“Get over it and go on!”
What a complex person she was. How wonderful she was. How difficult she could be. How wonderfully she overcame difficulties. A lesson I learned early in life from Mother was “get over it and go on.” Mother gave me by her everyday example the philosophy that when things are bad, put on a brave face and keep going. And when things are good, enjoy!
Mother was the “good” mother, always involved in her children’s activities. She was my Girl Scout leader, she taught Bible School, she was always a Grade Mother, she was a Red Cross volunteer at our schools and at the local blood drives. Every single birthday had a cake, ice cream and a party. Remember how she loved to decorate at Christmas and at Easter but never the same way twice. She always included us kids in her projects which, I suppose, were primarily for us. But while Mother was raising us kids she maintained her adult identity.
She was a sociable person. Mother inspired loyalty in her friends and was a loyal friend. She was deeply good to the luckless she ran across in her life. She had her clubs, The Twentieth Century Club, the DAR. She was an excellent bridge teacher at Wayne Country Club. She did her church work -- Woman’s Society, Sunday School. A comic memory I have of her of her in church was the time her earrings (miniature bunches of bananas) melted and dripped down her neck. I don’t think she went to the 11:00 service in the summer very often after that until it was air conditioned! And she pursued with relish her intellectual hobby, bridge.
What a marvelous relationship she had with her own mother. Imagine being bridge partner or opponent on an ongoing basis with a person you are so close to and never having a falling out! I never heard them exchange a cross word with each other over bridge. And, of course, after a session of duplicate they endlessly discussed their hands, their opponents’ hands, their misplays, and their triumphs. Nana and Mother had a mutual respect that was apparent at the bridge table and permeated their relationship.
She was a good daughter and daughter-in-law. Were any two people ever better looked after in their last years than Nana and Big Daddy? Nana going everywhere she wanted on a walker and eventually in a wheelchair. Mother was behind that. Our famous beach trips started with Mother arranging for Nana to have a week with her children and grandchildren. Big Daddy was often Mother’s bridge partner, too. Never mind that she found him particularly lucky, consistently producing good hands, and laughingly complained that he always managed to make himself dummy and her play the hand. That path that we young children wore between Big Daddy’s house and ours stayed worn after we were grown up. Mother going back and forth, Big Daddy going back and forth those last years.
How contradictory Mother was on the topic of having children. Her ongoing advice was don’t have a lot of children and don’t be dependent on any man. (Advice I rather muddledly followed.) I’ll never forget her reaction when I announced my second (and planned, I might add) pregnancy -- “Have you lost your mind?!” But how she loved her grandchildren and always had them staying with her for weeks at a time. One time, when I was a girl, Mother was complaining about having so many children and I asked her who she would get rid of? (I had particular siblings of my own choice in mind!) She turned serious and told me her reply to a friend of hers who had only one child. That friend commented to Mother that if she lost her only one what a devastation it would be but it would be different for Mother because she had seven. Mother said that if one-seventh of her heart was cut out she’d be just as dead.
Part of that contradiction over having children was Mother’s everlasting conviction that we were genetically blessed and came from good family. I don’t suppose any seven people in the world ever had more reassurance of how intelligent they are by virtue of the fact of being born of two such parents and of their continuing accomplishments. Personally, I find this view of myself a mixed blessing, but it has stood me in good stead in many a situation when I was unsure of myself.
Mother was definitely of two minds when it came to cooking. On one hand she had the attitude that it had to be done but do it as quickly and effortlessly as possible. Then there was her “raised in the Depression” attitude of “waste not, want not.” Every time I pop something into the microwave and a few minutes later serve it for dinner I congratulate myself -- this, a gift from Mother. Wouldn’t she just love it? But I also think of Mother when I water down that last quarter ounce of shampoo, or cut open that almost empty sunscreen bottle. Remember that last little bit of ketchup diluted and made usable with a bit vinegar? I have some favorite memories from my childhood of Mother in the kitchen. I remember her teaching me how to make biscuits. Those peanut butter cookies that you flatten vertically and horizontally with a fork remind me of Mother. Didn’t you just love that ground ham with peanuts. With fascination I watched the ham come out of that hand grinder clamped to the kitchen counter. Jim has spread the fame of Mother’s baked beans. Her shepherd’s pie was to die for. Her lemon meringue pies were wonderful; I’ve never since seen meringue to equal hers. Of course you all know how I cherish Mother and Dad’s curried chicken recipe. She made full use of Big Daddy’s garden. I remember being right beside her picking, shelling, and cooking. She didn’t do a lot of canning or freezing when we were young probably because she didn’t have time and there wasn’t a lot left over anyway.
Here are a couple of examples of Mother’s two attitudes toward cooking. By this time she was freezing foods in her own distinctive fashion. Remember that prolific apple tree in the back yard? Its apples were tart and green, perfect for baking. After frozen pie crusts came out she never again made one from scratch. But she did go to the large amount of trouble of picking the apples, peeling, coring, and slicing them. She made numerous pies at one time. She’d cook one or two right then and freeze the rest. Months later when she’d pull a pie out of the freezer and bake it, it would be just as delicious as the first ones. Another of her timesaving freezing methods involved corn. She read that you could freeze corn on the cob in the husks. This method suited her perfectly. It was quick. No tiresome husking, blanching or cutting the corn off the cob. Just toss the corn in the freezer in its natural covering, the husks. When you’re ready, get out the number of ears you need, husk them then, and drop them in boiling water. I’ll never forget the expression on a certain lady’s face at Mother’s final tip when she was sharing this method with her. The lady asked, What about the worms? What do you do about them? Mother’s answer was simple, they’re frozen solid, you just pop them out with the tip of your knife.
Mother also froze tomatoes from the garden. Surely she washed them off before putting them in the bags. But I know they hadn’t been cooked because the skins were still on them. Why cook them twice, you’re going to cook them anyway when you get them out of the freezer. Another item Mother froze on at least one occasion was watermelon. How she came to freeze watermelon, I don’t know. She was in a “waste not” mood I suppose. What possible use frozen watermelon could be, I don’t know. But she did it, and she put the bags in the freezer right along with her frozen tomatoes. Baxter and I were home for a weekend not long after we were married. Mother fixed spaghetti using her convenient, frozen tomatoes. She tossed them in the pot, threw in some spices, simmered it all for awhile, and had it ready to serve. Baxter was the one who made the discovery of a little mistake Mother had made. “I think there’s a watermelon seed in my spaghetti,” he said. We all looked perplexed and thought, surely not. Mother’s blithe response was, “Oh, I must have gotten a bag of watermelon mixed in. They’re all the same color anyway!” We went on eating our unique spaghetti dinner, all looking in our plates for the added ingredient of watermelon seed. This and a number of other incidents made Baxter fond of Mother. To use his words, he found her “absent-minded gentility” endearing.
Mother died when I was 31. A large part of my grief was the loss of the relationship I had only recently gained with her, the relationship, still mother and daughter, but also two adult women. I was beginning to know her as a person, not only as this wonderful, exasperating, puzzling, contradictory mother. When I came to visit in Mt. Olive many times we had long rambling talks over cups of coffee in the early morning at the dining room table. I saw her interaction with my children and her mother and had insights about myself as a mother, as a daughter, and as a person. Also, she was just fun to be with. She had her wonderful sense of humor and was game for anything her children or grandchildren wanted to do. We owe our sibling closeness to her. She taught us by example, how to love, how to fight and make up, how to get along. All these holidays, birthdays, and beach trips we still do together as a family, how she would have enjoyed them. How I still miss her.
Mary Wooten Cox Smith