My mother died today. I’ve known it was coming for a while, but even so, it still hits you like a ton of bricks.
My mom was smart, kind, gracious, compassionate and patient. We couldn’t have had a better mom if we’d been allowed to hand pick one. Sometimes life cuts you a big break.
When we were little, Mom played with us, read to us, explained things to us and showed us how to do things. One of the things my mom taught me was how to sew, a skill I still use today. She was fussy and particular about the quality of her work and I’m grateful to her for instilling in me the motivation to do it well, to pay attention to the details. Even now, I will still pin something together (as Mom used to say), “within an inch of its life.”
When I was in high school, Mom would type my English papers. I always procrastinated, which meant we would be up late the night before it was due. She would type as I sat across from her at the kitchen table furiously scribbling out the next few paragraphs. But Mom wasn’t just going to be the typist. She would read my scribble and if she didn’t like a word she would hand me the Thesaurus and say, “There’s a better word for this.” Or she would insist that I rephrase something she found to be disorganized or awkward. Her pushing me to do better, to improve upon what was there, made me a better student, and definitely helped my grades. To this day, when I write, her voice and her presence are with me.
My mom always listened to us. One of the things I cherish most was when I would return home from college, usually in a post finals sleep-deprived state. But did I do the sensible thing and go to bed early? No. Because I couldn’t wait to tell her about all the stuff going on at school, about my classes, my roommate, my dorm friends and the dates I’d been on, some good, some bad, some that were even funny. We would sit at the kitchen table talking until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and she was always a willing participant. I loved those times with her.
My first job in high school I worked as a waitress. I often worked the late shift and would not arrive home until midnight or after. Mom always waited up for me. She would make me a grilled cheese sandwich, count my tips, which back then were mostly in coins, and talk to me. I suppose you could say we got good at staying up late talking.
One of the sweetest things Mom did for me happened after I told my parents I was getting married. The day after I announced the news, I arrived home from work to find the kitchen table covered with pink fabric, a couple of pattern pieces pinned to it. I asked her what was that? She said, “I thought this would be a good dress for your rehearsal dinner.” I was blown away, not only because of her ability to pick something she knew I would like, but also because it was a seal of approval of John. What daughter doesn’t want her mom to like her choice for a husband?
My mom taught me about money. How to earn it, how to save it and how to manage it. Like I said, she was smart.
My mom helped and supported us throughout our lives. But one thing she did for me that stands out in particular was write me hundreds of letters when I was away at college. I was terribly homesick and too far away to go home for a weekend. It didn’t take her long to notice. For a time, she rallied other family members to write to me, but even after those letters tapered off, she kept writing for three and a half years, making sure there were always two to five letters a week in my mailbox. I can’t imagine how dull, boring and tedious that must’ve been for her but she never stopped. She loved her children as no other mom could.
But now she’s gone and it’s time to say goodbye. Goodbye to a woman who cherished her family, honored her commitments, and taught by example. I will miss her terribly.
In loving memory of Virginia Dallner Howland
December 11, 1928 – February 12, 2013