Lessons and Memory

It’s is the week before Mother’s Day.  Facebook posts about how much people are missing their mothers who have passed on started days and even weeks ago…seems kind of like the Christmas ads that start earlier and earlier each year.  I get it.  I miss my mom.  Throughout the year I think of her.  I wish I could pick up the phone and call her.  But the arrival of the heart-rending (sometimes sappy) posts, the television ads, and the cards and displays in stores bring the feelings more front and center in my mind. 

I’m not the type to get weepy every time I think about mom.  Never did.  Not even while compiling a slide show of photos for her memorial service.  I don’t remember only that she’s gone.  I don’t remember her only in her later years when she was so changed.  I remember when she was here and was fully alive and engaged.  I don’t remember her as perfect.  That would be disingenuous.  She wasn’t perfect, and to try to create a memory of perfection would be dishonoring her as if she wasn’t enough just as she was.   She could be tough and demanding.  She could compete with anyone in the mommy guilt trip wars.  But she was so much more than any of that.  I’ve been thinking about “mom

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Mary Delbarre Lami and Lois Lami Vanderveen – my mom and her mom

   lessons” that I was taught over the years.  Not the brush-your-teeth-wear-clean-underwear-please-and-thank-you lessons.  Nope, not the ones that are from every mom.  I’m thinking about the ones that really remind me of MY mom.

During my first year in college, the girls in my dorm often compared stories about our families.  One of the favorites to get a good giggle from was the advice our mothers gave us before leaving home.  As each girl imitated her mother crying or being so very serious, we heard about all of the warnings about boys and drugs and alcohol.  We heard about how college students need to keep their priorities straight and put their noses to the grindstone.  And then they asked what my mom said.  Her parting words of wisdom and sage advice to me were, “Don’t do anything wrong, your father will kill me.”  Of course that was pure hyperbole, but anyone who knew him could hear him shouting, “Lois, do you know what your daughter did?”

One of the lessons she tried hard to impress on me was never be the leader, president, or chairman of any organization you joined for community and/or social reasons.  She said that as soon as you did that, it was no longer going to be something you enjoy.  You’ll end up frustrated and angry.  You’ll end up really busy with thankless jobs.  And you’ll end up with everyone mad because of what you did or what you didn’t do.  I didn’t always listen to this advice, but I’ve found that she was right.  Perhaps she was right and it came with the territory; conceivably it’s because I don’t have the organizational skills for the task.  Either way, maybe I should have listened to her.

Mom taught me that you are only as old as you act.  I have wonderful pictures of my mother truly enjoying life.  I have one of her racing her grandchildren up the beach in Ocean City.  In another she’s maneuvering bumper boats with abandon trying to hit the competition – her family.  There are pictures from travels, from outrageous and over-the-top Christmas celebrations, cut-throat adult Easter egg hunts, and more.  She never took pictures.  She was living the experience and left the photography to the rest of the world.  She never understood why people would spend their entire vacations looking through the lens of a movie camera when they could experience the real thing live right now.

My mom taught me that you don’t give up on people.  She didn’t give up on people who disappointed her – not her brother and not my brother even when they went through seasons where many thought she should.   Mom made life-long friends.  She kept her friends and made allowances for their idiosyncrasies.   At the end of her life she was still in touch with friends from back in her hometown seventy-five years before or more, friends she made when we moved from there to Baltimore in 1965, and ones from each place she lived – York, Harrisburg, Annapolis, and Naples.   She kept in touch.  She overlooked faults, slights, and even some really bizarre behavior.  A friend borrowed a dress from Mom, had it altered to fit, and then returned it without acknowledging that it would no longer fit Mom.  I found out that story years later, and she still thought of that woman as one of her best friends. 

Not all of the “lessons” I learned from her were ones I have held on to.  I’m sure that there are some I have forgotten.  There are also those I dropped (or work on dropping) because I don’t agree.  My mom cared very much about appearances and other people’s opinions of her and of us.  The first time I heard Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” I called my sister because I knew that mama.  I’m trying hard to shed that lesson.  I’m afraid that I have worried about it for so much of my life that I tried to pass it along by example.  Luckily my son didn’t buy into it and is healthier, freer, and more self-confident because of it.

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My grandbaby and my mom – Lily Smith & Lois Vanderveen

My mom and I were friends.  Dad worked long hours and my siblings were much younger than me so we were company for each other in the evenings.  We sang old hymns while washing the dishes when I was a child.  On cold Baltimore winter nights, Mom and I baked potatoes in the fireplace eagerly anticipating that campfire flavor while we watched our favorite television shows.  We shopped together.  Often.  We made coffee and sat together chatting after dinner.  There were times when she got the giggles and couldn’t stop laughing, especially in her later years.  Those are the things I miss most about her.  When she died after being ill for so many years, it was that mom I mourned.

We all have memories that make our moms unique and give them a place in our hearts no one else occupies – good, bad, or indifferent.  What are your memories of your mom? 

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