Mama had a great laugh. And she could make others laugh, often by trying to tell a joke. She hardly ever could get through the whole joke without cracking up, or forgetting where she was in the joke. Her laugh was totally infectious, and her face lit up like the sun when she laughed. This will always be the first and last thing I remember about Mama.
Mama was not a good, or even reasonably good, cook. She (and Dad) would tell the story about her never having been in a kitchen before they married, and I think she was never comfortable in that room. We had lots of casseroles and food from cans (remember canned spaghetti? yum, at least when I was little). There were never enough frozen french fries, ever. We used lots of catsup, probably keeping Heinz in business. Mama was lucky in having to cook for a family at just the time when processed food came into being, and she took real advantage of that. For us, we were happy that Dad worked for Hostess and used to bring home Twinkies, and those cupcakes filled with foam, so we had desserts once in a while. But, she tried, Mama did.
Mama learned piano when she was young. I know that because there are pictures of her sitting at a piano. We had a piano at home and I had to take lessons, which I really really did not like because you had to practice when you should have been playing outside. But I never remember Mama playing the piano. She must have been like me, playing only when no one is around to hear. I bet she was very good and I wish I had snuck in to hear her play.
Mama sewed our clothes sometimes, and she permed our hair (yuck, always). She knitted and crocheted and made quilts (especially later in her life). Once for a local Kiddie’s Parade, Mama sewed costumes for my sister and I and a friend and we went in the parade as Snap, Crackle, and Pop (the Rice Crispies thing). We were cool! When she and Dad lived in Hawaii, she made hats from reeds. When they were back in Seattle, she made hats from beer cans and yarn. She tried making wine once, and her friends called it “Helen’s Hootch”. She stopped doing that after a bottle blew up in their bathroom closet, where she stored her Hootch to age.
Mama also sewed to decorate the house. I will never forget the corduroy curtains she made for our basement. They were orange, white, and tan stripes and they were absolutely marvelous. But I don’t think I ever told her how much I loved them. Hanging curtains was one of Mama’s “five-minute jobs”. She would rope us into helping her by saying it would only take five minutes, and we would always believe her even though not one of those jobs ever got done in fewer than a couple of hours.
Mama loved sales and bought things on sale that she would never use, but she saved lots of money because they were on sale. Then, as things piled up, she would hold garage sales. And she would have Dad drive her around to visit everyone else’s garage sales so she could buy more stuff to sell in her own garage sales. When they moved into a condo, where there were rules against holding such sales, Mama (and Dad) just kept piling stuff up everywhere. She was really upset when they later moved to a small apartment and she had to part with her stuff. I don’t think she ever really got over that loss.
Mama was an artist. I count her quilts and afghans as art, but she was also a very good painter. She painted in oils and in watercolor, and she was very prolific, for which I am very happy because I have many of her paintings on my walls and they bring her close each and every time I see them. After Mama died, I happened to read one of her early diaries and learned that she had taken art courses in high school and at university. I wonder now how it is that I never knew that. Mama did not work outside the home much, but she did work for a while as a window-dresser for a local department store. This was before she began painting, I think, but it was a way (I believe now) for her to practice her art.
When they were building the Space Needle in Seattle, Mama wrote a letter to the editor that suggested that the Needle be painted purple. They published her letter with her name on it, and I remember that at the time I was supremely embarrassed about the whole thing. But when I grew up a little more, I knew it was just another one of Mama’s jokes and then I was very proud.
When life got hard for Mama, and she slipped into dementia, every once in a while, Mama’s humor and laughter would come through. My sister and I were sitting with Mama on her bed once, and there was something we had to do that involved some effort, and Mama said she would help us. A moment later, she burst out laughing, which of course caused my sis and I to laugh too, because it was very clear that there was no way in the world that Mama was going to be able to help us.
That’s my Mama. I miss her, but I remember her. Sometimes I think I can hear her laugh, but I can always close my eyes and see her face lit up with joy at life’s jokes.
Love you, Mama.