Read an Excerpt
Everything that Makes You Mom
A Bouquet of Memories
By Laura Lynn Brown
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Mom in the home
There she is in the kitchen, cooking a birthday dinner, making gravy with glee, upholding holiday rituals, fighting grime. And there she is on the porch, and in the yard, doing whatever she did to make a house a home that we loved to live in and would want to return to, so naturally that we probably didn't even notice.
Mom bought a gravy whisk that we saw in a specialty kitchen store not so much because she needed a gravy whisk, but because its packaging claimed, "It scoffs at lumps." She gave it a new name: lump scoffer. When she made gravy, she whisked with glee, scoffing at those lumps herself with a single "Ha!"
* * *
What kitchen tasks does she relish?
Does she have nicknames for any of her gadgets?
How was your mother persuaded by advertising?
Instantly I bolted into the next room to read it aloud to mother and sister, and we all cheered in unison when we came to the Rah! Rah! Rah! part of it. —Theodore Roosevelt
In her kitchen, a cookie jar occupied the central place that a coffeemaker would have in other kitchens. Her favorite store-bought were Keebler Pecan Sandies and Archway Date-filled Oatmeal. Her favorite homemade were date-nut pinwheels, one of a dozen kinds she would make at Christmas. She was a dunker—in tea, not coffee.
* * *
What sweet treats does your mother favor?
Coffee, tea, or something else?
What has a place of prominence in her kitchen?
A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie. —Tenneva Jordan
On my fifth birthday, when I was hoarding the party hats and noisemakers out of an existential crisis, she spoke to me and got me to willingly distribute them, not so much because of whatever she said—which I don't remember—but because of the gentle, quiet, respectful way she said it.
* * *
What's the best birthday party your mom arranged for you?
How did she handle a crisis in your childhood?
Was there a time when her gentleness won the day?
A mother understands what a child does not say. —Jewish proverb
Early enough in my childhood that I don't really remember it, she taught me the classic pair of childhood prayers—for the table, "God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food," and for bedtime, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." In effect, I see now, it was teaching reliance on God and a hope and expectation of heaven.
* * *
What prayers, or equivalents, did your mother teach you?
What are her prayers like, or do you even know?
How did she invite God into daily habits?
From my mother I learned the value of prayer, how to have dreams and believe I could make them come true. —Ronald Reagan
The time I got so mad that I announced I was running away from home, she asked me to pause long enough that she could note what I was wearing, so she would know how to describe me to the police when she filed a missing persons report. I made it three houses away before my resolve melted, but went all the way around the block just to save face.
* * *
Did your mom ever deal with a fit by pretending to take you seriously?
How has she made it hard to stay mad?
Has she blessed your independence in ways that make you want to come home?
And I—I went back to the old home, to Denmark and to my mother; because I just couldn't stay away any longer. —Jacob A. Riis
She deep-fried countless shrimp in years of fulfilling my perennial birthday dinner request, and when we came home from college, she always welcomed us back with vegetable beef soup for me and apple pie for my brother.
* * *
What favorite food requests has she fulfilled?
How has your mother shown love through food?
What do you hope for when you show up for dinner?
Life is the fruit she longs to hand you, ... Relentlessly she understands you. —Phyllis McGinley
On the hottest days of summer, Mom would loop the garden hose over a maple tree branch in the yard and set the nozzle on continuous spray so we could run through a cooling shower in our swimsuits. And in an era long before Super Soakers, empty Joy bottles became our large-capacity squirt guns.
* * *
What kinds of water play did your mother encourage?
Does she practice recycling, or frugality by another name?
In what ways was she creative with common household objects?
Where there is a mother in the home, matters go well. —Amos Bronson Alcott
When I was in grade school, on the coldest winter mornings, the kind that would leave frost patterns and a layer of ice on the bedroom windows, she would heat the stove and open the oven door so I could get dressed in the kitchen's warmth.
* * *
How did your mom make things cozy?
When did she take the chill off for you?
What did she do to make her kitchen a welcoming place?
Anyone who doesn't miss the past never had a mother. —Gregory Nunn
Spring cleaning was concentrated in the kitchen, and meant pulling the appliances and free-standing storage out from the wall and cleaning everything from top to bottom and underneath, and exchanging the storm doors for screen doors, and it was always a time when Mom and Dad both worked hard (though his tasks were mostly at her direction) and displayed both complementary and complimentary teamwork.
* * *
What cleaning rituals has your mother endorsed?
Who did she enlist to help?
Are there chores that you're glad she made you do?
One of the very few reasons I had any respect for my mother when I was thirteen was because she would reach into the sink with her bare hands—bare hands—and pick up that lethal gunk and drop it into the garbage. To top that, I saw her reach into the wet garbage bag and fish around in there looking for a lost teaspoon. Bare hands—a kind of mad courage. —Robert Fulghum
The hardest I ever saw her laugh may have been the year two mice rode in on the Christmas tree. When one zipped into the kitchen, my sister-in-law pinned it with the dust mop; my brother (possibly fueled by the adrenaline of mouse-fear) seized the broom, and together they swept it out the back door—a different kind of marital cooperation. The laugh's sound has faded, but its character was boneless mirth.
* * *
What epic tales does your mother recall with hilarity?
How might she deal with animal intruders?
What does her laugh sound like?
I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars. —E. M. Forster
Mom relished an approaching thunderstorm and enjoyed sitting on the front porch, watching the neighbors' trees thrash, waiting to greet it, lightning and all. Because I wanted to be with her, I did too.
* * *
When did your mother display a great sense of anticipation?
How has she weathered storms?
Have you inherited any of her fearlessness?
When I stopped seeing my mother with the eyes of a child, I saw the woman who helped me give birth to myself. —Nancy FridayCHAPTER 2
Mom in the world
She was our primary tour guide into the neighborhood, and then into the world of commerce, where she gave us our first lessons in choosing wisely from all the shiny things the world, or at least the five-and-dime, had to offer. Farther afield, there were family vacations. Some of our moms went into the world to work, and sometimes there, as at home, Mom fulfilled duties far outside the scope of the job description.
On summer evenings, the neighbor women who lived up and down Kennon Street would gather on Mrs. Menkemiller's porch, and when Mom went, I got to go too, which was probably the first situation in which I learned that I could stay up late if I just quietly sat and listened long enough that the adults seemed to forget I was there.
* * *
What neighbors did your mom visit with?
How did she initiate you into the rituals or the company of neighborly adulthood?
What have you picked up from simply listening?
The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother's side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent. —Erich Fromm
She also liked to walk in the neighborhood on summer evenings, and would get me to join her by saying, "Let's go look in people's windows."
* * *
What simple pleasures did she invite you along on?
How did she show curiosity about people's inner lives?
How has she been a good neighbor?
Making a decision to have a child—it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. —Elizabeth Stone
Mom denied it, but Dad said she went sledding on a steep hill with the neighborhood kids, pregnant with me, the winter I was born, and I teased her—"I remember, it was chilly and dark and we went very fast!"—because I wanted it to be true.
* * *
Do you remember playing winter sports with your mother?
What is something about your mother that you know only through someone else's storytelling?
What do you like to tease her about?
Life began with waking up and loving my mother's face. —George Eliot
Mom was a human GPS, long before those units or MapQuest or the Internet was invented. She did all the navigating on trips, with a combination of maps, AAA Trip-tiks, verbal directions, visual observation, and spatial memory, and she never got us lost.
* * *
What kind of navigator is your mother?
Is she good at giving directions/what kind of directions has she given you when you went off course?
What places would her car feel its way to by habit?
Any mother could perform the jobs of several air traffic controllers with ease. —Lisa Alther
We rode the bus across the river into the city and made our rounds of places she liked to go (the Piece Goods fabric store, where I hated the smell of flocked fabric and learned to occupy myself flipping through the big books of patterns to the costumes section) and places I liked to go (Murphy's Five-and-Ten, where I sometimes could choose something small from two equally tantalizing sections: toys and office supplies).
* * *
What's a favorite store for your mother?
When you were bored, did she suggest an activity or let you figure something out on your own?
When did Mom require your patience, and how did she reward you for it?
Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to "jump at de sun." We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground. —Zora Neale Hurston
On summer beach vacations, she loved Lingo's, the family-owned little corner grocery store where we bought the morning paper, and she christened some of the employees Bingo, Dingo, and Mingo Lingo.
* * *
When has your mother seemed most relaxed on vacation?
What are her vacation rituals?
Where would you like to take or send her on vacation?
Asuburban mother's role is to deliver children obstetrically once, and by car forever after. —Peter De Vries
Mom didn't drive, so during the years when Dad worked on Sundays, she got us up and fed and ready to be picked up by the church van, where we rode with an assorted mix of people whom we might not have encountered otherwise, but with whom we felt some kinship, I think, simply because of our shared journey to a common destination.
* * *
What was your mom's role in your Sunday morning routines?
What obstacles of transportation has your mother overcome?
How, in word or deed, did she teach you to respect and value all kinds of people?
My mother had handed down respect for the possibilities ... and the will to grasp them. —Alice Walker
We spent a week at Bethany Beach, Delaware, during the summer of Watergate, which Mom was fascinated by. She was certain she had seen John Dean walking the beach early one morning.
* * *
What news events have fascinated your mother?
Has she had any celebrity sightings?
How has she modeled a difference in public life and private life? Or is she the same everywhere, with everyone?
All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. —Abraham Lincoln
In her work-and-church-clothes wardrobe, Mom had several blouses she referred to as her Grace Van Owen blouses—the kind the L.A. Law character wore—silklike blouses with a rolled collar and a V-neck, and inside them, discreet safety pins to make the décolletage a centimeter or two more modest.
* * *
What are some of your mother's favorite dress-up clothes?
How did she display or advocate modesty?
Where has she employed safety pins?
When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child. —Sophia Loren
During the years she worked as a bank teller, she successfully lobbied to get the lunchroom moved out of the ladies' restroom.
* * *
What causes is your mother passionate about?
In what ways has her activism manifested itself?
How has she persuaded someone else to raise their standards?
When love is gone, there's always justice. And when justice is gone, there's always force. And when force is gone, there's always Mom. Hi, Mom! —Laurie Anderson
Mom was an aide at my grade school, and when my young sixth grade teacher's husband died in a truck accident at work, Mom was the one to give her the news, not because she was the employee closest to Mrs. Kirk but because of her quiet strength in such times, and her grasp of what words to choose and how to deliver them.
* * *
When has your mother had to deliver bad news?
When has she had to receive bad news?
How is she at crisis management?
If you have a mom, there is nowhere you are likely to go where a prayer has not already been. —Robert BraultCHAPTER 3
Evidence of a mother's virtues is everywhere, once you start looking. Sometimes it's in her actions—reliability in a game of blind trust, tenderness in bandaging a wounded finger, foresight in planting a tree that will outlast her. And sometimes it's in the things she touches—respect written in a bookmark, thrift sewn into an action figure's shorts, forgiveness wrapped inside a purse.
Mom inherited land that had been owned by several generations of women, and she loved to "go out to the hill," to walk it and plan where she and Dad would build their retirement home. At the top of a long cleared field, she staked her claim by planting fruit trees.
* * *
What land is your mother most strongly associated with?
What plants has she tended?
What else has she planted that will outlast her?
She surveys a field and acquires it; from her own resources, she plants a vineyard. —Proverbs 31:16
I was in college when I finally got too big for the trust exercise, which we always played in the kitchen. I would stand with my back to her, lean backwards, and when I began to lose my balance, she would catch me under my armpits before I hit the floor.
* * *
How does your mother demonstrate her trustworthiness?
Besides hugs and kisses, what are your other ritual forms of greeting?
How does she have your back?
A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary. —Dorothy Canfield Fisher
From my childhood through my teen years, mom sewed clothing for me, including a long denim duster; a purple ultrasuede vest with a sunrise appliquéd on the back in felt and with hippie fringe around the bottom; a Nehru jacket; a skirt and matching vest in a pastel floral fabric, which became my performance outfit for flute competitions; and my favorite, a winter-worthy poncho she made me in second grade, wide-wale corduroy in school bus orange on the outside, thick plush fake fur in pumpkin orange on the inside, closed at the neck with the kind of metal hooks on a fireman's jacket, fringed around the bottom with Mexican hat balls.
* * *
What did your mother dress you in?
What was a favorite garment or outfit from your childhood?
Did she allow unusual combinations that adults couldn't get away with (or herself wear unusual combinations)?
Sweater, n.: garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly. —Ambrose Bierce
Mom turned some fabric scraps into doll clothes, devising the patterns herself. My Barbie got some new outfits with tiny snaps or teeny hooks and eyelets; my favorite was a burnt orange floor-length cape with little slits for her hands. A red cotton print with small white flowers provided my brother's G.I. Joe with an open-chested Hawaiian shirt and matching board shorts.
* * *
What did your mother do with scraps (any kind of scraps)?
Did she make accessories for your playthings?
How did she fashion a sense of humor?
Who is getting more pleasure from this rocking, the baby or me? —Nancy Thayer
For a PTA auction, Mom sewed and stuffed a two-foot-long hippo with plush fur, a rickrack tutu skirt, a rosebud mouth, and coy eyelashes. Dad valued the work she put into it so much that he couldn't bear to see someone else take it home, so he won it back—and for a good price, too, because for a while he and Mom were accidentally bidding against each other.
* * *
Was your mother involved in the PTA or other forms of school boosterism?
What finished products did she take pride in?
Did your parents ever accidentally work against each other toward the same goal?
Let her share in the results of her work; let her deeds praise her in the city gates. —Proverbs 31:31
For boo-boos, there was Mercurochrome, a Band-Aid, and a kiss. For an upset tummy, there was ginger ale with Ritz crackers, and a sickbed made up on the couch. For fever, there was the test kiss on the forehead, and baby Bayer, and a cool rag. For sunburn or heat rash, there was calamine lotion and a clean bedsheet on Dad's recliner. For the persistent cough in the middle of the night, there was a bite of buttered bread, crusts off. For rainy-day blues, there was tomato soup with pepper and a pat of butter on top. For hurts too deep to name, there was simply quiet abiding, with a hug, as long as need be.
Excerpted from Everything that Makes You Mom by Laura Lynn Brown. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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