Mother’s Day Memory

I do a lot of my blog thinking and planning while I’m outside getting my steps, and that was the case yesterday. Regular readers already know that many of my blogs have their origins in reminiscences of things long past. In that regard, I’m blessed with having a very good memory. But yesterday I found a surprising hole in those otherwise trusty “little grey cells,” as Hercule Poirot called them.

Some of you are probably thinking, “Here we go again. This is going to be about Evie!” Well, you’re certainly right on that score because Evie Busk is the only mother I ever had. She and my dad, Norman, are the people who made me who and what I am today, both literally and figuratively speaking. So when I was thinking about the Mother’s Day blog, naturally my thoughts turned to them. And that’s when I encountered my memory black hole—I have no idea of how long either one of them has been gone. I don’t remember the exact years or the dates in question. When the call came in about my father, I was at an American Cancer Society overnight Relay for Life with the Cancer Fighting Flamingos. Years later, when the call came about my mother, Bill and I were at the Riverplace Hotel in Portland, Oregon, winding up a book tour.

My folks were married for 68 years. They were able to remain in their own home in Bisbee for much longer than they would have otherwise because my younger brother, Jim ,was there to keep an eye on them. When he passed away at age fifty-one in the summer of 2001 (I remember that year!) the folks were forced to move into assisted living, and that’s where they were when my father died of a sudden stroke. My mother was devastated. According to her, Norman had no right to go off and leave her alone like that after so many years.

Of all her kids, Jim was the apple of Evie’s eye, and those two losses, one after the other, were more than she could bear. She insisted on leaving assisted living and moved in with my younger sister. While there her personality underwent a complete change. She lost the wonderful sense of humor that had sustained our family all the way along. She became manipulative, mean, and spiteful. When she stayed with Bill and me in Tucson for three weeks, she could have me in tears before I walked from the bedroom to the kitchen for my first cup of coffee. My sister and her family made that prickly live-in situation work for four years. Bill and I lasted a total of three weeks. Talk about the weak sister!

Eventually, the decision was made that my mother needed more care than my sister and her family could provide, and my mother was moved to a nursing home facility in Sierra Vista. That’s where she was the last time I visited with her in person. As I recall it was a pleasant conversation although I have no recollection of what we discussed. When Janie called me in Portland months later to say our mother was gone, I didn’t cry because, without Norman by her side, gone was exactly where Evie wanted to be. When it came time for her funeral, I didn’t cry then, either. The tears came later.

My folks always had forenoon coffee together, either at home, at various restaurants around town, or at any number of nearby picnic tables out along some highway or other. They always carried a red-and-white checked oilcloth in the trunk of their various vehicles so they could spread something out over those not so hygienic tables. Their steaming coffee was served from a plaid-covered Scotsman thermos and poured into two faded melamine coffee cups rescued from a garage sale at the high school cafeteria. With the coffee they usually shared a single cinnamon roll which my mother would cut in half with the paring knife she always carried in her purse. (Believe me, Evie’s purse was a wonder and a marvel!)

Is any of this sounding familiar? If you’ve read my Joanna Brady books, you may remember that in Damage Control there’s a very similar scene. In the story readers encounter an elderly couple having forenoon coffee at the picnic area in Coronado Pass at the southern end of the Huachuca Mountains. Once finished, they stow their coffee cups, thermos, and table cloth in the trunk of their Buick. The paring knife goes back into the woman’s purse. Leaving the picnic table behind, the couple climbs into their waiting vehicle. Once inside, holding hands but without fastening seatbelts, the old guy puts the car in gear, hits the gas pedal, and away they go flying off the mountainside together.

I believe my folks had hoped to go out just like that, in a Thelma-and-Louise style blaze of glory. My father’s stroke robbed them of that in real life, but I was able to give it to them in fiction, and while I was crafting those scenes, I cried like a baby. It was a writer’s way of honoring my parents, and a writer’s way of grieving for them.

So what memories do I have? There are lots of them related to riding in miserably hot cars on summertime trips from Arizona to South Dakota. My father was always at the wheel while Evie, with a Road Atlas open on her lap, functioned as both navigator and song leader. She knew countless songs—all the words and all the verses. I remember all those long ago times when gathered around the gray formica table at suppertime to eat the food Evie had whipped up in her pressure cooker. (I was terrified of that, but the way. And I remember many summer nights, when we sat with my parents on the cool front porch while our father read to us from the Treasury of the Familiar.

What are my favorite memories of my mother alone? Seeing her lying in the snow at the Wonderland of Rocks teaching Graciella Groppa, a foreign student from Argentina, how to make snow angels. I remember another scene in the Wonderland of Rocks, when, the week after celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, my seventy-two year-old mother gave my then fourteen year-old daughter a first hand lesson in tree climbing.

There were always two sides to Evie. The best compliment she ever gave me came in the the mid-seventies, I was living in Bisbee and selling life insurance. One afternoon, while wearing my dress-for-success costume—skirt, blazer, heels, and hose, I left my mother waiting in the car while I walked up onto my sister’s porch. When I came back to the car Evie told me, “You have very nice legs.” I was gobsmacked! As for the most crushing put-down? Once, after letting down my braided hair down to wash it, I thought the waves left behind were downright gorgeous. My mother took one look and said, “Yup, just like the waves on a slop pail!” When it came to Evie’s opinions, you had to take the good with the bad.

My mother was a farm girl who could drive a tractor like nobody’s business, but it wasn’t until we moved to Bisbee and our father was working as a long-haul trucker that she had to learn to drive a car with a standard transmission. I remember sitting in the back seat and hearing one of my older sisters call out the usual warning, “Hold on. Mommy’s going to jerk!”

Evie made three meals a day for a family of nine. Without fail, she washed clothes on Monday and ironed on Tuesday. That’s why, almost sixty years after the event in question, I know for sure that one of the most life-changing phone calls of my life—the one that led to my attending the University of Arizona–occurred on a Tuesday afternoon in May of 1962. Why do I know that? Because, when the phone rang, I answered it, Evie was ironing.

So, no I don’t remember the dates either one of my parents died, and I’m not apologizing for that, either. As Mother’s Day approaches, my heart is too full remembering their lives. And maybe that’s a good thing for all off us to do—remember the good and forget the bad. As that old song says:

Sweet, sweet the memories they gave me.
You can’t beat the memories they gave me.
Memories are made of this.

29 thoughts on “Mother’s Day Memory

  1. We all have a lot of good memories of our mothers.. My most loving memories are the times my mother cam to my rescue. When I needed support, mom when suddenly arrive to comfort me,
    I will alway remember her loving heart.

  2. it was good for me that you told her as a true person. mothers are seldom the perfect person prejected onto Mother’s Day cards. But they gave us life and many hours of dedicated care. They deserve respect.

  3. Thank you for this and for weaving so much of your wonderful life in SE AZ in your books….I love them all!!

  4. My Mom was a farm girl and wife, too. She gardened, canned everything that she could and raised 100 chickens every year. We ate the chickens. She sold the eggs.

    She liked to cook and loved her pressure cooker. I was scared to death of it and would leave the kitchen when she was using it.

    She saw the best in everyone. If someone did something mean, she would say “He/she meant well.”
    After we kids grew up she started working in a hospital. She learned to make 100 kinds of Jell-O. It got to be a joke, but she didn’t care. She’d loved making a Christmas tree with three colors of Jell-O every year. It was always exciting to see if the tree would come out of the mold in one piece. It always did.

  5. Thank you for this blog, like all your blogs and loved this one. Memories are the best way to make it through today’s crazy world.

  6. I always look forward to your blog and especially enjoy the Evie stories. I often think that she and my mom would have been great friends had they ever met. They both survived raising large families. The story about tree climbing reminded me of the Christmas that one of my nephews received a Wii. Mom was in her 80’s and had never played any video games but managed to beat all of the grandkids in Wii bowling. She then organized a pitch game that continued until she had won all of their money.

    I too don’t remember the dates of my parent’s deaths but I sure have a lot of memories of how they lived.

  7. I am fortunate to still have my mother. At age 95, she is still able to live on her own. She lives close by and I see her several times a week
    .
    We had the Treasury of the Familiar–one if my favorite childhood books!

  8. I love reading about Evie Busk-what an interesting person! I heard on an interview recently-“as long as someone is here to tell the stories, they are still here.” Evie is here! I appreciate the line about remembering the good and forgetting the bad. My Mother was a rare character and there is not a lot of happy times for me to remember-she left the family when my brother was 17 months old and I was 3. However, as an adult, when we re-connected, there were a couple of good times, it is really important to focus on those! Thank you for the reminder.

  9. Good think I’m reading this on my IPAD. It is much more forgiving when the tears of remembrance hit the screen. I have memories too. They aren’t all as joyful and appreciative as those of Evie and Norman. None the less, These memories come alive at certain times as evidence that they never left us.

  10. Wonderful tribute to your mother. Brought back some very good memories of my mother. Thank you.

  11. Many decades ago, a comedian once remarked that, when our mothers die, so does most of our childhood. After all, who is left to remember our first words, our first steps, and what cute little kids we were.

  12. As always, I feel a connection! My sister died at 45 in 1966. The oldest of 6. Like an aunt to me. My mom was tired, broke, etc by the time I came along. She died at 91. All the siblings are gone now, but so many memories of gatherings, Military service, etc. This is a hard time. My dad’s bday was May 1. My sisters May 5. Mother ‘s Day and my mother ‘s birthday on the 16. The oldest grandkids are within ten years of my age. . They remember Pops. Mom’s Christmas parties and cookies! My mom lived in a lovely senior tower. Often felt lacking in clothes, experiences, etc. she mentioned that once to some ladies and was told she was envied. She had visitors.family, little ones. So many had outlived family. Never had chidren, etc. Definitely counted her blessings, as did we.

  13. Thanks for the fond memories. I have them too and what better way to remember them than on Mother’s Day.

  14. Your memories of your parents remind me of mine. My Norwegian mother would have enjoyed meeting your mother. Though not a farm girl, just from a small town in Wisconsin, and she was the ne who remembered all the old songs. Whether it was a Sunday drive to the church where my parents were married in Ontario or back to see our grandparents in Wisconsin and other relatives in Minnesota and South Dakota we sang. My father was tone deaf but his voice was loud and strong. When he was studying to become an Episcopal priest, one of the professor/priests suggested that singing the service was not an option!! In the summer we would pile in the car for an impromptu picnic along the Niagara River on the Canadian side then head to the Falls to watch the tourists or listen to the band concerts in the city park by the intake for the Sir Adam Beck power plant.
    After Dad died, Mother moved us, six kids and a houseful of furniture, to Montana , sight unseen. She built a life for us there and never looked back. She died three weeks before her 95th birthday. Miss her phone calls — she called me everyday, especially after my first husband died. So many happy memories. Thank you!!

    • Our father was also tone deaf. My younger brother said, “There are 88 keys on the piano, and Daddy sings in the cracks.

  15. I count myself lucky that my parents aged 93 and 94 are still alive and living at home. Dad is still farming with the help of my nephew and grandnephews. Mom suffers from some dementia because she fell and hit her head when the ladder going up to the hayloft slipped and slammed her into the floor. Somedays she is “normal” and some days she is like a little two-year -old, but she has family around her as does my dad. Thank heavens for the life lessons they imparted.

  16. While reading about the coffee and cinnamon roll my mind was going, you wrote about that in a Joanna book! And there it was in the next paragraph. Sometimes I doubt myself, but there are a few little grey cells that still work. Sometimes.

  17. No matter how long ago we lost our mothers, the loss never goes away. I was able to be my mother’s side after her stroke until she passed nearly two weeks later. She couldn’t speak, but her eyes could still send a message. Our mothers gave us life and often give us, still, the ability to go forward. Keep those little grey cells working, Judy.

  18. Pingback: Mother’s Day Memory – JA Jance – seattlepi.com

  19. Memories are important as they keep our loved ones close to us. Younger people don’t like our “stuff” because its too much clutter. Some day they will realize all that clutter is a memory of someone we loved or a milestone along lifes trail. Isn’t maturity wonderful.

  20. 12-29-2003 @ 9:48am is when I got the call. Christmas Eve was the last day I saw and spoke to her. 18 years later I can smell cookies that she baked. I can remember what she smelled like. I can even remember her hugs but I no longer hear her voice in my head. Some days I get out one of the quits she made and just curl up in it and try to remember.

    Mother’s Day through May 19th (her birthday) and the 29th of December are still hard days for me. Most of the time I curl up and read…especially your books. She was a huge fan of yours and met you at several book signing events. I inherited all of your Beaumont books from her. She began sending them to me when my husband was stationed in San Diego because I was homesick for Ballard. Now he is retired and we moved from the Seattle area to Phoenix around the same you moved from AZ to the Eastside.

  21. I enjoy these blog posts as much as I do reading what Beau is up to, or how the Arizona characters are doing. They make me laugh, and sometimes, like today, bring a few tears. I must admit, I remember the day my Mom passed well. It was the same day as Princess Diana was killed. I’ve always felt it was unfair that my Mom didn’t receive the same respect as Princess Di, because to me she’s my Queen! But, like you, I have some wonderful memories of Mom. She’s still my Queen.

  22. Thank you for this Mothers Day memory. I am glad you have such fun memories of your parents and their “quirks.” Today though, I cried almost all the way through it because my husband has just been told he has stage 4 cancer plus cancer in his lung and in his spine. There was no warning that anything was wrong until a month ago when he had a sore back upon awakening. He bought a new mattress and that didn’t help. He slept in his recliner. That only made his feet and ankles swell. There is no cure and only maybe can the advance of the disease can be slowed. I read the side effects of the treatment. I can not imagine anyone having to go through that. We had planned to go past our 50th, now we may not make it to our 49th anniversary on August 26. I just can’t let him go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *