Sugar is sweet, And so are you.
My mother use to recite this classic poem to me many times as a child, and she didn’t wait for Valentine’s Day to say so. I can even recall the way it made me feel. Mum loved violets. We always had them around the house in plastic flower pots. It wasn’t until her recent passing that I discovered why she had such an infinity to them. A dearest aunt wrote me about a childhood memory she shared with my mum. After my mum lost her mother, they spent most of their time in the nearby woods among fields of violets, “the wild ones with a most delicate fragrance.” These two young girls would make small bouquets and sell them at the local train station for 10 pennies. These violets were a sign of hope.
Mum’s history is the kind that they make movies out of. Born in a German colony on the East German-Polish border (which has changed hands so many times that it is now Ukraine), she was a child of war. She did not speak much of her history as it was too difficult and she probably wanted to erase it from her memory, but she did share bits and pieces with me when I was in college. Her family was displaced a few times, having been transitioned to Krakow and then East Germany. She lost her beloved mother at an early age. She was left with an unkind father and one brother. The father got ill and never came out of the hospital. After having lost both parents, mum was placed in a sort of orphanage for young teens. Hating it, she and another girl decided to try to make it to the West. Mum said it was an act of God because when they boarded the train that travels from East Germany to West, the check point patrol officer was distracted by someone and they were able to sneak past. Making it to the West, mum tracked down her Oma (grandmother) whom I am named after. Three years later she was sponsored by her cousins to come to Canada. There she met my father, had two boys, moved across the lake to Michigan and had one more boy and girl – me. Today that family has grown to 11 grandkids and 2 great grandkids.
Even though mum experienced the atrocities of war, she was a colorful person. And colorful in the literal and figurative sense. Every house we moved into we had to repaint e.v.e.r.y. room. There was no such thing as white walls. We had yellow, aqua, purple, blue …. We planted flowers annually, especially marigolds and violets, and grew veggies – depending which climate we lived in. Mum would place jars of greenery around the house. In the midwest winters when she felt there was not enough color, she would tuck bright silk flowers into the greenery to add a splash of color, hiding the fact that they were fake. She would boil fragrant tea bags or cinnamon sticks to add a nice smell. It was not uncommon to see her pour wine over ice cream and eat frozen orange juice out of the can. Open the door to her clothes closet and it was an explosion of color. I don’t think she even owned anything black or brown, or even tan come to think of it. She warped the 8-track and cassette versions of Neil Diamond and Abba. Later on she loved Susan Boyle’s version of I Dreamed a Dream. She sang Mary Poppins’ “Spoon Full of Sugar” every time I had to swallow medicine. Mum collected pretty things like embroideries and dollies and jewelry. She was very crafty. Mum frequently went on “treasure hunts” to find afghan blankets, china, vases, danish furniture, books, fabrics, cards. Mum loved animals. Any cat that hung around, she adopted. At one point we had a dog, two cats and a few birds. But the two female cats were constantly presenting us with litters of 5-6 kittens and so it seemed like I was always in front of K-Mart holding a “FREE kitten to a good home” sign. And mum would actually size up the potential adopter to make sure they were a good fit. Not anyone can take care of a precious kitten you know.
Her soup was her personality. As we were celebrating mum’s life, a dear friend told me that we could write a book solely on mum’s soup. No pot was alike. Whatever mood struck her went into her soup. When the pot neared the bottom, that would be the base to a brand new soup. I termed it the “must go” soup. Everything in the fridge that must go, goes into the soup. And although that doesn’t really sound enticing, for some magical reason it always tasted yum.
Mum taught me four major life lessons. Live openly, trust your intuition, give people the benefit of the doubt, and the golden rule of treat others as you want to be treated. At the wake, I read a quote by Maya Angelou that I have had on my computer for years and one that reminds me of my mother.
“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The day of mum’s funeral was beautiful, the sun shined and there was the hint of autumn in the air, a day mum would have loved – yet I felt a starkness. We found a young tree to lay her below, so as the years pass it will grow to shade and protect her. We threw red roses on the wooden coffin as tears swelled in our eyes.
And Michigan has these incredible skies where the clouds just keep changing to creates lots of moods.
Mum – may you lay in peace and your soul be in God’s hands. You and that contagious laugh of yours will never be forgotten. I love you.