Several months ago my mother celebrated her 82nd birthday. I looked at her with unbelieving eyes; there was no way this woman could be that age! This wonderful occasion brought forth a cascade of memories.
I recall my mother as a young woman with coal-black hair and a flawless complexion. She lived through the Depression and was one of those fortunate enough to be able to find work at that time. She later taught me the theory of a strong work ethic; if you need something, you work for it. One didn't get something for nothing.
She helped the family survive during World War II by creating meals with those things we were allowed to buy under the stringent rationing program. She had a victory garden, made wonderful pickles, and canned all kinds of vegetables. She dutifully sewed "victory buttons" on our clothing (a button of any color that would go through the existing button hole) and, near the end of the war, decided I was old enough to stand in line to buy bread. Our milk came from a neighbor's cow, our chickens from another neighbor, and the endless codfish flakes were purchased in the unforgettable beige box.
We ate "oleo," the white "stuff" that came in a bag. The bright orange powder that came with it had to be mixed in, by kneading it all together. Often the result was unappealing in appearance and far from uniform in color, but it was the closest thing to butter that we had.
When I was a few years older and we lived in a city environment, the iceman brought a large block of ice several days a week for the icebox. The ice was frequently covered with sawdust. The bread man showed up, having pulled his horse-drawn wagon through the streets of Albany. Milk, with the delicious cream settled on top, was delivered by the milkman.
When we were lucky enough to have a telephone, we shared the line with several other people, and the telephone had no dial on it. Central heat was an unknown quantity; we had a space heater in the living room and a coal stove in the kitchen. (The coal was delivered by wagon and shoveled down a chute to the basement.)
People used manual typewriters and drove cars without directional signals. Consumers paid cash; there was no "plastic." Ballpoint pens came into vogue. Supermarkets, as we now know them, were non-existent. The voting age was still 21.
The day came when I was able to introduce my mother to the world of the "modern woman" who wore pantyhose and pantsuits. It took a little longer to convince her that microwave ovens were here to stay, as well as automatic dishwashers. I eventually won the battle of the Touch-Tone phone, pierced earrings and cable television. (Eventually she even took a jet to a foreign country for a vacation!)
How, I wonder, did my mother ever survive her 82 years without a cellular phone, a computer, a bread machine or a water bed? Somehow she managed to get through life without ever programing a VCR. She appears to have sidestepped these things without a feeling of missing out on some of life's most recent pleasures.
Through the years she has been too busy instilling in me the important things. She taught me responsibility at a very early age. She taught me that you alone are responsible for your own actions; the term "victim" was not part of her vocabulary. I was raised to be an independent woman who is a contributor rather than a taker. I was to always be aware of the feelings and needs of others. She taught me how to cook, to make my bed every morning and, above all, to wear clean underwear when I left the house! She insisted that I go to college. She made sure church was an important part of my life.
My mother was my friend. I am grateful for the things she taught me and am thankful I had a chance to share her life. I hope my children will be able to look back and reflect on the positive energies I have passed on to them. At this point, they most likely look at me as "that crazy old lady who writes a newspaper column." They, however, will someday be accountable to their children. I hope I am still around to see it.
But now my mother is gone, taken from us more suddenly than we would have liked. Those of us left behind, her children and grandchildren, are a part of her immortality. A bit of her lives on in each of us and is passed on to the generations yet to come. Her life represents the pebble thrown into a pond; the ripples reach far beyond the initial point of impact.
We shall miss her greatly, now and in the days to come.
Joyce A. Liberty is a freelance writer who lives in Largo.