What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million 1857?
4183, The Mother at Home,– by the quiet fireside at home, the true mother, in the midst of her children, is sowing as in the vases of the earth, the seeds of plants that shall some time give to Heaven the fragrance of their blossoms, and whose fruit shall be to us a rosary of angelic deeds, the noblest offering that she can make through the ever ascending and expanding souls of her children to her Maker.
My wonderful mom passed away on May 6th. She just turned 99 a month earlier on April 3rd. We celebrated with friends at her assisted living home while we closed down her old apartment. Though frail, she was still reading books and even went out on the van at her new place to hear a concert. Our phone conversations were about Downton Abbey, family stories (I always wrote them down on anything next to me – envelopes, scraps of paper), news for her about her grandkids and great-grandkids and my writing life.
We had many things in common, a love of history, the outdoors and the very weird life experience of being widowed a year apart. My dad was 85; my husband just short of 55. We found solace in each other and the courage to go on. My mom was many things, but most of all she was courageous and talented. Music was her life.
My mom was born in Gooding, Idaho just before War World I. My grandparents’ only daughter, with sons eighteen years old and soon to be in harm’s way, she was their delight. Her auburn hair and fair skin made a pretty picture, but by the time they moved to Boise in time for elementary school, she showed another side to her beauty, a gift for music. In first grade, at age six, the head of the music for Boise schools, took her to the veterans’ hospital and set her up on a table. There she sang Pretty Little Bluebird.
The following year, a piano arrived. A second-hand upright, it soon occupied an important place in the living room of their small California bungalow. Lessons began not long after with Maude Lowery Cleary, a graduate of the New England Conservatory. She was a formidable person as she had had polio and wore braces on her legs, but Mom remembers her with love and respect. At first, Mom went with Nana on the trolley, but at age eight, she went alone. She studied with her for the next seven years until she was taken on by a professor at the College of Idaho while she in high school. She played in a number of music festivals in Boise and often solo.
When I think of Mom, I think of music. She has played the piano all my life, the music of Scarlatti, Mozart, Chopin floating upstairs to my room in homes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Maryland. She went to college and at the University of Michigan studied piano and voice. She had the chance to go to Zurich, but the war cut her short and in the end, a wrist gave out. She could not finish her final performance for her master’s degree in piano. She got a Bachelor in music education instead. Such disappointment never showed in her determination to play exquisite notes with such skill and caring. Throughout it all, her baby grand followed her around.
A Concert at 89
When Mom moved into her new assisted living apartment after my dad died, Mom became ill and took her supper on a tray delivered up from the dining room. Fred, one of the dining hall servers arrived at her door. An immigrant from Eastern Europe, he politely put the tray on her table and gave her instructions in halted English. Then he saw her baby grand piano. A few months later, Mom announced that she and Fred were going to do a concert. Not just at her senior housing but in a fundraiser at a local high school along with some groups.
She delved into her part of the concert with dedication. There were scales and exercises that taxed her arthritic hands and music to select. For the program, she would play a couple of solo pieces and then accompany Fred on his vocal selections. That meant practicing her pieces every day. When the concert approached, my brothers and I had to go.
Two days before the concert, I flew to Boston and went down to surprise her. As the three of us gathered at her piano, the look in her eyes was of infinite joy and contentment. We were all with her, the first time since we let our father go. Then, she got down to business and practiced with my youngest brother turning pages.
The next night we took Mom to the high school. She was as calm and prepared. She wore a lovely long dress of aqua with an orchid corsage on her shoulder. Her white hair was pinned up, but it betrayed streaks of auburn under the bun at the back of her neck. We sat in front like the children that we were. When she walked on stage, none of us had a dry eye. Her fingers touched the keys and she was a young woman again, astonishing the crowd on the Boise capitol steps, the beautiful music flowing out and across our lives.
Still Playing Away
Now, my mother is gone. Oh, how I will miss her, for she has been many things to me: comforter, adviser, guide, sharer of passion for history, best friend. But it is the music performed by her hands that has accompanied me all my life, the background soundtrack that swelled and sustained me. Yet, I know I can at least find one comfort– that whenever I hear a certain piece of music on the radio or in a concert, I’ll know it’s Mom playing away.