On Sunday moms everywhere will receive the special gift of precious hugs from kids big and small. It will be a joyous Mother’s Day celebration, warmed with welcome peeks of light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
Sadly, for some of us the hugging will happen only in our hearts. We will celebrate by memory, wispy echoes of bygone moments floating past all-out cinematic recollections of occasions etched in our minds. Celebrate we will – nostalgically, bittersweetly, and a bit tearfully.
Personally, I will remember my mother losing herself in a book, oblivious to kitchen chores demanding attention; following Betty Crocker’s culinary instructions through a floury cloud settling on mixing bowls and measuring spoons; fingering yarn for the knits and purls of another baby blanket or firing up her Singer sewing machine to stitch dresses for daughters.
I will admire her all over again for how well she fulfilled every role life handed to her: daughter, sister, grandmother, to be sure. But she was also the perfect partner in a marriage that spanned more than six decades and even switched centuries. And how splendid she was at treating each of six children equally and yet individually, being the exact mother each of us needed at every stage of life.
Lately, however, I have been picturing Mother at certain points on her life’s timeline, placement determined by her clothing. Not that she was a fashionista – she had neither the time nor the budget to don the latest or follow the trends. In fact, our family’s late arrival at every reunion stemmed from time-consuming preparation of potluck items as well as the frenzied scrubbing and dressing of five squirmy girls. Mother could never even consider primping herself into chicness, relegated as she was to throwing on something and running a comb through her hair.
Her daily uniform invariably included an apron, as she laundered who-knows-how-many-diapers in a wringer washer and hung them outside to dry. It was a fully-bibbed covering in a nondescript cotton print that she wore as she readied yet another evening meal to be served when the milking was finished or washed dishes by hand in the kitchen sink.
Those early memories of an aproned-mother shifted when we kids became old enough to stay alone in the house without fear of serious injury or total destruction. Off came the apron, revealing a serviceable work shirt and overalls with rolled-up cuffs. On went the straw hat and sturdy gloves for a day of baling in the hayfield with my dad or plowing a cornfield on her own. Utilitarian dressing all the way…
She had studied to be a nurse. Her roommate during nurse’s training became a lifelong confidant, and Mother often regaled us with stories of those eventful years. I remember a formal photograph of her dressed all in white, cap firmly attached to her dark hair and wirerimmed glasses perched on her nose. Marriage and my impending arrival disallowed the conclusion of her studies, and she hung away her uniform until…
During my junior year at GHS, Mother sought employment to make family ends meet. Out came the uniform for at least a dozen years of healthcare duties at the county nursing home south of Urbana and in Springfield at Springview. As old as I was, it always felt lonely to come home to an empty house every afternoon.
In a family of six kids, another uniform frequently appeared in Mother’s wardrobe: maternity wear. My sisters and I were born in such early and rapid succession, I never really put the two-and-two of an ample belly and an upcoming baby together until my youngest sister showed up at the end of my third-grade year.
But as a 20-year-old college student, I knew exactly what to expect during the first quarter of my junior year – and Mother had the maternity clothes to prove it. As my brother’s birthdate approached, she made herself a tentlike top from a green cotton print to pair with a skirt featuring a stretchy panel insert. For work she wore a white dress with buttons that allowed her to expand its size as needed.
As functional as Mother’s clothing had to be, she also enjoyed wearing the occasional pretty outfit. Although her social life was basically non-existent, she did manage to attend alumni doings at her alma mater in Rosewood. Because of what she wore, I remember two such outings.
Halfway through my teaching career, my sisters and I took her shopping for a Mother’s Day gift: a new outfit for her 50th reunion from high school. What fun it was to watch her choose a dress-and-jacket ensemble, shoes, purse, earrings for that special evening! Attired in her coordinated red, navy, and white outfit, she radiated pride and joy.
But another dress I barely remember from some year I cannot quite place has always given me great pleasure to recall. There she stood in a sleeveless, midnight blue dress with full, twirly skirt. Mesmerized as I was by her almost fairy-like appearance, I focused – as I still do – on the sparkles of her frock. Such a sweet but somehow mysterious memory…
I treasure the recollections I have of my dear mother. Come Sunday, I will envision her in garments representing the time we spent together. But my heart will especially cherish the memory of Mother in her sparkly blue dress, the best ever.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.