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Mom the Invincible
by Amy Kenneley

Everyone's Mom is unique. Today I am writing about my Mom. Some things might remind you of yours, other things won't be like your Mom at all. That's okay, though, because all Moms are O.K.

If your Mom is still with you, tell her how special she is. If she is no longer with you, tell her grandchildren how special she was so they will remember.

Mom The Invincible

Today I am cutting daffodils and tulips in my garden, and thinking of Mom. Mom couldn't garden, of course. Every plant she ever had, indoor or outdoor, she managed to kill.

Someone would give her a tiny wisp of cutting and say, "Look, Nell, all it needs is a little water" But the tiny wisp withered immediately instead of allowing her to kill it slowly.

Mom never read the back of a box. She loved those new-fangled cake mixes when they first came out. Now she could whip up a cake without really knowing how to cook. She decided to expand on the yellow cake mix by making it into a banana cake.

She put the batter into a large pan, then sliced bananas longways as if she were making a banana split, and laid them carefully into the cake batter. When the cake came out of the oven there were four very brown, slimey worm shapes going through it. One of many kitchen disasters, even Mom admitted that cake couldn't be served.

Mom never followed instructions. She bought a little black sewing machine from Sears. Then she bought lots of red plaid cotton material. She was going to make me a playsuit, but she hadn't bothered to buy a pattern.

Mom cut and sewed and voila! She presented me with her creation. When I tried to climb into this ad hoc project I couldn't even get my leg into one side.

Mom didn't plan ahead all the time, either. She heard that there would be a sugar strike, so she purchased a 100-pound paper bag of sugar (don't ask me how it got down to the old chair in the basement) and for the first 2 weeks all went well. I would dip the sugar bowl into the bag and take it back to the kitchen.

Slowly the hundred pound sack hardened to the consistency of the Green Giant's sugar cube, and I hacked in vain with a bent spoon to break off chunks of this sweet mountain. It took months to get rid of this monstrosity, me with a sieve and a grater rubbing it into infinity.

Entertainment Cleveland Style

Mom loved entertainment and she took me to everything Cleveland had to offer. For this she had to plan and save, and she did. Every Ice Capades, every Ringling Brothers Circus had the two of us seated in the peanut gallery. I always came home with pink cotton candy melted on my dress.

Every year it was the Home & Flower Show at the Convention Center...nothing can ever take the place of standing on the topmost floor as we entered, and inhaling the Spring of azaleas, tulips, forsythia and daffodils spread like a scented rug several floors below.

Mom bought 2 things every year and nothing else: a little maple sugar patty that ached my teeth for weeks it was so sweet, and a little woven reed pomander of lavender to hang in a closet.

One year she took me to see Phil Spitalny and his All-Girl Orchestra. Imagine, 75 women and girls in frothy gowns plunking, banging, tootling and bowing away. Fascinating!

Riding the trolley or bus to downtown Cleveland, Mom had a chance to play tour director. She pointed out places and history along the way. Mom developed my memory bank by making me notice the world we passed through.

Shopping for bargains was her big love. We did the whole downtown thing- May Company basement shopping, the hotdog at Kresge's for lunch, the walk around the Square, then the box of Spanish peanuts from the Nut Shop

Mom the Talent Scout

Mom always wanted to expand my world and expose me to new things. She enrolled me at Billy Tilton's Dance Studio downtown, where I was to learn how to be Ginger Rogers.

Mom sat there with a big smile on her face as I moved my ungainly self around on teeny tap shoes. I never remembered the techniques or the steps, and was overcome with stage fright. Maybe I wasn't destined to be a dancer.

Next she enrolled me at the Curtain Pullers at the Cleveland Play House. Kids my age or younger were already creating impromptu imitations of dogs and cows and roosters, but I hung back. Mom smiled encouragingly for me to get up there too, but I never did. I wasn't destined to be an actress.

Mom tried to help me overcome my teen awkwardness by enrolling me in a modeling class. It taught young girls to walk in high heels, apply makeup, select proper clothing and fine-tune manners.

I managed the walking-with-the-book-on-the-head, but always had to peek while going down steps. Eyelash curlers threw me into giggling convulsions. Nope, not modeling either.

Mom Finds a Talent

Mom knew I was destined for SOMETHING though. She just had to find out what it was. When I offered her my Mother's Day poem, she knew in which direction I should be steered. My next birthday, I was presented with a portable Smith-Corona typewriter.

At the time I couldn't type, and the term "portable" meant that this 40-pound steel machine came in a box with a handle. On a good day when I had eaten my Wheaties I would drag it from underneath my bed to make clickity-clack noises on the keys.

Eventually I did learn to type, soothing Mom's fears that I would become a wandering beggar. She knew that even if I never made a living as a writer, people always needed typists.

It is my treasured talent. Today they call it "keyboarding" and the hunt-and-peck people watch in amazement as I trip along at 100 wpm, but my Mom just knew I would be a virtuoso.

The Jokester

Mom was funny, too. She didn't mean to be. Sometimes it just happened She wore her wedding hat three times: first to her own wedding, second to my wedding, and third, to her granddaughter's wedding. I thought it was a joke, but maybe it was just her thriftiness.

She would take me to the dentist, nodding wisely in agreement with him that if hadn't eaten so many sweets I wouldn't have cavities. Then for consolation for my drilled tooth, we went to Hoffman's for a hot fudge sundae (the best hot fudge in the world before or since)

She was a sucker for a joke herself. Her son-in-law convinced her that the pet rabbit had laid the colorful Easter eggs lying in the rabbit box.

One joke tickled her no end. She announced that she had purchased a cemetery plot "And guess what? It's right across the road from your house" The plot was in the Singing Bells section, where a large electronic carillon plays the hours and tunes daily. She had gradually gone deaf over many years, so I think Mom wanted a better seat for the carillon concerts. No more peanut galleries for Mom.

Just a Little Life

When I think of her life, I wonder how she managed to do all the things she did. She was a haphazard housekeeper, preferring to give everything a "lick and a promise" but she was taking care of 2 households and a full time job.

One thing she loved to do was laundry. She had pride in the sparkling clothes she wrung while hot with her hands. She loved the flap of sheets on the line outside that smelled of faraway places when she brought them in and smoothed them on the beds.

She loved the hiss of the iron and the spray of starch as she pressed her world into conformity and tidiness. "I guess I was born to be a laundress," she said.

She visited the elderly relatives and saw to their burials if they had no one else to do it. She rode for half a day on Saturdays to visit her sick mother for a few minutes before riding back home the other half of the day.

She was a soft touch for anything. She bought the neighbor's household goods if they needed cash before moving. She gave away the same household goods to others who needed it. At one time she had 3 or 4 complete sets of bedroom furnishings stacked up, waiting for someone who might need something.

I caught her raiding my small wardrobe one time, intent on finding something she could give to a girl who was "just your size, honey." No wonder she had so little in the way of worldly things-- she gave it all away.

She doted on her grandkids. She took them places a less daring grandma would never have tried. She wrote down all the little things they did or said when they were with her and gave the notes to me, so I could share in the moment.

She took endless photos of them, and she always insisted that they "hug one another" while she took the picture. If she had been a softie with me, she was custard in the hands of her grandchildren. Everything they did was wonderful. She applauded them all.

She conquered cancer at age 30, age 70, and the last time, at age 82, cancer conquered her. She had always been a person walking quickly, moving as fast as she could to where she wanted to go.

Then a hip transplant slowed her down and she limped for 20 years on a leg shortened by the operation. Then it was a walker she pushed ahead of her, first with determination and later with great effort.

Mom's Bequest

"Oh, what a shame you don't have your mother's hair," people would say when I was young. How I longed to be that petite, shapely woman with the brilliant smile and that dazzling natural red hair who was my Mom.

Sometimes I suspected I was a foundling she had brought home from the goodness of her heart. Only she could love this gangly girl, too shy, hair too mousey brown, with big feet and "big bones" who looked nothing like her.

Then one day someone said, "Oh, I'd know anywhere that you were Nellie's girl-you have your Mother's smile."

As I grew older, I found myself sounding like her, and using her phrases and then-horrors! I began to believe some of her ideas were correct! I had morphed into my Mom.

No, I didn't have her hair or her size or her nose, but I did have the wonderful example she had given me of her values, her ethics, her gathered wisdom, her love of life, her generosity, her spiritual self. And the cherry on top of her hot fudge sundae of gifts-I had inherited her invincible smile.

It was the smile that had hung over my crib, rocked me when I was sick and sang to me for comfort. It was the smile that had shown me how to be brave and how to keep going.

In a life of hard knocks and hard times, her smile had been her triumphant battle flag she carried with her-freely given and unchanging.

The carillon is playing across the road, so I know Mom is waiting for me to come over with the flowers.

It was our little joke, and remembering it now, the corners of my mouth turn up and my eyes light with many memories, and my lips part in a big...well, you know-- it will be my Mother's smile.



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