Saturday, June 6, 2009


I'm sitting on the back porch of my mother's house in Hanover, PA. This is the first time in my sixty years I've ever been here when she was not at home. The feeling is eerie. Mom lived here since the early 1950's. Prior to that she lived in the upstairs apartment next door. This old brick house and the one next door were built in the early 20th Century by my grandparents to house the family. All my life up to age 18 was spent here. Since then I've visited here regularly. Even so, the place is a mystery to me now. This will probably be the last time I visit the house with the contents intact.

For the last thirty plus years since my father died my mother lived alone here. She left her childhood home on the farm after the sixth grade to go to work. I think she married my father in the early 1940's. Mom was only 53 when he died in 1967. She lived most of her life here on her own terms.

Mom worked outside the home from the age of 16 until I was born. She went back to work after dad died and continued to work through her seventies. During her life she was a secretary in a factory, a home health aide, and a cross-country bus tour guide. While raising us, she was dedicated to the Boy Scout movement volunteering in many capacities and eventually earning the highest non-professional honor the Scouts bestow on women, the Order of the Silver Faun.

She was a very strong-willed woman who grew up in difficult times and managed against considerable odds to forge a unique life for herself. She knew how to do for herself and was uncomfortable allowing others to do for her. She held herself to an unreasonably high standard and wanted others to do the same. This trait, for better or worse, she passed on to her sons. It has made me the person I am today.

She taught by example. She taught me to cook and appreciate well prepared food. She taught me to garden. She taught me to read and to discipline my mind. I thank her for these gifts. I use them every day.

I have two brothers. Rick is a year and a half younger than me. Doug is five years younger. They will be meeting me here later today so we can make plans for dealing with the accumulated treasures of a long lifetime. There are some antiques, some photographs, some books, a lot of clothes, her treasured yard and garden and a lot of small items, the meaning of which is lost to me.

I've been looking through a box of old photographs this morning. Mixed through the familiar faces and places are many pictures of people I don't recognize and of whom I've never heard. I'm reminded that I knew only one side of her, really.

Random thoughts and memories are crowding out any calm reflection today. I find it impossible to write the story I intended for this week. Thanks to all of you who sent condolences on my mom's passing. It means a lot to Merry and me. I'll be back in St. Louis and back to writing next weekend.

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