May 11, 2012

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Mama, Mom, Mother, Mutti, whatever you call her, she rules!

Cynthia DewesMy mother was a pistol. That’s an old-fashioned expression for an explosive personality, and it sure suits her. In this sentimental Mother’s Day season, when we seem to honor mothers for their sweet passivity, my mom just doesn’t fit the image.

For one thing, she “had a mouth on her”—another old expression. She could destroy you with her tongue if she was angry, but she could also make you feel entirely loved, even cherished. And she could make you laugh because she was witty, though never mean or funny at the expense of others.

I called her “Mama” because that is what she had called her mother, and it was the custom in our family. She was talented in many things. She played the piano well, and was a good artist. Her lovely watercolors and charcoal drawings are displayed on my walls today.

Mama was also an excellent cook, having learned to make delicious family meals from another superb cook, her mother. She also learned to make fancier things from her days working as a cook at some of the wealthy estates in our area.

Her specialty, much in demand at family gatherings, was angel food cake made with 13 eggs. She would whip it up by hand to an amazing volume with a wire whisk, bake it and frost it with a delicate white icing. As a final flourish, she would decorate it with a few artfully placed African violet blossoms. My relatives still brag about her cakes.

Mama had an identical twin sister, Auntie Carolyn, who was equally funny and talented, although her musical specialty was the violin. They weren’t easy people to be married to, though. Auntie Carolyn and Uncle Wally were married and remarried three times and divorced twice. I’ve always said I learned how not to be married from them!

The twins would write letters constantly because long distance phone calls were an unaffordable luxury during the 1930s. Although they lived in Minnesota and Florida, and the separation was painful to them, their “twin telepathy” was always at work so they would sense when the other needed help or—gasp!—a phone call.

Since I was an only child, my departure for Indiana as a bride must have made Mama sad, but she never laid guilt on me. She and Dad would drive down for visits, and we would spend vacations with them. But as our family grew, they thoughtfully came for all the holidays as well.

Even though she only had one child, my mom was soon provided with six wonderful grandbabies to love. She would take them separately for a week in the summer and, apparently, the visits were memorable because they still discuss their adventures with her.

As is usual with grandparents, she was a lot less strict with them than I remembered her being with me. One son said he once admired Granny’s miniature cast iron skillet, which was an ashtray. He wanted her to cook his breakfast egg in it, and she did!

She asked another son, who wasn’t fond of vegetables, how many peas he wanted on his plate. He said, “One,” and that is just what she gave him. Mama surely loved the boys, but I think her secret favorite “grand” was our only daughter. Maybe she could relate better to having a little girl.

Happy Mother’s Day, dear Mama. You were the best, and I will love you always.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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