Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day Weekend

It was a day much like these past few -- one of the first warm days of the year. The bus hissed to its daily stop at 8800 Springmill Road and as usual, and thankful to be home, I ran up the gravel drive and into the wide open breezeway -- the room twixt house and garage living up to its name on that day as the warm gentle wind drifted from open door to open door. Mom had all the doors and windows open and through the kitchen door I could hear the Ironrite as the knee pedals clicked and the rotating roller hummed. Everything smelled like home -- the warm Spring wind, the laundry, the additional smell of the dinner mom had started.

The life mom created for me was incredibly comfortable and comforting. A refuge that I can still return to in memories. And she built me that world transparently. Oh, I was always aware of Mom. She was the go-to for comfort, for advice, for permission to go play. But all the effort that went into making those things available for me growing up was done almost without notice. She didn't complain at all the work that -- in retrospect -- was considerable. Dinner every night at 6 P.M. sharp, an orderly house, clean laundry -- they were all accomplished by my single mom with such efficiency that they were too easily taken for granted.

But the exemplary life of loving labor and creativity is one of the greatest gifts mom passed on. The furniture -- the STUFF that surrounded our day to day was the labor of her creative hands....most of my strongest, most vivid memories of mom were of her working with her hands and her creative heart.

I can remember her out on the brick patio, sweat dripping from her face, lost in the effort of sanding away at the pine top of the dining room table -- just one of the many pieces of furniture that she created, refinished, reupholstered, painted -- furniture that went beyond simple function to teach her family that beauty held an important place in a joyful world.

And I can remember when she'd go on a creative when she came back home from Massachusetts after a summer visit to our family back east. She decided that, like a mature Massachusetts pine forest, the "pie shape" -- an odd triangular section of our large yard that was planted in pines -- would look more naturally elegant if one could see beneath its overgrowth to the needle bed below. So, rusty carpenter's handsaw in hand, mom attacked that hundred-or-more linear feet of pines -- cutting off every branch below three or four feet, stepping back to inspect, and then plowing back in and cutting some more. When she was done, had raked and carried the last of the brush she'd created to the burn pile, her arms and legs red and scratched from a thousand pine needle pokes, she stood at the distance of the back patio with a tall glass of tea (with a sprig of that mint that always grew against the stone wall by the kitchen window)....and she smiled. She smiled like any artist would, standing back from a canvas just perfectly painted. Beauty came at the cost of hard work.

But it was worth the effort. The smile taught me so.

Even her moments of leisure were filled with the industry of creativity. She rarely sat and watched television (Mannix! *smile*) without knitting needles in her hands and her latest project spread out over lap and floor. When her fingers gave out, she even found a way to continue to fulfill the need to create by employing her ancient sewing machine to patch together small quilts.

19th century philosopher, William James, coined a phrase – “The effortless custody of automatism”. It was meant to describe where the intelligent mind goes when the hands are engaged in repetitious industry. I guess you could say that James was describing the converse to the maxim: “the idle brain is the devil’s playground”. When the hands are engaged in worthwhile work, the mind is free to imagine, to create, to problem solve. You could even say that it approximates what most might think of as “meditation”. I think that mom’s values – hard work and deep, meaningful thoughts and words – were mutually supporting.

I think it was the combination of those industrious hands and that intelligent, inquisitive, thoughtful mind that at least partially defined how I remember mom. But I equally remember her vulnerable spirit – her desire to love and be loved and share life with kind, thoughtful, gentle people like herself.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thanks.


  1. What a lovely sentiment to your mom.

  2. Thanks for sharing this John! You have a wonderful mother and you are a fine credit to her. Well done john!

  3. John, What a beautiful post. This is the kind of life I have tried to give my own daughter growing up. One day I would like to think that she could write something very similar about her childhood. My childhood was a big "F" up, but at least I learned what a child should get from a mom and my child got every bit of it. I loved reading this and the tunes!

  4. I some how knew you were a lucky, lucky man.
    Thank you it was like I was living the skip through your life with you.

  5. Thanks for reading. Yes, I was very lucky to have a mom like Betsey. We also grew to be good friends. That was probably the icing on an already wonderful cake.

  6. I just read this, John. What a beautiful, and beautifully written, tribute to a beautiful life! Count me deeply moved!