I found Five Minute Friday at lisajobaker.com, and the writing prompt “what Mama did” unleashed some memories. Regular readers know that my Mom and I had a contentious relationship, as do many Moms and daughters, and sometimes my memories of what went wrong block out the memories of times that were pretty wonderful. What I know now that I couldn’t possibly see as a kid was that my Mom was doing the very best she could literally one day at a time.
My Mom was a juvenile diabetic. She was diagnosed when she was seven, which would have been 1943. My Grandpa Sullivan was in the Army, so my Grandma, who herself had not had an easy life, was suddenly responsibility for this sick little girl. Money was tight and meals were so simple that my Mom remembers my Grandma eating crumbled saltine crackers topped with cream for breakfast, but somehow despite needing a careful diet and several insulin shots a day, my Mom thrived.
She graduated high school having never missed a single day of school since kindergarten.
Mom was a teacher. She taught all the early elementary grades, as high up as 5th grade but her absolute favorite was 2nd grade. She loved 2nd graders because they were intelligent and could learn, but were still excited about crafts and story time and hugs. Back when teachers could still hug kids.
The diabetes meant her bones got more and more fragile as she got older, and just about every winter for years, she would break her arm, or her leg, or once, both. A simple slip in the ice or a trip over a crack in the pavement meant a cast and even a wheelchair. Yep, she just put herself in a wheelchair and went on. She never, ever complained.
In fact, my Mom never complained about her health at all. I even remember one time she had an extremely rare insulin reaction in the kitchen after dinner, and passed out while leaning against the fridge. I can still remember this like a movie in my head – she started sliding, I cried out “Mom!”, and my Dad said “don’t make a fuss. She’ll be fine.” A glass of juice and she was.
My Mom taught school from 8:30 to 3:30, then stayed until at least 5:00 grading papers and getting the next day ready. She almost never brought any kind of work home. Her favorite thing to do when she had free time was to sew. She sewed clothes for us, clothes for friends’ kids, clothes for herself. If I had to associate one sound with my Mom, it’s the sound of the “whirrrrr” of the sewing machine, then the “snick” of the sharp scissors cutting the thread. We had a 5 bedroom house back then, one for Mom and Dad, one for me, one for my sister, one for my brother, and a sewing room. It was tiny, but it was all hers.
I tried to like sewing, I really did. I took it as a Home Ec requirement in middle school and managed to turn out a t-shirt and a denim skirt, but I never sewed again after that until I was pregnant with Nathan and really wanted to make a baby quilt. Mom had made one for Ryan, but she died the year after he was born, so it was up to me to make Nathan’s.
I asked for a sewing machine for my birthday that year and signed up for a class called “Intro to Easy Crib Quilts.” Except that every other person in the class was an experienced sewer who just had never made a crib quilt. I struggled to keep up, and when the class ended, had only completed the top.
Nathan is 14 and that quilt top plus all the extra fabric and materials are still in a bag from that sewing class store, in a filing cabinet in my basement. I KNOW.
So, that’s what my Mama did. She sewed. What did your Mama do?
Thank you, Lisa-Jo Baker – tales from a Gypsy Mama for the writing prompt!