Love, hugs and home-cooked meals are among the typical reasons we give thanks for mothers. I know those are reasons I gave thanks for mine. My mother passed away nearly two years ago. And beyond the obvious and significant unconditional love, self-less sacrifices and life teachings she bestowed, it is some of the more unusual gifts that I am thankful for receiving from her that bring me to smile. Here are just a few:
1. An introduction to Kenny Rogers and Dottie West. Nearly every day after school I came home through the back door to find my mom humming in the kitchen to what are now considered country classics. She played Charlie Pride, Conway Twitty, George Jones and other legends, repeatedly. So much so, that unbeknownst to me a fondness for the old timers grew right along with my like for Rick Springfield, Prince and Duran Duran. I look back and consider this just one more way she made me a well-rounded person – even if she was unaware she was doing it at the time. Still today when I come across those old tunes, I surprise myself when I impulsively start singing the lyrics. Not to mention, thanks to my mom, I learned the importance of knowing when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em and why Kenny Rogers botched eye surgery was so sad.
2. Shopping at Tobin’s in Oconomowoc. A trip to Tobin’s with my mom meant a marathon shopping session. While a drug store, Tobin’s has every type of gift imaginable, from hand-made sweaters and Brighton eye glasses to a Packers helmet chip server and sterling silver candle sticks. There’s no other way to describe it other than “charming.” Well, maybe “eclectic.” How about “eclectically charming.” Anyway, shopping with my mom at Tobin’s taught me the importance of thoughtful gift-giving – and patience. She would spend hours hunting for just the right presents for her friends. And while so many of us are in a rush today to pay and get out the store’s door, she took the time to take advantage of their gracious and beautiful gift wrapping. In these days of grab-and-go gift cards, I owe it to her that I still get excited about finding the gift that tells my friends and family I consider them special.
3. Early morning vacuuming. I was not happy about my mother’s habit of vacuuming early on Saturday mornings. Never mind that “early” back then meant 10 a.m. It was annoying, especially during my summers home from college. After one of my spirited nights out, she would bang the front of the vacuum up against my closed door repeatedly until I would open it a crack proving I was awake. I’m sure she was ticked that I was sleeping in and not helping with housework. I know I was angry she was disturbing my slumber. But these years later, I realize she instilled common sense to get my butt out of bed early and make the most of my day.
4. Beef Tips & Noodles. My mom was the queen of comfort food in my eyes. Her recipe for beef tips over egg noodles remains my favorite even today. It was my birthday dinner and I’m proud to say it’s now my son’s choice as well. I have her recipe for beef tips along with a number of other high-carb, high-fat, nap-inspiring main dishes. And every time I manage to make one that remotely tastes like my mother’s and is served up hot with accompanying side dishes, I feel like I have conquered the foreign world I know as cooking.
5. An appreciation for kitchen talks. When my son was younger, I had the habit of giving him ideas to dream about before he drifted to sleep with the hope of fending off nightmares. I’d kiss him good night and then say something like, “Why don’t you think about how you would design your own amusement park? What rides would you put it in it?” I guess it was by habit then that while holding my mother’s hands during her final hours in hospice that I wanted to give her something to think about before she drifted off as well. The memory that vividly came to mind and that I described to her were those sunny summer days when I would sit at the kitchen table hulling strawberries as she made biscuits for her famous strawberry shortcake. Change out the food and that scene played out time and time again as I grew up: me, sitting at our kitchen table peeling, chopping and chatting about anything and everything while my mom stirred pots on the stove. I don’t know what it was or why that memory came to mind during my mother’s final hours. Obviously, those moments had a lasting impact on me and I will forever appreciate them. They are also the reasons why I have recently tried assigning small tasks to my son while preparing meals in the kitchen. It’s worth a try to keep us talking during these crazy tween years, right?
6. The saying “Bless his/her heart.” It wasn’t until recently when I saw a pin on Pinterest that I learned the saying “Bless her heart” can have some back-handed connotation in the South. My mother never used it with that intention. When she saw someone struggling and asked God to bless someone’s heart, she meant it. But she wasn’t all talk. Through her church group she did all sorts of good – sewing baby bibs for the children of women seeking shelter from abuse, making food at church for the funeral services of friends and family, and so much more. In today’s times I unfortunately find myself uttering the words “bless his heart” too often. At those moments I feel sad for what I see. But I also feel a sense of comfort in that I know the compassion I witnessed from my mother made a lasting impression and has inspired me to try to do good when I can as well.
7. My love for road trips. Maybe it was the fact that we didn’t have to wear seat belts or because I had no sense of time, but the road trips I had in my parent’s Country Squire station wagon were awesomely carefree. My mom (and dad, too) let me build forts in the “way back” with sleeping bags, pillows and boxes of food packed for camping. She threw caution to the wind letting us graze on our favorite snacks that she spent days preparing. Caramel corn. Chex mix. Chocolate chip cookies. She made our trips feel like true escapes which is why I believe that today, the car is one of my favorite places to be in the world.
8. Retail therapy. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. Buying an Esprit or Benetton sweater was a rare if not one-time treat from what I recall. But my mom could sense when I was feeling blue and would sometimes offer up a trip to the mall for a cure. It wasn’t like we bought everything under the sun. Often we hardly bought anything at all. It was more about hanging out together. I’m not saying that a beautiful pair of shoes can’t work miracles for my mood. But to me, truly effective retail therapy involves more than just the act of shopping. It’s the company that comes along with it.
9. Her brandy slush recipe. For my childhood friends, I don’t need to say much about this. Basically, once in a while, my mother took the position that a slushy was a slushy, whether it had brandy in it or not, and we kids got a taste. That’s all I have to say about that. If you want to sip a bit of heaven, give it a try yourself:
Bring 3-1/2 cups water and 1 cup sugar to a boil.
Add 6 oz frozen lemon juice and 6 oz frozen orange juice. Cool.
Add 1 cup brandy.
Freeze. Scoop and serve with 7-up or other lemon-lime soda.
What do you want to thank your mother for?