Monday, December 01, 2008

Thanksgiving with, and for, Mom

My whole family gathered at Mom's for Thanksgiving. My sisters flew down from Alaska. My niece, who had a baby three weeks ago, brought the first great-grandbaby over so Mom could hold him and they could pose for the obligatory four-generation picture. Clever Wife and I drove over from Seattle. Number Two Sister made a dinner that couldn't be beat. Some of Mom's friends dropped by to have a bite and toast the hostess. We watched a movie with the kids. We took turns holding Mom's hands while she died. Today should have been her eighty-fifth birthday.

In 1911 my grandfather graduated from college with a degree in electrical engineering. He was the first college graduate in his family. He loaded his things into the sidecar of an Indian motorcycle and headed west to seek his fortune. After a few years spent installing and repairing equipment in the mining camps of Montana, he met a schoolteacher and they were married. The Great War interrupted their plans to settle down. He enlisted and spent a year training recruits at Ft. Lewis in Tacoma, WA. After mustering out he and his bride returned to Montana and the mining camps. Soon after, they had two kids, a boy and then a girl.

My mom had a pretty good childhood. With two college-educated parents--a rarity in those days--she grew up exposed to fine culture and acquired a life-long love of theater and words. Most of the pictures I have of her as a child are of her on the back porch of their home, showing off a new costume that her mother had sewed for her. The houses changed, but the pose remained the same.

Campfire Girl, 1933

By the end of the twenties, her father was able to open a shop in Great Falls. Although the Depression had hit by then, he was the only person between Spokane and Minneapolis who could rewind an electric motor, so he was guaranteed a trickle of work. When things got tight, he knew they just had to wait and sooner or later something would break at the telephone or telegraph offices, along the railroad, at the mines, or, later, at one of the big government works projects like the Ft. Peck Dam. Life was secure with her calm, confident father. Mom went to college just before The War broke out. She studied theater and English for a couple years and then got a job as a Rosie the Riveter, fixing aircraft that were being sold to our Russian allies.

After the war ended, she finished her degree and moved back in with her parents to take care of them. In 1946, her father took a year-long job installing equipment on the Ft. Peck Dam. She moved there with her folks. At a community dance, soon after arriving, she was introduced to a veteran, the son of a cowboy, who was drifting through minor government jobs while deciding what to do in civilian life. They hit it off and were married the next year. That, of course, brings the story back to my sisters and me.

As our mom, Mom was a great mom. She practiced momming in an old fashioned way. She cooked everything from scratch. She was a great baker. All of us kids are cooks and love to experience new foods. She sewed many of our clothes. One of my sisters is a prize-winning seamstress. She was involved in our educations and encouraged us to do kid things back in the days before preschoolers worried about filling up a resume. We learned lots of arts and crafts. We are all voracious readers. She was the den mom for my Cub Scouts. She loved to go dancing. I never picked up that skill, but I can draw.

She was involved and active right up to her last weeks. Even in her seventies, I had trouble keeping up with her and needed a few days to depressurize after visiting her. Just two weeks ago, when I took her to the doctor, she had to fuss over her appointment book to arrange her medical appointments among her club meetings and holiday plans.

Damn, I miss her.

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