May 8, 2020
This Mother’s Day marks 56 days at home with my three children due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and 56 days since I’ve seen you in person. I often imagine driving the eighty miles from here to your door, getting out of the car, and hugging you and Dad. I imagine stepping inside the borders of your large garden and visiting with you while the kids play in the yard.
Getting things together and into the mail is something I struggle to do, especially now. Actual packages seem downright magical to me.
As I opened the box you sent us last week and took out several stalks of rhubarb cut from your garden, I inhaled the scent. I was quickly a barefoot child behind the farmhouse garage looking for a lost baseball under the rhubarb leaves. Sending rhubarb in the mail is about as cool as you can get, in my opinion. As I sit down to write you a letter, I am flooded with images like this one.
I admire your utter competence in both vegetable and flower gardening, and your resourcefulness in gathering and preserving affordable, healthy food. In addition to what you and Daddy raised in your own gardens, you have gleaned tomatoes from others’ farm fields, picked up pecks of discounted orchard seconds, and canned and frozen staggering numbers of quarts of fruits and vegetables. You often canned or cooked extra, so you could give some away. You involved us in harvesting and processing, filling canning jars with our little hands. And you didn’t post any of it on Instagram!
Even though your hands were usually busy, I don’t remember feeling like you were too busy for me. Do you remember showing little me how to pop peas from their pod and whoosh them down into the waiting dishpan through the empty sleeve of one of Daddy’s flannel shirts, just for the added fun it would give me while doing that job? You have so much patience with the faltering strides of little children. To this day you welcome the pulled-up stool at your kitchen counter and accept messes as part of life. I want to be like that for my children and grandchildren. (It’s really hard. How did you do it?)
You have a way of tackling large-scale projects without fanfare. I have shaken my head in awe over how you deftly turn yard goods into dresses for children and fabric scraps into clothing for their dolls.
Thank you for loving my children. They feel your care for them. Time spent with you is to them like relaxing in a patch of warm sun. One example among hundreds is that time when, noticing how toddler Naomi liked taking off lids and putting them back on, you used strong black thread to connect an empty McCormick spice container to its lid so she could practice this while stuck in her car seat on the ride home. I still have that little lid and container.
Speaking of containers, do you remember saving empty oats cylinders, cereal boxes, and spice tins so we could use them to play grocery store? Remember homemade play dough? Snow ice cream? When I do creative activities with my children, you compliment me as if my creativity did not come straight from you! Also, the reason I look for household objects to use for projects instead of buying special materials is because that’s what you did. You would look at a thing and think of what it could be repurposed for. Before Reduce, Reuse, Recycle was cool, you were doing it.
I am beginning to see how much a parent has to overlook and ultimately, forgive. I took many, many things for granted that you did for me over the years…things that cost you time, effort, and patience. How did you manage to be so gracious?
That March afternoon in 2014 when I came to see you after your breast cancer surgery, I was about to catch a train home. Before I went, you reminded Dad to give me the sandwich you had made me for the train ride home. On the morning before her surgery, my mother made me, a grown woman at the time, a sandwich! When Dad produced it from the insulated lunch bag as we got to the car, I couldn’t believe it. I was a little mad at you for not giving yourself just ONE DAY to let it be about you and your needs alone. But I was also deeply touched.
As I take stock, thinking of ways I wish to be more like you, a less-talked-about quality of yours comes to mind—your intolerance for cruelty and bullying. You are unimpressed by “showy” people who talk big, and when you see unfairness or notice when someone is being taken advantage of, it motivates you to do something to help make the situation better. This is a big part of you. As Fred Rogers’ said, “Look for the helpers.” When I do, I see you among them.
Knowing that you care for me and continue to do so tethers me to this life in ways I don’t comprehend. When I step outside and my shadow hits the sidewalk, I do so knowing I have a mother who is praying for me and sends me rhubarb in the mail. I could not wish for a better pair of facts to buoy me.
Happy Mother’s Day!