I was just in the kitchen putting baked beans together and it occurred to me how much of my Mom’s way of doing things I’ve brought to my own adulthood. Like, for instance, baked beans. Mother was always horrified at the idea of dumping a can of baked beans into a pot and warming it up right from the can. Instead, she drained the beans, put them in a casserole dish, added barbecue sauce, mustard, a chopped onion, and brown sugar. Then she placed two strips of bacon across the top in an X and put them in the oven. She baked them until they were dry enough that when you spooned them up, they didn’t drip. I can smell those beans right now because that’s exactly what I just did a few minutes ago, and the scent of brown sugar and bacon and tomato-y bean deliciousness is filling my house as I write.
When I iron shirts, I start with the collars and sleeves because that’s the way Mom did it. When I make iced tea, I use four Constant Comment tea bags and four regular tea bags—guess where I learned that little trick. Mom. I make boiling water pie crust rather than ice water pie crust because that’s what Mom did and it’s much better that way. And Mom always poured milk over hot cereal, so when I got married and realized that my husband didn’t use milk on oatmeal, my first thought was, “how weird.” Because wasn’t Mom’s way the right way to eat oatmeal?
But, it’s not just household things that I brought from Mom, I also brought some of my parenting stuff—like reading aloud to my son practically from the day he was conceived until well after he learned to read himself, and teaching him to play Scrabble almost before he learned the alphabet. Hey, it’s a great way to learn to spell, right? Mom always made us try three bites of anything new on our plate—my kid had to do the same. When he was irritated or frustrated or just plain pissed, I’d send him to his room for ten minutes of pouting, then he had to talk it out. It was Mom’s best technique for keeping four kids from each other’s throats, and it kept my only child from becoming distant and closed up.
Some of my own pleasure preferences were also hers. I’m a huge fan of board games. So was Mom. I’d rather be on Lake Michigan than almost anywhere else on the planet—that love of the lake is from Mom. And along with that, give me a lake to swim in over a pool any day—Mom taught all of us to swim in Lake Michigan. Also, she could sing all the lyrics to every musical ever produced on Broadway from 1949 to 1979. I’m embarrassed to confess, so can I. Camelot, My Fair Lady, West Side Story–name a musical and I’ll sing you a song from it. You’ll be sorry because I can’t sing worth a damn, but by god, I know all the lyrics.
In some ways I’m not at all like her—I’m not very outspoken, I’m not very bold, but I’m trying. I’m more tightly wound and I need more structure in my life than she did. I’m a much better money manager. And I don’t have her frustrating ability to make the most unreasonable thing sound perfectly reasonable. I can’t tell you how many times I walked away after trying to best her in an argument, then realized, “Hey, wait a minute! That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.” I can almost see her smirking now… But I think she’d be proud of who I’ve come to be since her passing, the small business owner, the mom, the grandmother, and probably most important, the writer. Mom always believed I would be a famous writer one day, but I think she’d be pleased with my mid-list author status.
Several years ago, I would have been appalled if someone had said to me, “Wow, you remind me so much of your mother.” I didn’t want to be like her because she was different and different scared me. But now, a little wiser, a little more aware, I see what a treasure she was and how much she influenced every area of my life. And you know, once in a while, I look in a mirror and there she is… and you know what else? It’s not so bad… as a matter of fact, it’s kind of comforting.
I love and miss you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.