This piece was originally posted in LifeStory Magazine in May 2013 under the title "All About the Pretty.". I present it here on my blog on this day as a memorial to my mother who lost her long battle with cancer 39 years ago today
My mother was all about the pretty. But not in a bad way. It was all about trying to do your best, look your best and be your best self.
Mom kept a beautiful home. She had an eye for furnishing and decorating, and knew a bargain when she saw it - whatever she might have been doing at the time. In 1950 she’d been married less than a year and found herself being wheeled across the lobby of Children’s Hospital in San Francisco on her way up to the maternity ward to have a baby. When she was finally settled in, she asked the nurse what was all that mess in the lobby. “Oh, they’re remodeling,” the nurse replied. Mom wanted to know what they were going to do with the furniture. The nurse checked and found out it was for sale. “Tom,” my mother addressed my father, “go downstairs and get me two of those wing chairs.” My dad bought them for ten bucks each, and the happy young family left the hospital with two chairs and a bouncing baby boy.
Mom was a wonderful hostess and cook. Whatever she cooked was delicious and her plates were a work of art. She loved her blue and white dishes, and arranged the food “just so” on them. I still make my Thanksgiving mashed potatoes as she did, with a dash of Tabasco sauce instead of ground black pepper – nothing to spoil the fluffy whiteness! I have a set of the same dishes we grew up with, Denmark by Franciscan. When I fix one of her special recipes, Elinor’s Dish, named for her best friend, seeing it on these special plates brings me right back home.
She taught me to sew when I was 12, in sixth grade. We made a yellow “peasant dress,” all the rage in 1972. I can still see the light stream into the windows in her bedroom where the sewing machine was set up and hear the rustle of the Simplicity tissue pattern pieces. Thirty years later when I was teaching my own daughter, Emmeline, to sew, the experience was a gift from a grandmother she never knew.
Christmas was a very special time for Mom to make things sparkle. We had the big tree, of course, but she had a special little tree. It sat on a table and she decorated it with tiny white lights and gold angels. It would twinkle so! Mom loved that tree and recreated it year after year.
Other holidays, too, were given their proper due – Easter would be the holiday for matching dresses for my sisters and me. And every October Mom managed to design and execute a new Halloween costume for me. The most elaborate one was probably 1968 when I joined in the costume parade at St. Raphael’s school dressed as Sister Bertrille, the Flying Nun. I think my parents stayed up all night the night before creating the cornette hat, Dad stabbing himself with the coat hanger trying to prop out the wings and Mom bandaging his hand and trying to remove the bloody evidence from the starched white costume.
My younger daughter, Melinda, is the one who inherited Mom’s holiday panache. She asks when we’ll decorate, and then reminds, and eventually just goes up in the attic to retrieve the boxes of decorations, depositing them in the middle of the living room or on the dining room table so we have no choice but to decorate NOW! But I know her grandmother’s legacy of dressing up the house for the holidays shines through her as much as the brown eyes and high cheekbones she also inherited from my mother.
I lost Mom to cancer when I was only 17, long before I had a home or children of my own. But the legacy she left fills every day of my life and the things that are pretty in it have been made pretty because of her. Oh, and those wing chairs? My husband and I are sitting in them right now.
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.