Two nights before my mother passed away, I was sitting in her favorite chair by her bedside. She lived and died in our home, which was also home to her for the past 10 years.
I was holding her hand and watching her melodic breathing pattern, which to someone else was not rhythmic at all. But to me, it was what I became accustomed to and it became a familiar part of my mother.
As her death was nearing, her breathing pattern was not quite as melodic. With each more labored inhale and exhale, I thought of how hard she had worked throughout her life.
As I looked at her hand within mine, each wrinkle on her hand was a literal and visible reminder of all her labors. She earned each wrinkle.
She was a farmer’s wife, and a very intelligent one at that. Just as my father was gifted with insurmountable common sense, so was my mother.
I know this is certainly not politically correct to say anymore, but it is personal as the saying goes, “behind every good man is a good woman.” My father was a good man, a good person and so was my mother (woman at that).
My mother worked as hard as my father did. In “those days,” you always ate three meals at the kitchen table, and none of it was microwave. Our table always had at least six hungry occupants. My mother always fed whoever came to the table. There were always potatoes, meat, and a vegetable, as well as some delicious dessert to round out what seemed to be a six-course meal.
She washed clothes with a wringer washer and hung all of her clothes on the line to dry, and continued to do this even when she and dad retired and moved to “town.” Clothes never got as clean in an automatic washer and dryer, she always said, and she was right. My siblings and I always had the whitest socks in school. Thus, washing clothes was an all-day event.
My mother embroidered towels, and the towels were usually in a set of seven, one for each day of the week. On each of the daily towels, it signified what the task was for the day because it usually was an all day event. Monday may have been wash day. Tuesday may have been baking day, etc. And that is how it was in our household, too.
My mom was a local famous for her apple pies, so when it was the appropriate season, one day a week, my mother spent it baking pies, cookies, breads. Not only did she make the best apple pie, but her molasses cookies, Wheatie cookies, and no-bake chocolate bars were what I called “scrumpdelicious” and they were. Mom could also bake anything with rhubarb bars, pie, sauce anything. And she always let us have samplings when she was done.
When it came time for washing dishes, it was always done in the sink with hot, soapy water. Their house in town had a dishwasher, but it wasn’t used for washing dishes. Rather, it served as a storage area for those extra pots and pans. The dishwasher never cleaned dishes as well as a good scrubbing by hand, my mom always said. And, she was right.
Good, thorough cleaning was another all-day, weekly event. Scrubbing floors did not involve a mop, hands, and knees with a bucket of hot, soapy water was the only method. When mom dusted, the ceilings and corners were not left out. A dusting mop with a pillowcase enclosed over it was the cleaning tool of choice to get at the dust in those harder-to-reach places.
My mother also raised six children, which really became two families. My twin, Christerfer, and I were born when our three oldest siblings were already married with the beginning of families of their own, and our other brother, Chuck, (who my mother always called by his given name, Charles) was in junior high school.
In fact, I will never forget our first day of kindergarten, waiting by the bus stop with my brother Chuck, who was now a senior, armed with me in one hand and my twin in the other.
My brother’s first day as a senior and he had to not only escort his little brother and sister on the bus, but ride it, too. That was my mother’s doing.
Thus, when my mother thought she was done raising children, she was not. I certainly am glad of that. Christerfer and I came along, and my parents had to start all over again. Not only did my mom have us to take care of, she always had grand kids over too. But I know that if she had to do it all over again, she would not have changed that.
Amid all of her daily household chores and outdoor duties, there were always kids running around. She never minded this, and she never minded the messes that we made. We played store in the kitchen with all of the wonderful food products and brown paper bags we could find. The other rooms, many times, served as houses for us when we played “grown up.” She never minded this either. At the end of the day, it just had to be picked up.
The other thing my mother was locally famous for were her beautiful rock gardens. She could place a rock, plant some flowers, and make it look so beautiful. She could make anything grow. Marigolds, snapdragons, violets, violas were perennial flowers for my mother. We lived on a county road that was tarred and busily traveled. Many passersby would stop, park at the side of the road, or just slow down to a pace in which they could take in all of the colors and beautiful garden arrangements.
Although she had a green thumb, forming and maintaining these gardens took a lot of hard work in between all of the other chores she did. Countless rocks were transferred from the fields to the yard. Although my father was the mainstay in the delivery of these rocks, my mom lifted and placed, and lifted and placed a countless number herself. Because, as it is and was, only she could put them in just the right places.
I spent many days strolling through her garden paths, taking in the sweet aromas of her beautiful blooms. In fact, that is why the snapdragon is my favorite flower. As a child, the smell of the snapdragon was so sweet to me, I could understand why bees couldn’t stay away.
This article could turn into a memoir of a mother’s labors of love. As my mother’s life was coming to an end, and I sat by her side, a reflection on her labors of love over all of the years as I knew them, observed them, and experienced them, was full of such joy, gratitude, and tears. Each breath she yet took and each wrinkle she bore, stood for something meaningful in her life and in her family’s life. They were physical symbols of her life and how she lived it.
My children and her grandchildren always loved to hold Grandma’s hands. Her physical aging did not frighten or intimidate her grandchildren. I guess they knew that those wrinkles were love-laden. The kids just instinctively knew that they were recipients of her special givings.
As a mother, myself, with growing children and as I am now in those middle years of life with wrinkles of my own, I will remember not to be embarrassed by my hands that now bear their own signs of time and labor.
I guess wrinkles are just the physical, overt signs of our labors of love over the course of our lifetimes. They are a testament to the tea towel signets of all of the daily and weekly labors of our lives.
A parent never stops teaching their children, even when they are no longer here. Even as my mother was in her last days and could no longer converse, she was yet teaching me about life and the love of a parent. I am forever grateful to my parents’ labors of love and more importantly, for allowing me the gift of their lives that I was very lucky to spend with them until the very end.
I know that with age, comes greater wisdom and wrinkles, which both are earned and worthy of respect. As I continue to gain more wrinkles and lines, I will look at them a little differently now.