Been thinking about Mom this week. Hard to believe she’s been gone since 2004. Where did those 16 years go? She died when she was 77, following her third bout with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Ugh. Awful. My sister Mona died two years ago when she was 75. As I zip towards my milestone birthday of 70, I ponder my own longevity because the numbers are not encouraging for the females of my family. Looks like 76 might be a done deal for me. Dad made it to 91. Can’t factor Larry in this equation because he was killed when he was 12. Hmmm.
So my complicated mom. She was a loner, but friendly. Kept her problems (and grief) to herself. Had a difficult time letting acquaintances become something more in her life. Her inner circle was the same size as mine apparently. Minuscule. She was overly kind and compassionate to the elderly, they were her people. She doted on them her entire life. Mom’s mom died before she and her twin brother were 2 weeks old. Perhaps being raised by two sets of grandparents set the tone in her life at an early age.
I remember this particular Sunday as though it were yesterday. I’m snuggled up on Mom’s right at Calvin Christian Reformed Church for morning services in the mid-1950’s. We kind of had our own ‘pew’ area. Looking from the Narthex, on the left side, a few rows from the back. After we left Calvin and joined rival First Reformed in 1961, (insisted by me, an 11 year old brat) Mom and Dad chose the same general vicinity they would call their pew home for the next 50 years.
Mom (gloves included), Mona, Ed & Dad, Calvin Christian Reformed, 1960
Why do people gravitate towards a certain area in the sanctuary week after week, year after year? Something familiar that is a comfort to them? The same folks sitting nearby? I think my parent’s decision to always sit in the same area was based on Dad finding us amongst that big congregation. He was voted as an elder multiple times and the Consistory met for a few minutes before the morning service. By then, Mom and I had been seated for several (long, very long) minutes. If we were always within a row or 2, with Mom posted in the aisle seat, (waiting to move over when the elder arrived) Dad could easily spot us. Here we lived 3 blocks from church yet Dad insisted we arrive before 9 am when church didn’t start for another 30 minutes. Even back then, I understood their reasoning, but wasn’t crazy about sitting quietly for an extra half hour.
Mom rarely carried a purse but had her own version of toting essential items to church. Dad kept our weekly monetary gift in our family’s numbered church envelope, secure in the inside pocket of his suit coat. He would often hand me some loose coins before the deacons got to our row to add to the collection plate. The rules for this were explained beforehand. “Don’t you dare throw the change in and make a lot of noise.”
Mom’s wearing a pretty dress, modest length below the knee, nylons with a dark seam down the middle of the back of her leg. (girdle too, what a struggle on Sundays, although it was pretty funny to watch her gyrate around their bedroom, trying to tug it on. I think it was made of flubber. Vowed at a very young age never to put myself through that miserable ordeal-even for God. I would soon become less than enthralled with skirts/dresses/nylons/garter belt/heels in general). Then Mom would add clip on earrings, maybe a necklace and high heels, pulling the whole ensemble together. Making her even/steven or a titch taller than 6 foot Dad.
She would have shopped for the dress in Sioux Falls, (probably Shriver’s) hoping (praying fervently) no one else in the congregation had picked out the same lovely frock because that would definitely put a damper on the service. She never wanted to see the same outfit she bought (or wearing at the time) on someone else, especially someone she knew and attending the same service. If that happened, she would be less inclined to ever wear that particular dress to church again. I never thought of Mom as remotely vain though she might have been about her Sunday wardrobe.
If it wasn’t hellfire hot she’d be wearing a pair of short gloves, perhaps a hat, but on this day in my memory bank it was stifling in church. Benout. Dutch word for hot, humid, airless. She was holding 2 items in her hand. One was a freshly laundered, crisply ironed, sparkling white handkerchief which was beautifully bordered with colorful tatting. One corner of the hankie bulged out with a large, loose knot securing a couple of pink peppermints inside. Not the white ones, they were too strong and minty. The pink ones were perfect. They were not shared nilly-willy with her youngest child just yet. The peppermints were doled out as a distraction during the lengthy sermon/scripture/prayer part of the church service. And I was forewarned before getting out of the car to suck on the peppermint, not to bite it, disintegrating it in less than 30 seconds.
I was fascinated with the object in her lap at the moment, since the peppermints were off my snack list for the time being. In her hand rested a lavender patterned metal object about the length of a teaspoon and not very wide. There was a seam down the middle. Although both ends were closed, one end was clasped together and could be separated. When unhinged and spread apart a thin pleated accordion type colorful paper appeared, making the perfect Sunday-go-to-meetin’ fan. To aid in drying up any perspiration that might appear on Mom’s scorching forehead, rendering it shiny from her face powder, which had melted away in the heat. Although she wouldn’t let me play with the fan, (I would have wrecked it in a New York minute. What fun) there was an added bonus. When the heat became unbearable, (usually just before the long prayer) she’d open up her magical fan as unobtrusively as humanly possible and start waving her right hand, causing quite a stir. Like manna from heaven the air surrounding Mom and her unruly child would instantly drop a couple degrees. Actually caused a sigh of relief.
I’m constantly amazed at the obscure memories that niggle their way in when I’m thinking of Mom. Something I hadn’t thought about in ages. Our first church. Mom wearing fancy dresses that she prayed were not duplicated. Dad with the collection envelope in his jacket pocket. A precious, purple magical fan that cooled us on a sweltering hot Sunday morning. Extremely long prayers which meant sucking (not chewing) pink peppermints…