Her childhood was spent following the crops; the family joined other itinerants who set up camp along the river banks and made do with very little while they worked. They picked crops to survive. (The “dream” sparkled in her papa’s eyes like sunlight through a prism. Rainbow chasing.)
During her teens, Mama and her best friend worked the hop fields in central Oregon. They were renowned for their fast and efficient picking team, but even more for their unique method of summoning the lineman. They sang out the words “Line Down” in beautiful harmony…. to the delight of the other field crew and to the one who answered their call - my dad. He lowered the next row as he admired their work ethic and …Mama.
What I know of my parent’s courtship can be summed up in one sentence. Mama was engaged to another when dad approached and asked, “May I throw my hat in the ring?”
They married and spent their wedding night in the boss’s guest room. Over the years, Mama enjoyed narrating the story of how the bed was sabotaged with a Two x Four down the center under the sheet. In the morning they returned it, made the bed, and then feigned innocence.
Mama’s early photographs reveal a somber waif. Several of her childhood stories revolved around food, or the lack thereof. One year while she attended school, another child occasionally brought an orange in her lunch. Mama and her sister would wait patiently until the orange was peeled, and then eat the discarded rind.
She also told me about a little boy who came to school barefoot until it snowed and always carried a cold potato wrapped in a pancake for his lunch. It made her appreciate her mother’s homemade bread.
Lack of proper nutrition and dental care were evident in her smile. Dentures in her early 20s changed her face. (Perhaps that is why one of her sons became a dentist?)
Her life didn’t allow for much structured learning and I believe that is why she was adamant right down to the patches in her dresses and aprons that her kids would be educated. I was too young to remember, but my older sister told me how mama sacrificed her only coat one winter. She couldn’t afford to buy a warm coat for my brother, so she cut hers up and sewed one for him to wear to school.
Unfortunately, I do have vivid recall of how Mama once “sacrificed” her underwear when I was thirteen. The worn out elastic band caused her panties to pavement dive while we were walking in downtown Seattle. At the moment they hit her ankles she performed an odd kick step to toss and grab them. She stuffed them into her purse along with my mortified protest.
When my eldest brothers left for college, Mama wrote many beautiful letters to them in rhyme. Yes, you read that correctly. She would write a complete letter as a poem! Writing letters, reading, and completing crossword puzzles were her only holidays for many years. That is why she had a surfeit of words (and their definitions) in her head - more than most of my educated friends.
She raised eight children with garden fresh foods in the summer, and home canned in the winter. All prepared in an old house with a dilapidated kitchen. She didn’t even have an inside toilet until after I was born.
When a driver’s education class was offered to adults in the community, mama signed up at age 49 and learned to drive. She became a better driver than my dad.
As she grew older, she was able to enjoy some of the amenities of life -- a nicer home, a chance to travel for pleasure, afternoons to do nothing but read or watch a favorite television show.
There are so many things that I could tell you about my Mama -- but I think if she could she would tell you that the most important thing in her life was her family. She loved her kids.
She adored her grandchildren. So much that she would have thought every hardship worth it all had she eavesdropped on a conversation at our house two weekends ago between our youngest daughter Amanda and WR, my husband.
(Amanda) Dad. Do you remember when Grandma died I kept her overnight case with two of her blouses in it in my room for a long time. I used to open it and breathe deep – because it smelled just like her.
(WR) I think I remember it, yeah?
(Amanda) I thought about it the other day, and realized that it never came to Portland with me. Do you think it is in storage?
(WR) I can go look.
(Pamela:) I don’t recall seeing it in there.
(WR) I’ll just go take a look.
About 10 minutes later WR walks in the sliding glass door caring a small blue case.
(WR) Is this it?
(Amanda, a smile starting to spread to her eyes) Dad, that’s it! That’s it!
She opened it and began jumping around.
(Amanda) Look, it’s her two blouses!
She stops and sniffs it.
(Amanda) I can still smell her.
(Pamela) Wow, it’s been over 14 years.
(Amanda, with some tears in her eyes) Yeah, and I still miss her.
Fun Monday is all about Moms this week. Visit Jo at Chocolate and Other Things to sign up, or to take a little reading holiday, just like my Mama did.