Mother ‘s Day Reflection by Cindy Sharfstein
In considering this topic I chose to focus on the word, MOTHER, not as a noun but– as a verb. I am sure that you would all agree, that To MOTHER a child is much more than simply the act of giving birth. (And don’t ever make the mistake of telling a woman that giving birth is simple.) I’d like to think that my “mothering” has helped to mold my own children into compassionate, loving, confident and hard working human beings. And most of this I learned from my mother.
My mother, Lillian Hovey, was born in 1906, the youngest of 4 children. Her parents were farmers, and (according to family lore) her mother was not very warm and loving, but her father doted on her. She was a brown eyed, dark haired beauty who caught my father’s eye at a church social. They were married when she was just 18 and they moved to Detroit where there were good jobs available at the Ford Motor Company factory.
They lived through the depression, losing everything they owned, returning to Hannibal, NY with three small children and no way to support them. My father found work for $1.00 a day and they lived with my grandparents until they could scrape together enough money to rent a small house from a neighboring farmer. My mother became skilled at stretching a very little bit of meat and vegetables into meals for their growing family. She was an expert seamstress who took old coats and worn blankets and cut them down, transforming them into small warm jackets and pants for my (by then) 5 older brothers and sisters to wear during those cold Upstate New York winters. Those were hard times for many families including mine.
By the time their 6th child (Ruth Ann) was born in 1940, my parents had purchased and settled into an old farmhouse with several acres of land. My father had done most of the improvements himself and the house provided plenty of room for a growing family. My mother painted and wallpapered the rooms, made curtains, created slip covers for their second hand furniture, and made that house into a home. For many years they kept some livestock for their own use, had chickens, planted and maintained a large vegetable garden and tended a sizable strawberry patch, so they could sell the berries at regional markets.
By the time I came along in 1949, my family’s standard of living was considerably more comfortable mainly due to the fact that my father was working in Syracuse for Crucible Steel. Hard work certainly, dangerous for his health, but it helped him provide for his family. As the seventh child of my MUCH older parents (by 1950’s standards) I realize now that I enjoyed many benefits. They were easy going and loving people who had already practiced on 6 other kids and they had this “parenthood gig” pretty much under control!
Three of my older siblings were on their own by 1950 and two more would be married before I went to kindergarten. That left just my sister Ruth Ann, and me … two girls living at home. Once she went away for college (when I was in first grade), I became almost an only child. Several of my older sisters still insist that I was spoiled, but in all honesty, it seems that my parents finally had the luxury of a little more money and a lot more time than when everyone was living at home!
Having just me to focus on, my mother was able to give (what I now realize was the greatest gift of all,) her time! I can still remember arriving home after school and walking into my house. Wonderful smells would be drifting out of the kitchen, and I would often find still warm dishes of delicious tapioca pudding, just baked peanut butter cookies, or (my personal favorite) crunchy apple crisp. My mother would have a cup of tea while I had my snack and although I don’t remember what we talked about, she was there, we were together… she was PRESENT!
Although I never came home to an empty house, I was frequently cautioned to “be quiet” because my father was sleeping and had to go in for the 11PM to 7AM shift. Being quiet was never my strong suit but I had plenty to amuse myself with, and my mother pretty much let me live my after school life as I chose. She trusted that if I went out to play with other kids who lived “down the road” I would be home in time for supper. There weren’t any dance lessons or swim classes, no lacrosse or soccer games for me or my friends. There was the great outdoors, with new places to explore, time to watch my favorite tv shows and …. time to read, to write, to draw, to use my imagination and do the things that kids like to do!
Memories of my mother wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that she was ALWAYS busy. She was either cooking, baking, working on a sewing project, pulling weeds in the garden, canning fruits and vegetables to see us through the winter, and of course, ironing. (Yes, that strange contraption on the closet shelf was used to iron wrinkled clothes!)
Even after the kitchen was cleaned up, she would take out her knitting while we watched a few television shows together. The click, click of her needles as she created winter hats, slippers, socks and the occasional sweater were a constant background noise. My mother was happiest when she could knit a baby sweater …. how she loved babies! By the time I was 15 there were already 12 grandchildren so she had plenty of little sweaters and booties to knit. That creativity and her work ethic was a vital part of how she “mothered” not just me, but all of my siblings! Her life was surely busier than mine, but she could always find time to help out a neighbor or friend who needed it.
Living way out in the country, having so many children, with my father working shift work, I often wonder if my mother felt isolated. She finally got her drivers license when I was in 2nd grade, but due to my father’s work schedule she rarely had access to a car. Choices that I had, choices that my daughters and granddaughters take for granted were not part of her options, she only worked in a factory during WWII because that’s what women did to support the war effort. Other than that, her focus was clearly on being a wife, a mother, and an amazing grandma. (And in later life an enthusiastic and competitive Yahtzee player!)
I’m struck with the realization that it was her approach to “mothering” that is truly my mother’s legacy. Throughout her life she maintained an attitude of patience, along with acceptance and trust that her children (and later her grandchildren) were capable of making their own decisions. She created one of a kind gifts for family and friends and genuinely enjoyed doing it. Her apartment was always warm and welcoming, and the grandchildren knew that Grandma always had some cookies for them to have with their tea. Most importantly, she was happy to see them and to spend as much time as possible with them.
So let me close by saying thanks to my mother and to all of
those who “mother” us throughout our lives.
HAPPY MOTHERS DAY
TO ALL OF YOU WITH LOVE!
Mother ‘s Day Reflection by Holly Herring
Can I lend you my mother? I had the “perfect” mother and I would like to share her with you today.
My two older sisters and I had the same parents, but three very different mothers. However, we all agree that she is a nurturer of the creative spirit.
My mother is a pianist, a painter, and a landscape designer, and I am blessed that she awoke in me the passion for practice, the ability to find inspiration from mentors and nature, and the art of creating community to share, give back, and pay forward. She is a true role model.
She had to wait until she was 4 to have piano lessons, and has practiced diligently every day for the last 81 years. When she was a teen, she would play every romantic piece she knew and pour out her soul by the open window at her grandmother’s house in hopes that the local boys would hear her and fall in love.
Now she plays hymns at several nursing homes for their church services each week. “I fall in love with each piece of music as it comes” she tells me when I ask her what her favorite piece is. “I am playing the Lord’s prayer by Mallotte right now because they can’t get enough of it.”
Her house is strewn with thousands of her portraits and landscape paintings. Each week she paints the flowers from her church altar as a thank you meditation and offers the paintings and cards to the church for their annual sale. When she wanted community in painting, she started a plein aire group.
Every day she also spends in her garden tending to her plants and each night she goes to bed with 5 or 6 art and garden books draped over her, only to wake up at 4 AM to draw her newest garden design on the morning napkin.
My mother sought out people to study with. When she was my age and I was the age my daughter is now, she spent a few months in Italy shadowing a master Italian landscape architect and living in a greenhouse at a Medici Villa.
An image I have of her during that time was on a day trip together in Florence, where she had on her big American running shoes with a skirt, and was standing in the middle of the empty road, lost, but blissful, arms open wide saying the one Italian word she knew, DOVE! (Where!) I was mortified then, but now I chuckle (and I hope my daughter will chuckle at me some day too) because I realize that she was open to the wonders of the world.
Later, when she was designing gardens in Charlotte, I remember her telling me that one busy doctor made sure her calls came through to him because he was worried about his pear tree. “I feel like a therapist”, she said, “I wander the yard with my clients and they tell me of their childhood gardens and dreams of utopia. They feel comforted, hopeful, and enamored with nature.”
Recently she has created a garden for a new friend. Rick is a 65 year old architect, who had been paralyzed by a fall. He had been flat on his back in a SC public nursing home for a year when friends asked my parents to look in on him. My parents demanded and fundraised for physical therapy and an old electric wheelchair and (much to the grounds staff’s surprise) planted a garden outside of his window to attract the butterflies and birds. In turn, he helped them design their garden gazebo.
As for me, one birthday she wrote, “Ever since you were born you have been a gift and a delight to us.” Although she still holds out hope that I will be a child prodigy on the cello, she noticed my fascination with clay as a 9-year-old and gave me pottery lessons, which is something I have practiced and loved ever since. Ask Michael, as he has to peel the pottery books off of me every night in order to get into bed.
I even learned from her faults. I gained fast reflexes and an appreciation for nature from her terrible driving. Never wasting a minute, she would study at the red light, while I was instructed to shout “green” as the light changed.
Then, careening down the road in her big white convertible, she would exclaim “Look at that tree!“
My mother’s biggest regret is that my sisters and I never got to meet her mother (my grandmother). She died at age 44 from a weak heart. “I see her in you”, she says. “You would have loved her, and she would have loved you.” Thankfully, my children have had a chance to know my mother. My daughter even took 10 of my mother’s garden books to bed with her on our last visit there.
The scene I want to leave you with is of a lovely evening on the tidal river in Beaufort, SC. After watching the sunset from the garden gazebo, we all sidle in through the porch past the pastel portrait my mother is painting of my daughter, and settle down in the music room to listen to my mother on the piano accompanied by my son on the flute.
My 89-year-old father, with tears in his eyes, whispers, “Listen to your mother play, she is so talented.”
And so, in the spirit of my mother, I ask you, “Dove?” Where do you want to be standing with your arms thrown out?
What can you fall in love with?
Who can you find to inspire you?
And most importantly, how can you share your gifts with the world?