Sunday, March 14, 2010

Celebrate Memories

My mother's name was Christine. She was the oldest of three children. Her favorite color was orange, and her favorite place to be was the beach. She hated anything raspberry and her favorite flavor of ice cream was Moose Tracks. Her favorite drink was Southern Comfort. My mother loved being a teacher, and said her favorite grade to teach was 3rd because "they were old enough to know how to listen, and young enough to still respect you." I think I'll always remember that she kept a jar of pretzel rods in her classroom that I would raid every time I was there. My mother liked to paint, although I never saw her do it growing up. Her paintings hung in our house and at my grandparents. My mother liked to cook and bake, and loved to make cakes for people's special events. I have a box full of pictures of her creations for weddings, Court of Honors, baby showers, baptisms, communions, and birthdays. My mother was good at photography, and used to turn our bathroom into a darkroom so she could develop her own film and pictures. My father even modified an old countertop so it would fit over our bathtub so she had a place to set up the tubs for the developer, stop bath, and fixer. I still remember the smell of the developer on her hands after she'd hole up in there for hours. My mother used to clean with bleach and water, and so I remember that smell on her hands too. My mother always had cold feet, and she hated it. She was a perfectionist, and would agonize over details, just like I do.

My mother lost her mother before I was born. She liked her tea with no milk because she gave it up for me when I was nursing and couldn't handle dairy. Every equinox my mother would get up early and stand a bunch of eggs on their ends so we'd see them when we woke up in the morning. My mother wore perfume, but she usually just used scented lotion. I remember it was called Chantilly, and I'd buy her the biggest bottle they had at Macy's for her every year for Christmas. My mother loved music, and loved to sing. She could play fantastically complicated pieces on the piano even thought she insisted she had "sausage fingers" and not "piano hands." My mother taught me the harmony to "You Are My Sunshine" and we would sing it in the car together. My mother's nails never got very long, and she always admired that I could grow mine out. My mother loved animals, and always kept something in the house with us; dogs, fish, rabbits, birds, hamsters, and even let me keep a newt I found when we were camping one summer. I remember that I was convinced she could communicate with the birds especially, since they would listen to her sing around the house with rapt attention. (I remember that my father would always grumble about our pets, but was always the one bringing home the jumbo rawhides, or surprising us by fashioning screen tops for our creature enclosures.) I remember her putting our rabbits into bed with us to wake us up in the mornings.

During Lent, my mother tried in vain to get us to eat fish on Fridays, and would even buy stuff like dolphin fish and shark fillets to try and tempt us to eat it. My mother used to make liver for me to eat because I was anemic and hated taking my iron pills. She also had a rule about eating a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter for dinner if we refused to eat our meal. I remember my mother showing me that "iron fortified" cereal meant that they put iron flakes in it, by crushing the cereal up in a glass of water and stirring it with a magnet so all the iron pulled out of the food.

My mother would talk or yell through her clenched teeth when she was really angry, but she always had her "telephone voice" ready at a moments notice. I remember that my mother had a bad temper, but would work to control it by biting her own tongue. I remember she would always gripe that the car only broke down when she was wearing a white shirt. My mother liked to spin out on snowy backroads on purpose to keep her driving skills sharp, even though I screamed in terror the entire time in the backseat. And yesterday while my family was riding in the car together I was given the gift of another memory of my mother. I remember that I loved how the bumps felt in the car while I was riding in the way back, and so my mother would swerve and dip into each one while we were alone in the car together and I would rate each one on its "bumpiness."
I remember that today is my mother's birthday. And I remember that she hasn't been around to celebrate it for 14 years. The picture above is the last photo I ever took of my mother, and I like to remember that at the time I snapped it, we were both smiling.


  1. the most beautiful post ever written... with tear-filled eyes your mother did more than good, you are one amazing daughter, wife and mother. Happy Birthday Mrs. Van Lenten, we love and miss you. Hugs and Love Alexis.

  2. Hey Lexie this is Sammy. This post is pure awesomeness. The part about "You Are My Sunshine" touched me the most. Both my parents worked long hours to support us, so my Grandparents were instrumental in raising my brother, sister, and I. My Grandmom would sing "You Are My Sunshine" so often to us kids. One day Lexie, you and I will sing it together and know that your mom and my Grandmom are smiling somewhere. :)

  3. Aww, thanks Sammy. I'm teaching the melody to Kira too. Maybe we can find the music for it somewhere in 3 part harmony. ;-)