Janet Sheridan: My thoughts from Sunday
May 12, 2016
When I think of my mother, as I did on Mother's Day, I see her in her mid-60s. She sits in her favorite rocking chair in a circle of lamplight that softens her wrinkles and highlights her brown hair. As she sews a button onto one of Dad's shirts, her wedding band, thinned by 50 years of wear, flashes in the lamp's glow.
My mother raised seven children, four sons and three daughters; she also experienced the heartache of losing a son, who died at eighteen months, and an unnamed daughter, who died during birth. I was born eight years after Alan died, but I feel I know him from black-and-white photographs and Mom's answers to my questions: "He was good-natured, Janet, a beautiful baby who attracted smiles."
As a toddler, I had only a vague sense of the sadness that swirled around my younger sister's death, but, years later, Mom described it to me: "It was a hard time. I was sick and weak and sad. I had other children who needed my care, a husband swept by feelings of grief and helplessness, and no baby in my arms."
My siblings and I do not equal our mother.
An excellent student and editor of her high school newspaper, who loved swimming and hiking, Mom dreamed of graduating from college — a dream ended by the Great Depression. Instead of earning a degree in journalism, she dropped out of college, married and raised babies.
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One of her babies, I grew up sandwiched by siblings, three older and three younger. To this day, we talk about the commonsense mother who consistently centered our lives until she died at 78.
We remember the skilled and creative mother who sewed our clothes, cut our hair and beautified our homes with quilts, braided rugs, and refinished furniture. We speak of our admiration for the devout mother who served the church she believed in with all her heart and intellect and of our appreciation for the artistic mother who, when old, mastered tole painting and taught herself to create intricate salt-dough Christmas ornaments, highly prized in the craft store in which she sold them.
We acknowledge the mother who taught us how to find our places in the world and accepted us as we followed our sometimes poorly planned paths to maturity. Eventually, we all arrived at self-sustained, established independence. And when we did so, she said little but looked at us with pride.
Some of her babies may have gained more education, raised more children, earned more money, traveled more of the world, produced a better garden or told a better joke; but none of them replicated — in totality or variety — her many accomplishments.
My sister Barbara once asked me, "How did Mom do it, Janet? How did she house, feed and clothe us with limited money while, at the same time developing her own talents, skills, and creativity? She read, wrote and studied voraciously, mastered a variety of crafts and skills, held responsible positions in the church, and created and maintained a series of welcoming homes. She taught us and disciplined us in ways best suited to each of us. And, most wonderfully, she helped us build and maintain close relationships with one another. Just thinking about it makes me tired. Really, how did she do it?"
I don't know the answer to Barbara's question. However, I do know my siblings. So, I'm certain they would agree with me that individually and collectively, we haven't equaled the woman who raised us.
She only made us think we did.
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.