Friday, May 10, 2013

What My Mother Gave Me: Recipe For A Life

This week before Mother’s Day I watched a Mama Bunny diligently yet perhaps unwisely dig a burrow next to my front walkway.  With the unending rain we’ve had this spring the grass has stayed too wet to cut, so I assume she thought the tall grass was a perfect spot for her young brood. She worked furiously all morning, then by lunchtime the hole was practically invisible because she had camouflaged the new nest with grass and leaves.  Although my yard suffers this year from an epidemic of rabbits, to honor the work of this mother I put a small gardening bench over the burrow to protect her family from any lawnmowers.

Somewhere under that flimsy covering is her little litter, waiting to emerge to all the dangers of the cats in neighborhoods, the hawks and other predator birds that visit from the nearby park, and the constant stream of cars in the street.  While Mama Bunny might be powerless to protect her children from these threats, she’s done her best to give her children a safe and warm start in life right next to my garden, which appears to overflow with fabulous bunny snacks.

I think for this Mother’s Day I’m going to turn the tables and list the things that my mom gave to me that made me feel as good as a baby bunny hidden in a burrow.

But before I begin, let me first get this off my chest.  I resent my mother for not giving me her statuesque figure or skinny thighs.

Now on to what she did give me:
a propensity to see the best in people until proven otherwise

a willingness to trust

a belief that what I wanted to do with my life was valuable (whatever that would be)

a love of laughter

a belief in family as a strong foundation

a love of bearded irises and tulips to mark Spring

her recipe for Christmas fudge

a tendency to put others first (even when I should be taking care of my own urgent business – so this isn’t always a great quality, not for me and not for her)

love, love, and more love

her recipe box and her wooden cutting board (or what I took after she was gone and Dad was selling the house)

a vague idea of how to make great fried chicken and gravy (vague because I never wrote it down before she passed away – but I think I came pretty close this week)

my space

a magenta cropped sweater with midnight blue and emerald knitted flower appliques that screamed “I am here!” at a time in my life when I was unsure whether I really felt comfortable being noticed


knowledge of how to throw together a party for 5-50 people without sweating it, even when her 25-year old stove gave up the ghost the day before our Christmas Eve family dinner for grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and anyone else who showed up.

a deeply felt obligation to stay late after church events to help with the clean-up

the admonition before I headed off to college that people are more important than books (I think it was her loving way to tell me not to stop acting like a know-it-all)

an 8-foot long cream colored winter scarf she crocheted for me during one of her last trips to the hospital.  We joked that it was so long because she was delirious from drugs and didn’t know when to stop.  I still wear it.

my faith

the freedom to sing movie soundtracks at the top of my lungs, even if my sisters tried to make me believe I was horrible

a love of Paul Newman and Carol Burnett

a love of the written word when she read Erma Bombeck columns aloud at the breakfast table

a constant lesson on how a good person behaved

the money for viola lessons

the amber-hued viola, which I imagine came after an intense discussion with my dad who was never willing to even buy a new car or a steak dinner over $9

her blessing to go to college far away

a sense of the mother I wish I could be, although many days feels like I’ve failed

her presence at my college graduation even though it took its toll and she had to be rushed from the ceremony hundreds of miles back home to be re-admitted to the hospital for the lung disease that eventually killed her

my independence

her memory to guide me since she isn’t here

The mother rabbit spends only moments of time on the nest throughout the day.  It’s not out of neglect or disinterest.  By staying away she diverts attention from her babies long enough for them at least to become self-sufficient.  Leaving them alone is how she gives them life.  It’s just one gift that mothers give us to make us who we become.

While watching Mama Bunny the last few days, this blog post morphed from “What My Mother Said To Me” (“I’ll give you something to cry about”) to “What My Mother Gave Me.”  When I did a search of the tentative title to see what else was out there for further perspective, I discovered that last month a book by the same title had been published.  Edited by Elizabeth Benedict, it offers a collection of essays on the multitude of ways that mothers bond with daughters through personal talismen or particular acts.  I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I want to.

I would love to hear two or three things that your mother has given you that have meant the most.  Tell your stories in the comments box.  Meanwhile, I’ll share an essential item from my mother’s recipe collection – cream cheese frosting.  Come to think of it, I’m the happy owner of the glass mixing bowl used for creating this delicacy for the spice cakes Mom baked.  Add one more thing to my list.


Anonymous said...

How sweet and thoughtful. That spice cake with cream cheese frosting would become a holiday favorite for me....always reminding me of Mom. The bunnies are cute, too. Thanks for this touching post.

Nadine Feldman said...

Thanks for a great post (as always). I love the mama bunny story!

I left home when I was 18, and I think I was prepared to do so because of what my mother gave me. I knew how to cook, clean, pay bills, and manage a bank account.

I grew up in a home that was openminded about religion and spirituality, so I felt comfortable to embark on a search that would lead me from one end of the spectrum to another, finally settling on Judaism, without fear of being criticized or ostracized.

As my mother ages, I realize that she also gave me my tenacity and persistence, two of the qualities I value most in myself.

When I became a stepmom at age 46, I gained even more appreciation for all that my mom did for me. My stepkids don't communicate with their mother, and I'm sad that they didn't get the many gifts that I did. All I can do now is my best to pass those gifts along to them.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Julie. I can't even begin to say how much I owe my mother; nothing I can ever repay, except paying it forward. An old joke came to mind. A young man said to his mother: "I want to repay you for all you've done for me. How much did you spend on all my clothing and food and tuition?" And she looked at him sadly and said: "When you were a baby, I kissed you little butt a thousand times. Can you repay that?"
My recent novel is about mothers and daughters. In a way, it's a tribute to my mother and a thank you. Ironically, she can't read it. She doesn't read English.

Julie Farrar said...

Oh, Olga. What a great story!

Nadine, she seems to have given you the freedom to search for many things in your life. Even at mid-life you haven't stopped questing.

Thanks for reading, Janice.

Unknown said...

I just wrote a post on Gifts from My Mother. Mom and I took a trip which resulted in hearing many of her untold stories. The gift of perseverance, faith, and family love are the most important values Mom passed down through her actions.

Annette Gendler said...

A friend once told me as I was about to go off on a trip, "You sure know how to live!" I got that from my mom. Many other things, too. Should make a list...

Vagabonde said...

What a lovely post about your mother. My mother loved to laugh and read and I do too. She loved me enough to let me go when I decided to leave France and come to the US. She loved music of any kind and taught me how to dance including the waltz and the tango. She appreciated gourmet food and good wines and taught me how to appreciate them too. She was very courageous (saved people during the war) but never spoke about it. I already wrote two posts about my mother but stopped at the time she met my father – now I should keep on writing. She was an outstanding mother and I miss her.

authorjim said...

Julie, this is heartwarming and moving. I think one of the hardest things for a mother to do is let a child go and the most heartbreaking thing is to lose a child. I have witnessed what you wrote about the rabbit many times but I also witnessed an event that has probably not been seem by even a handful of people around the world. I watched a weasel repeatedly try to raid a mother rabbit's nest until the rabbit appeared to give up and the weasel took every one of her babies. I think this was a fantastic post and a fitting tribute to your mother. Every mother deserves a child like you.

Muriel said...

You are very fortunate to have such good memories of your mother. My mother taught me how to be resilient!

hand painted oil painting said...

impressive hand writting!

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