Remembering my mom this Mother’s Day. There was not much formal “sit-down-and listen while I teach you” in my upbringing. Most of it was by example. How to sew on a button. How to prepare potatoes for planting (cut them up and make sure there is an eye in each piece). How to separate clothes for washing into whites and darks. How to stretch a meal when unexpected company arrives.
The music lessons were somewhat more formal since she was a piano teacher, but even those were taught more informally. My lessons were squeezed in between her other students, and as often as not she would be counting “One, two, three, four” from the kitchen, starting supper while I plinked away in the red Thompson’s book.
My mom lived over one hundred years and for the last forty or more she kept a journal.* She recorded their travels and travails and almost always what she had for supper. And among the mundane details of day-to-day living she left many lessons on growing old.
Sometimes, at the turn of the new year or on her birthday she would write a “state of the person” assessment of her life and health. “My health seems to be good for eighty-six years old,” she wrote, “probably even very good. I try to plan my days around periods of eye use — reading or sewing — separated by periods of housework, shopping etc. That seems to work quite well. I have been doing most of my own work. This week I washed the windows inside and out, climbing on the ladder without any shakiness or fear of falling. Also used my new broom to sweep the patio. I need to scrunch the little green plants daring to risk their tiny heads through the gravel. I rather hate to cut them down after such a brave effort.”
On their wedding anniversary she recorded this: “A big day in my life history. Sixty-four years since that day we said, ‘I do’ and six that Claude’s been gone. It can’t be so! And so I take inventory. I look at my speckled, veiny hands and wonder at the work they have done, much of it for others and so indirectly coming back to me like bread cast upon the waters. It all adds up to contentment and fulfillment.”
At eighty-seven she was still playing the piano for the church choir, but after an embarrassing glitch she wrote: ”I’m reminded once more that I’m probably too old to be counted on for anything but goofing off. There must be a cut-off someplace short of death. I came home and spent the rest of the day with the Sunday paper, mostly the puzzles.”
She had come into her “spiritual enlightenment” in her mid forties and began an earnest exploration and devotion to the Christian mystics. In a sermonette she delivered to the ALCW Women’s Retreat she encapsulated her philosophy of life: “… that every least loving act or thought diminishes by that amount the sin and sorrow of the world.”
Now those are words to live by.
* The journals became my book, Dark Bread & Dancing
Coming of Age by Rosemary Rawson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.