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As coincidence would have it, the 10th anniversary of my mother’s death falls on Memorial Day this year.

Most of us just  celebrate this as the start of summer vacation with a barbeque, or we buy mattresses.

I know the original intent of the holiday is to remember our fallen soldiers, yet I think society has extended that to remembering any of our dead. After all we don’t have another holiday for that, do we?

Mom was never in the military, unless you count mothering 8 children a battle … and I do.

I don’t have any particular ritual planned to honor my Mom. It’s too far to drive to the cemetery and it will be a crowded mess that day anyway. I’ve already chatted about the upcoming day with Dad. He never thought he’d outlive her much less by at least 10 years! Mom was the center of the family and it’s strange having Dad around without her. I talk to my retired Dad frequently and see him probably more than any of my other siblings since I am one of the nearer ones (although, if they were all nearby I still believe I’d be one that visits with him the most).

We’re such a spread out family in age and geography that none of us are particularly close to one another. My Mom gave birth to my baby sister a year after my oldest sister had married and moved 1,500 miles away. I know of one time in our entire lives that we have all been together in the same room at the same time and eaten together. We even took a picture of the event and it is evidence that belies the fact that it had never happened before and it never will again.

My Mom when she was alive, however, succeeded in being the central focal point at which most of us would gather. With her gone, that never happens anymore. Each year with her gone it gets increasingly harder to remember what she passed on to me. My kids will never get to know her. What sort of traits and behaviors am I passing along that originated with her? This is just a quick list but I thank my Mom for them:

  • We ate meals together. I never realized what a big deal this was until I visited other people’s homes who only did this on Sunday or at dinner. We ate every breakfast and dinner seated at the table, blessed the food, and only left after everyone else was finished. Lots of arguments and laughter took place around that table… mostly laughter as I choose to remember it. It’s also where we saw Mom and Dad act a little goofy with us. We weren’t the type to have debates or serious conversations around the dinner table but with such a large family we all learned how to demand the floor sometimes and listen at others. When I have my kids with me, we eat together at the table with the TV off.
  • She made a big deal about birthdays. In our home, you got to choose the family meal on your birthday (and that seemed like such a big deal at the time) and Mom would prepare it. We had a special red plate for the birthday boy or girl to eat off of and everyone remained for the homemade cake loaded with candles. Once when I was away at college I came home to a big gift basket on my doorstep on my birthday. I still don’t know how she arranged it as it wasn’t professionally done and she was 700 miles away! I just remember feeling special on my birthday. I don’t always have my kids on their birthdays but we always celebrate it regardless. It might be a couple of weeks early or even a week late, but they still get to choose their meal (doesn’t seem to be such a big deal to them) and we have cake and ice cream. I have 2 daughters whose birthdays are a day apart, but I make sure we celebrate them on 2 separate days.
  • Play. Spontaneous summertime water fights were a staple at our house. Mom was fully involved if not the instigator. A bunch of us would be stationed at the back of the house and some of us took the front yard and the war consisted of buckets and sponges flying on the aide yards and with stretched hoses. We were always safe playing around with Mom …splashing her in the pool with consistent cannon-bombs when all she wanted to do was float peacefully. As we got older we teased our poor Mom endlessly. She had certain grammar errors that I corrected her on (what a snot I was) and nothing made my day more than sneaking into the laundry shed and scaring her when she thought she was alone. Goodness! After reading this paragraph it’s no wonder she died an early death! The point is we could play and laugh with Mom and I love that my kids feel the same with me.
  • Desire to be a good parent. For all her faults I know my Mom conscientiously tried her best…not just in the “she did her best considering” sort of way. She spent a lot of time reading, praying and talking about doing her best as a Mom. She wasn’t afraid to stand up for us if she thought it was in our best interest. I remember one time she ripped my scoutmaster a new one after he turned me home from a youth activity for not wearing my scout uniform (it wasn’t a scouting activity). And for all her Mormon-ness my Mom was able to often see the forest for the trees. She felt it was better that we participate in church activities than we get muddled down in petty issues like uniforms or other rules without reason.
  • Welcoming. I’d never claim that our house was the one all the neighbor kids hung out at, although with 8 of us it could have been true and I just couldn’t tell because of the sheer numbers. But at least as we entered our teen years, my Mom always welcomed our friends, Mormon or not, and I never sensed any sort of judgment from her. By that time we had a much cooler house too…with a pool. More than once a sibling’s friend was welcomed into our home to stay for a period of time if there were troubles at home. I want my kids to feel welcome to have their friends at my home too.
  • Tolerance. I’m not under any delusions that my uber-Mormon Mom would have accepted my homosexuality or my apostasy from the Mormon church. Both life events would have devastated her. But I did have siblings who preceded me in open rebellion. While it caused her great angst and sometimes she handled it with passive-aggressive manipulation, she was not the type to disown, reject or condemn. Acceptance is always better than tolerance but tolerance is at least better than rejection. I’m working on matching her tolerant ways but also improving on it with unconditional acceptance of my kids.

Given the times, my Mom was amazingly accepting of me playing with dolls and wanting to do her hair as a kid. Those and even later obvious clues that I might be gay were never met with resistance or criticism. That made it much easier to accept myself later on.

  • Thrift I learned the thrill of shopping for a bargain from Mom. School lunches were on her homemade bread and while I was embarrassed at the time I’d now kill for a slice of her bead. She could pull together a yummy meal at the last minutes and our cupboards were always full in spite of her never really being wealthy. Skills I learned from Mom are helping me make it through my current employment crisis.
  • Physical Affection My family are huggers. That comes from Mom and she was always available with physical affection and a kind touch. I’ve been told how lucky my kids are that their Dad hugs and touches them often. I was fortunate to have a touchy Mom.

Happy Memorial Day everyone.

Hug your kids.