Mother’s Day Tribute

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Last evening my grandson came for an overnight visit. When he finally settled down, he crawled up between his grandpa and me on the sofa. We cuddled a few minutes before he willingly headed to bed. I felt like a link in a chain, a connection between generations, made more poignant because today I’m thinking of my own mother. It’s been a decade since she was here to celebrate Mother’s Day with us.

Helen Peterson was born in 1918, the youngest of Franklin and Mary Peterson’s four beautiful, daughters. When she was five, her father unexpectedly died. The rest of her childhood was marked by hardship and sacrifice. Her mother bravely struggled to raise her family. Many of Helen’s lifelong habits of thrift originated during her childhood as she watched her mother’s efforts to raise her family, a single parent in the twenties and thirties.

I vividly recall her devotion to her own mother. The rest of her youth I sometimes have a hard time imagining. Helen as a young college student frolicking barefoot in the snow—in a swimsuit—I did not know at all. I did not know the young career woman who worked as an engineer at Western Electric, as a physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. during World War II, nor the college physics and mathematics professor. Mother gave up all these phases of her life when she married my Dad in 1950 to become a full-time wife, mother and homemaker. That is the Helen I knew.

Mother did a lot of preserving with garden produce. It became a matter of pride to see how much of a meal could be produced from the seed to the table, especially Thanksgiving dinner. Other dishes which became family traditions include her apple coffee cake, cherry chocolate cake, and pecan pies at the holidays. These became favorites of my own family.

Determined that her daughters would have opportunities she did not have, as well as be exposed to things she had grown to love and appreciate, my sisters and I fell asleep listening to classical music that Mother played at bedtime on the record player. Sometimes she even played her favorite pieces on the piano. We took years of piano lessons.  And we rose early to practice before school every morning. For a few months when we were without a piano, she marched us to a neighbor’s house two doors down for our daily practice sessions.

Alaska trip 1970
Alaska trip 1970

Mother had never learned to roller skate or ride a bike, but she was determined that her daughters would have those experiences. She spent hours running beside us as we learned. We took swimming lessons every summer so that we’d be at ease in the water.

And we traveled. Our folks began to camp with us with we were still toddlers, when my younger sister was still in diapers. This was before the day of disposable diapers. Our camping trips continued as we grew. By the time we left home, we’d enjoyed treks through every state west of the Mississippi River, except California and Hawaii.

Mother loved people. She made two solo treks to England to look up distant relatives during her geneology searches. We were always on the list as a host family whenever any kind of touring group came to our hometown. She participated eagerly in the regional and international foods interest clubs. She enjoyed preparing meals for guests. She would do anything to help people. Being of service in some way was her greatest joy in life.

Mother was rarely sick. She was in remarkably good health most of her life. When she became ill in late 1999, we were quite shocked and expected the worst then. We rallied together, wrote our memories, and . . . she got better. My mother has the unusual distinction of being admitted and released from Hospice care, not once, but twice. She got better and read the thoughts we had jotted down and the obituary notes my Dad had put together. And she corrected them. Red ink all over our memories.

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On this Mother’s Day, I remember my own mother with love. She never met my grandson, and he never met her. But I can surely tell him about her and how much she shaped my life. Happy Mother’s Day!

The Consideration Project

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I’ve been thinking about my mother a lot lately.  Last week marked a full decade since we celebrated her last birthday with her.  It’s only natural she has been in my thoughts.   For our appreciation of all the finer things in life, my sisters and I have Mother to thank.  She loved music, literature, and the finer aspects of our culture fostered through the arts.  Education was a priority for her.  Based on her own experience, continuing education was the key to rise above desperation and hardship.  She fostered within each of her daughters the value of knowledge, hard work, and a sense of justice and opportunity for those down on their luck.  She was also pretty hard-nosed about second chances if one failed to recognize the gift of a first chance.  But she remained generous to others all her days.

Actively involved in our childhood education, Mother assigned me the first big project I recall.  She became upset by the daily arguing of her three daughters.  To combat the incessant cacophony of our constant bickering, she assigned each of us to do a “Consideration Project.”  We were to consider each other’s feelings and viewpoints before we erupted into a shouting match.  There was paperwork involved.  By the due date, I had written a journal of thoughts, choices, and conclusions.  This project became a major activity for me. Though I don’t have a copy of my final report, I learned a great deal from the activity.  I believe this was the first major writing project assigned in my school years.  It was Mother who assigned it, and I still remember the “Consideration Project.”

I can draw parallels to lessons recorded in the gospel books of the Bible.  Jesus instructed, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”  (Matt. 5:41)  “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from anyone who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your shirt.”  (Luke 6:29)  In other words, Jesus also encouraged his followers to be considerate of others.

Is there anything more difficult to master about life?  My natural response toward someone who has acted harshly against me is to retaliate in kind.  Yet, if I stop a moment and give consideration to the other, I might imagine a bit of bad news they may be facing, a hardship in their family, or an argument they may have had with the most important person in their life.  Even though a person may treat me unfairly, it helps no one if I pass that injustice along.  Not even me.

There have been times after I finish a service job when I am offered payment with a check that bounces.  I fretted.  I worried.  I fretted some more.  But when, in my heart, I made a gift to the person of my work, my distress was instantly relieved.  Jesus’ instructions for giving beyond expectations were spoken not to benefit those who wrong me, but to lift the load of hatred and resentment from my own heart.  Freedom and contentment were my immediate rewards.

Jesus also said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”  (Matt. 7:1)  How can I possibly know all the details of another person’s choices?  I can’t.  Granted, I have never been on the receiving end of a violent criminal act.  I have never faced the loss of everything I hold dear at the spiteful actions of others.  I honestly don’t know how I would react in those cases.  But I do know that I can choose my actions carefully today.  I have the power to affect my own life and future, and I can support others who face unknown crises without judging them from my own perspective.

It seems that our nation is in need of a consideration project.  Diversity has always been one of the strengths of our country.  We defend the right of others to live as their hearts dictate, as long as their choices hurt no one.  The bitterness and rancor we see today in our nation gets us nowhere in the long run.  The art of politics should be the art of compromise, striking a deal somewhere in the middle that the majority of people can embrace.   We defend the rights of those who have few resources.   We defend our diversity.

Extremists who deny compromise and refuse action of any sort unless it’s what they want only hurt our country.  There should be no room for a “My-way-or-the-highway” attitude.  How do we find common ground with folks who will not listen to differing views?  On a national scale, we seem to lack something basic.  Something like . . . consideration.

Mother, we need your “Consideration Project.”  I suspect that if we try, we could find some common ground between the blue and the red.  If we consider the views and thoughts of those who differ from us, we might find we share many things.  We love our children.  We revere the life and opportunities we’ve had.  We want others to share similar good fortunes.  We worry about what the future holds.  The basics of humanity exist in the hearts of people regardless of their political persuasions.  If we listened considerately to each other, we might find we share a lot.  Our states are not totally red nor blue, just as our own hearts are not absolutely conservative or liberal.  We are closer to various shades of purple than perfectly red or perfectly blue.  Purple should be the color of our future as we strive to find commonalities in our concerns.

How about a little consideration for each other?  I’m ready.  Are you?