Today’s post isn’t necessarily about connecting or networking or building business relationships, but it is about someone who has heavily influenced who I am and who I have become. I often talk about my grandfather and my dad in my presentations, but today I want to honor the mother I was blessed to have and be raised by.
Mom was born in 1918, the youngest of nine children. She died of Parkinson’s disease in 2002 after suffering and declining for nearly a decade. Those dates are important, but it’s what happened in between that matters, as it does for all of us when we consider how we want to be remembered.
As mothers go, Ersel Rosewall Parks was a very good one and given that she had me – her fourth daughter – when she was in her 40s, I wake up every day grateful that I’m even here.
To offer some context about my mother’s mothering style, my dad was an officer in the Army Signal Corps during WW II and stayed in the Army Reserves for several years after that. What’s more, Mom’s father had been an underground mining captain and engineer from Cornwall, England. Her mother was a no-nonsense woman from Lancashire, England. With structure, discipline, and routine all around her from the time she was born, Mom fully “got”, practiced, and exemplified those traits.
On school days, we kids got up promptly at 7:00 a.m. every morning, the breakfast table was set, coffee was ready, and cereal (or whatever she was serving) was already put out. You ate it. No questions. No options. And certainly no whining. About anything.
In stark contrast, breakfast at my house goes like this: “There’s the Keurig, the K cups, and the mugs. Help yourself to whatever is in the fridge or pantry.” If I feel like it, I’ll make you eggs. I call it my Equal Opportunity Kitchen.
But back to Mom.
Although she ran a tight ship, she was generally very calm – unless you really got on her nerves, and then she let you have it. And you never forgot it.
Mom insisted that we kids spend 95% of our waking hours outside and out of her way – and in all kinds of weather. Sunshine. Rain. Fog. Wind. Snow. (Did I mention I grew up in Northern Minnesota where winter temperatures can dip far, far below zero?) Remember the scene in “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie wears a snow suit that renders him incapable of moving his arms and legs? That kind of scenario is no exaggeration. Minnesota springs, summers, and autumns were awesome, though. During those seasons Mom didn’t really care what we wore.
There were benefits to being banished from the house. My sisters and I enjoyed what’s now referred to as a “feral childhood.” Other than having to be home the minute Dad got home for lunch or supper – and of course before dark- we kids ran wild and free. There were no organized sports or ultra-supervised play dates. It was all free-form and improvisational. You found your own friends. You organized your own activities. Fought your own battles. I learned many of my social, conflict management, negotiation, first aid, and survival skills during this impressionable time. I also learned to become creative and resourceful and found ways to enjoy whatever was at hand to do. Simple things like playing in piles of leaves or snow (or puddles of mud), running around in the woods, playing Four Squares or Kick the Can, riding bikes, roller skating, climbing trees, and having crab apple fights kept us busy, healthy, and happy.
And talk about a hard worker! While we kids were out playing and running around, Mom would take on feats of housework that I don’t think I’ve ever been able to comprehend or accomplish. Waxing the wood floors upstairs and the black and white checkered linoleum floor in the kitchen. Tossing all the throw rugs from our bedrooms down the stairs so she could haul every single one of them out onto the back porch for a good shaking. Vacuuming every inch, even in the remote corners. Dusting all the knick knacks and all the junk and toys in our rooms. Changing sheets on all the beds every week. Hauling loads of laundry down the stairs from our rooms to the laundry room in the basement. Then hauling it back up again (wet and heavier than ever) so she could hang it outside on the line to dry. She would often warn us kids to not play around or pull on said laundry or she would “box our ears” or “tan our hides.” We weren’t sure what those threats entailed exactly, but it sounded very painful. And if you ever loitered around complaining to Mom about being bored? Oh my gosh. I can’t tell you how she reacted or what she came up with for us to do! (For a post on that click here.)
Some evenings, after a day of heavy housework, she would cook a simple supper, clean up, park us in front of the TV, don her red lipstick, a classy dress, kitten heels and pearls, and attend Bridge Club or Study Club – or go out dancing with Dad. The after-party was often at our house. There was much laughter and singing with good friends. Even if she woke up with a hangover or headache in the morning, Mom took an aspirin, drank some coffee, and was back on duty 100%.
Now and then Mom would be seized by a creative streak and rearrange the glassware and collection of china teacups she kept on the shelves. Sometimes she even rearranged the furniture in the living room – moving all the furniture herself. I think she came up with about 15 different and highly attractive configurations. She did this rearranging so often we sometimes didn’t notice that anything had changed. “What do you think?” she’d inquire when we got home from school. “About what?” we’d ask. She would just shake her head and go back into the kitchen.
Speaking of kitchens, Mom was an excellent baker. In between other pressing duties, she would pull out her tattered recipe book and bake something really fragrant and delicious, such as gooey caramel rolls, moist banana bread, or chewy-crisp chocolate chip cookies. What a treat to come home from school or swimming practice to these delicious and decadent carbohydrates!
When I think of my mother, I think of words such as: loving (not necessarily all huggy and emotive, but I never doubted how much Dad, my sisters, and I meant to her), consistent, comported, polite, steady, gracious, welcoming (even to my sketchy boyfriends), respectful, resourceful (she could whip up a dinner out of almost nothing – canned tuna, corn flakes, a couple of eggs…), classy, intelligent (she read a lot and could kick anyone’s butt at crossword puzzles), and very strong.
I think I only saw her cry a handful of times and they were truly times worth crying about. She rarely gossiped.
But don’t let all these domestic talents and abilities to hold herself together deceive you. Mom also had a fun, adventurous, outdoorsy side. Mom would get a little giddy when she had a cocktail or glass of wine, and that was always fun to watch. She would sing along to the radio or to Dad belting tunes out on the Hammond organ in the front room. And if she was really having fun, she’d dance around a little. I enjoyed seeing her let loose. She also knew how to shoot a gun, cross country ski, and drive a stick shift. She also decided – in her fifties – to learn how to ride a bicycle and drive a snowmobile. She worked very hard – and got very good – at both. A true Renaissance Woman.
So many stories and memories I could share with you, but what I most want you to know is what an incredible force she was in my life. I am blessed to be her daughter and owe much of what I know about life – how to conduct and amuse myself, handle life’s challenges, be a lifelong learner, treat people, get things done, and rearrange furniture – to her.
I hope you have someone in your life who has offered you at least this much.
Here’s to you, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day! I hope you have your feet up and are enjoying a cup of tea and a good, juicy novel on a soft, cozy sofa in Heaven. You deserve no less!