One More Gift

10 05 2013

Jack Sprat could eat no fat
His wife could eat no lean
And so betwixt the two of them
They licked the platter clean.

(From an old nursery rhyme)

0023_###Mom and I could not have been more different from one another:

  • I dripped with sentimentality; mom was, to the core, practical.
  • I zig-zagged through my day; she made lists and checked things off as she went.
  • I ran from repetitive, drawn-out tasks; there was never a job she avoided.
  • I got caught up in dreams and ideas; she was concerned about the “how to” and the details.
  • I loved to linger; mom would be checking her watch after a half hour.

Yet somehow “we” worked; we worked very well.

Though she was this, and I was that, our differences meant we didn’t compete; we understood that we both could use a little of the other. I think this was the case from the get go; we just got along as we went along.

I remember the gardens she planted when I was young and how she let me pull the baby carrots and eat them fresh out of the ground; I can still see her with her gloves and clippers and floppy hats as she listened to my childish chatter. Of all the things I treasure (and miss) the most it is how she always let me talk…and talk and talk. What good therapy that always was for me.

Outside of the garden, mom knew how to grow other things: creativity. If I had an idea, she would be right on it, nudging it along, finding scraps for me to use to build it, sew it, paste it, cook it, draw it, write it, do it!  Mom knew how to give me the tools and could step back to watch me make something of it.  How many times was I stuck for an idea or a direction or an opening paragraph and my mom would brainstorm with me until I would say, “I’ve got it!”  Really, to the end, mom was a great partner in the creative process.

There were a lot of things mom didn’t think she could do, but that never stopped her from telling me I could do them. She always challenged me to use gifts I never knew I had and would even bribe me with simple things so I wouldn’t let fear stop me. A candy bar would have me giving a speech; a dollar and suddenly I could sing a solo. A special little something and I would be going, auditioning, entering, competing; believing. Mom taught me to dig in and to do things, experience life; accomplish.

Mem - mom us bw copyMom taught me to have a good work ethic. “If you don’t work, you don’t eat,” she would say and she meant it!  She led by example, that’s for sure. She rose early, ate the same breakfast she always did (a bran muffin and coffee) and then she would be working at some project. She was never afraid of any job, big or small, masculine or feminine. Even if it were one of those dull, drawn out, dusty jobs she would just begin and wouldn’t quit ‘til it was done. Mom was not a procrastinator in any way, and if she couldn’t have things exactly as she wanted, she would improvise; there was no sidelining her.

I always liked projects I could start and finish in a day or less; but now I think of my mom when I have to, say, shovel a pile of gravel over the course of a week. I think of how she would get up early, put on her work clothes and bring a bottle of water. She would fill that wheelbarrow just full enough that she could carry it herself over and over again. I know how she would chip away at it until it was done. I think of the joy she got from plain old work and it challenges me to learn the lesson too…I am learning the lesson too.

When it came to finding jobs as a teenager, she would make me go through the yellow pages and hand out resumes for positions I had no chance of getting (“You never know,” she would always say). She would take me around all afternoon, pushing me to go and meet employers and managers, to be friendly and polite and ask for a job with little or no experience; but experiences came eventually and this was mostly because my mom taught me how to hunt for them.

Instead of summer employment one year, she had me cooking all our family’s meals for the entire time; this turned out to be invaluable in the long run. There was always something to do or something she would find for me to do; there was no such word as “bored” in our home, and no option to be a non-contributor. She had grown up giving 90% of her income to her parents, and there was no way I was going to be loitering around and not carrying my weight. I am so thankful mom taught me to move my own furniture, put up my own shelf, pound a nail, saw a board, have a vision, and wait until “the husband is away” to tackle certain projects (“Timing is everything,” she’d say and she was right).

That isn’t to say that she didn’t spoil me. Mom was a giver; such a giver! She delighted in delighting us as kids and then carrying that spirit of generosity into the lives of her grandchildren, and on and beyond our own home to those in our community. Many a time I saw her slip a few bills into an envelope and write someone’s name on the front; “They need some encouragement,” she would say.

I had the BEST shopping trips with mom. We would go to a mall, “survey the land”, sit down for lunch to discuss potential purchases, and then go make them. Sometimes we would track dad down and she’d say, “this is going to take us slightly off budget,” and dad would usually cave. Twice a year, Fall and Spring, shopping trips with mom were always a good time.

Don’t get me wrong though: mom was a saver more than she was a spender. She was frugal and a good steward of what she had. She taught me to enjoy simple things, to be thankful for small gifts, to recognize the hand of God in provision, and to work with what we had. Whenever I would receive something, I knew I would hear, “Don’t forget to send a thank-you card.”

Mem - mom teresa bwI learned about having a rich life from my mom in so many ways. A green chair that traveled with us over the years was her chair; her chair to read her Bible and pray. I watched mom go there, day after day and it impacted me. Mom never had to tell me what I ought to believe because I wanted to believe what she did; I loved what I saw in her…the peace, the faith, the confidence, the relationship.

My mom taught me to pray, and I don’t mean the words and the posture; she taught me by example that prayer was the natural first step in any situation, the best way to problem solve, the most reliable source of help. My earliest memory of this was in response to some childish dilemma; I was very young. Her first response? “Did you pray about it?”

Five unforgettable words. Sometimes you just need five.

Mom wasn’t a wordy person. She was a “to the point” kind of person whereas I am all about the proper beginning, middle and end and all the little details in between. When we would talk on the phone she would often forget to say good-bye; I would say good-bye and then hear a click from her end. Sometimes I would phone back and say, “Hey, you didn’t say goodbye,” and she would laugh.

With this came mom’s honesty. Wordy people can dance around a subject, but mom would usually go straight to the heart of the matter. This provided for some interesting conversations over the years between her and I. Sometimes her words would sting as she didn’t take the time to make them more palatable for me, but the great thing about mom was that I could tell her that.  I could talk to her about where she was wrong, and I could tell her I was wrong.

This brings back a memory that makes me laugh. When I was a teenager I wanted to lighten my hair and I assumed she would not let me. A friend and I used a product called “Sun In” that did a terrible job of it; it basically would turn my hair an odd orangy-blonde. So I used Sun In little by little, thinking no one would even notice because it would be such a “natural” change.

But mom noticed: “Did you dye your hair?”

Me: “No”

So dumb. I could have told her, but I didn’t. I didn’t for several rounds but then I came clean. I have pictures of me during the Sun In phase; it is pretty obvious with locks of orangy blonde growing an inch down from dark roots.

I was just being an idiot and mom was being wise. She never accused me; she just waited for me to come clean. I am pretty sure she laughed behind closed doors.

The fact is, her door was always open to me and we could have a conversation about anything, even the hard things. There wasn’t anything I could not work out with her and it was usually done in a timely way, without the sun setting on our problem. Mom never claimed to get everything right; she was far more humble than I. She could say that she regretted things, that she was sorry. She was teachable right until the end of her life, open to dialogue; ready to admit she still had lessons to learn. Isn’t that beautiful? It made it so easy to enjoy her company.

Mem - molly mom meWe loved to walk together; to go on walks around the neighborhood. I remember these times so well. We always joked about how neither of us could walk in a straight line and that is how life was with us, enjoying the scenery, bumping into each other as we went.

We lived together for the last 15 years of her life and we slipped into a partnership like it was meant to be: I cooked the meals; she cleaned up after me. I ran the errands; she would fold my laundry. I took her places; she bought lunch. I invited people over; she helped prepare the feast. I read the emails, sorted the paperwork, explained the instructions; she sewed my buttons, did the weeding, swept the floor. We could read each other’s minds and finished each other’s sentences and all along, as we figured out who would do what, we ended up filling in each other’s gaps.

It’s not like things were always perfect, but what was significant enough to note? She always told me she preferred my hair curly right after I straightened it. She was blunt when a little runway might have helped. She could kill an idea right out of the gate, going straight to the obvious flaw. She couldn’t fill her car with gas and would almost never make a left hand turn. Sometimes in our busy household she would forget she was the grandma and not the parent and we would have to figure out again how to live with three adults and four kids under one roof.

These things don’t even matter. I, and this is the truth, was always higher maintenance than she.

DSC_0843My house and my head are filled with shadows of my mother. She died this past March 11, 2013; a young 75. I wondered what I would be left with. There have been tears, the kind that just come out of nowhere; but mostly I just feel responsible now. I feel the weight of something new on me, the thing one generation passes on to the next. I feel it as tangibly as a baton in my hand.

I have been sifting through her things; her few things because mom was the most organized person I have ever met. Before she passed away she had gone through everything more than once, gifted some things, disposed of others and so there are just bits and pieces to deal with. I found a binder, a whole binder, of notes I had written to her.

Here is a poem I wrote to her when I was small (I have no idea why I thought it was worth mentioning the linoleum)

My Mom

There is a person I adore,

The person who chose linoleum

Instead of wood for the floor,

And one who painted the

Bathroom door.

If you think it’s my dad or brother

You’re wrong!

It’s my wonderful mother.

She’s sweet and never rude.

She’s neat

And makes delicious food.

I want her forever,

And I don’t want her to go away…


Klassen_family_photos-meThe truth is, I wish she hadn’t gone away. There have been so many delicious moments since she left that only she would “get.” I feel a little lost without someone to brag to without feeling vain and someone to cry with who won’t panic (“Go have a bath and get to bed,” she’d say). Who else will let me talk to oblivion, who will catch me up on the “family news,” who will give me a list first thing in the morning, who will enjoy just going to get eggs, and who – God who? — will pray for me like she did?

A mother like her is a wonderful thing indeed and I am glad I can miss her; I am grateful I can say all these things and know it hardly scratches the surface of our relationship. To be able to grieve because a friendship has been THAT good…is a gift.

One more gift from her to me.

Happy Mother’s Day.

— Teresa Klassen





3 responses

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