cook one winter when my mother was bedridden with back problems. She shared her superstitions, which haunt me to this day. Somehow she always made this tall, awkward little girl feel beautiful and loved.

My mother, by example, showed me how to be a loving, compassionate person and to mother with unconditional love. She shared her wisdom and knowledge, and enveloped me in gentleness, kindness and security. She taught me to love books and to cherish my individuality. She gave me the courage to follow my own path in life and to savor the astounding beauty to be found in quiet moments.

My aunt loved me so thoroughly that I considered her my “second” mother. I loved sleeping over at her house with my cousins and feeling so totally at home.

My great-aunt inspired my love of cooking and baking and creating a warm and welcoming home. She was a small-town schoolteacher, but in my eyes she was the epitome of social grace. I still have her old recipe cards with her handwriting in faded ink, which always remind me of the delicious aromas of baking which filled her home.

Being the nervous and anxious person that I am, I will always remember my Godmother telling me near the end of her life, how she realized that ultimately most of the things she worried so much about through her lifetime never came to pass. I try to remind myself of this as I worry and fret.

And so, this blog is dedicated to all women who give their best to the people they love, but especially to these women whose love and caring follow me through each day, and whose voices will forever remain in my heart.

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