Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Two Moms

My two moms: My mother, Dorothy Louise, and my mother-in-law, Mary Katherine, share a laugh at Christmas, 1983.

"A good ol' gal." That's how one relative described my mother-in-law in a note to us shortly after her death just before Christmas. It's an apt description -- one that fits a patchwork quilt of memories I have of her.

But I can't write about my mother-in-law without writing about my own mother. After all, I knew them each for about the same length of time -- I was 45 when my mom died after a gradual, several-years-of-Alzheimer's decline, and my mother-in-law was an integral part of my life for almost 40 years.

Two women born less than six months apart, one in the Chicago suburbs and one in small-town Idaho, brought together by the unlikely -- or so some people thought -- pairing of their offspring.

Mary Katherine (I've seen it at least in one place written 'Kathryn') Wilson, born in September, 1920. Daughter of Viola Elva Boyd and Joseph Jerome Wilson who pretty much eloped because he was Catholic, Canadian, and six years younger than she, and she was a Protestant from Illinois. He was a house painter who settled with his wife in Lake Forest, Illinois where their four children -- two sons, two daughters -- were born. My mother-in-law.

Dorothy Louise Cutting, born in January, 1921. Daughter of Lulu Mae Williams, daughter of a Welsh-born Nevada mining engineer and his wife, and Ralph Philip Cutting, whose parents moved from Danville, Illinois, to the Dakota Territories to Montana where he met Lulu Mae and sat for his pharmacist's license. They settled in Weiser, Idaho, where their three children -- two sons, one who died as a youngster, and one daughter -- were born. My mother.

My mom, a late-in-life bonus baby, was born into a household run by two older women -- her mother and her mother's mother -- who, for whatever reason, didn't think it necessary or didn't have the patience to teach little Dorothy the domestic arts. No cooking, no sewing, no knitting or crocheting, no gardening, no canning or preserving. Instead, she got piano lessons, impeccable manners and a love for literature that probably came from my grandfather. She grew up as the small-town belle of the ball, went off to Whitman College where she majored in English, minored in piano, and filled her diary with notes of parties and outings and dates with half a dozen different young men.

My mother-in-law was taught how to have the house cleaned, the washing and ironing done, and a home-cooked supper on the table. After graduating from high school, she went to beauty school, as it was called back then, and learned hair styling. A professional photograph of Mary K. taken during that era and family talk suggest that she was approached about doing some modeling. If I recall correctly, her father didn't approve the idea. Somewhere along the line, she learned to tap dance and was part of a mass tap dance on the pier in Chicago.

By 1943, my mother, newly graduated from college, was working in Tacoma, Washington. As WWII escalated, however, she went to work for the American Red Cross and was stationed in Washington, D.C.

By 1943, my mother-in-law had met the older brother of her best friend and fallen in love with him. He was a radio operator on a submarine stationed at Norfolk, VA -- I think -- it was wartime, and so she took the train to Washington, D.C., where they were married. No family, no big wedding.

My parents didn't meet until the spring of 1952, after my mother had worked for a time at UC Berkley and lived in a boarding house in San Francisco, then come back to Boise where she rented a room -- people still did that in those days -- from my great-aunt-to-be. My father was the son of a mining lawyer and, a cousin tells me, Idaho "king-maker." My mother's wedding was more of an event.

Writing about my father and my father-in-law is more difficult. Suffice it to say that neither my mother nor my mother-in-law had an easy marriage. But because each had such a strong sense of loyalty, neither spoke much about it to anyone -- for good or bad. That doesn't mean they were saints. Just women coping the best they could under the circumstances, figuring that was part of life.

My mother-in-law and my husband taught me how to cook. My mother taught me how to read. My mother-in-law welcomed me into her air-conditioned home after our first child was born in the middle of a Southern California heat wave. My mother introduced me to music. My mother-in-law made lefse, krub, and rosettes -- foods she had learned to make for her Scandinavian-heritaged husband. My mother made supervisor of secretaries in the Orange County district attorney's office. My mother-in-law nursed her mother through terminal cancer, her father and father-in-law through their final days, and her husband through terminal emphysema. My mother became helpless and I nursed her until, for my family's sake, I had to let others take over.

Most of all, my mother and my mother-in-law became friends. They got together for lunch occasionally and stayed in touch with each other. Neither tried to tell us how to run our lives or raise our kids. Both were there if we needed them.

I probably didn't let either of them know enough how much they had taught me.

So here's to you both, Mom and Mom. I am who I am today because of who you were.

I thank God for each of you.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Judging Books By Their Cupboards

A cousin with whom I'd lost touch over the years tracked me down some time ago. Out of the blue I got a phone call from him and we caught up with each other. I hadn't seen him since I was about ten and he was thirteen.

"I remember when you were little, your room looked like a library," he said. "Shelves of books -- and you'd read all of them!"

I looked around at the bookshelves lining my living room and office area and thought of the ones in our bedrooms. Not much has changed.

So when I came across this Web page with pictures of the world's 20 most beautiful libraries, I was intrigued.

One, the library at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, I've actually stepped foot in. For a whole hour -- all that our tour itinerary allotted us. Ridiculous.

These magnificent libraries are works of architectural and visual art as well as repositories of the world's records. Incredible beauty encasing incredibly ordered words.

Ah well.

Maybe I'll make my own itinerary someday and include these among the stops. I assure you I'll allow more than an hour at each. Care to join me?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holy-Days, All Y'all!

Jesus' birthday is obviously something to crow about -- that was Lee's comment as he unloaded his kiln and put these ceramic roosters in about the only available spot.

I had just finished packing up 50 -- count 'em! -- pots that had been sitting on the living room floor and shelves and there are still more to be packed away. My husband is one of those 'out of sight, out of mind' people, so things tend to stay out until there's no more room.

Not that I'm much better, mind you. But it was getting hard to walk around. And I wanted to put up our Nativity scene and, and, and.

We also put up a Christmas tree this year. First time in a long while. Too busy. No kids at home. No room. What's the point? But, inspiration struck. (Three guesses from where.)

So this is our tree this year. Pottery by Lee. Stained glass star by Pamela J.

Happy Birthday, Jesus! A great miracle did, indeed, happen back in the days of Judah Maccabee. Celebrate!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mea Culpa

Last month I wrote about "The Blob and I," an article by Rudy Nelson that appeared in Books and Culture, published by Christianity Today. Nelson was refuting a recently published book by Jeff Sharlet. Here's one paragraph from my November entry:

"And a new book, The Family: the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet, called a journalist because he is a contributor to several magazines, including Harper's and Rolling Stone, and creator of a couple of blogs purporting to monitor "America's secret theocrats," suggests that this movie was a fundamentalist Christian group's deliberate attempt to sway public sentiment by making the monster a metaphor for Communism."

Mr. Sharlet left a comment earlier today on that posting, objecting to what he perceived as my questioning the validity of his title of journalist and refuting Nelson's article. I suggest that my thousands of followers read his comments and my response rather than my repeating them here.

However, Mr. Sharlet noted that he is more than just the creator of a couple of blogs and that he does more than just monitor a particular religious group.

In fact, Mr. Sharlet is the creator of two online religious journals: Killing the Buddha, "a religion magazine for people made anxious by churches, people embarrassed to be caught in the "spirituality" section of a bookstore, people both hostile and drawn to talk of God. It is for people who somehow want to be religious, who want to know what it means to know the divine, but for good reasons are not and do not," and The Revealer, "a daily review of religion in the news and the news about religion" published by the New York University Center for Religion and Media.

Mr. Sharlet writes about a number of topics in his blog, Call Me Ishmael. I read only the most recently posted one, dated February 3, 2008, about his book, The Family.

I regret not having explored the two sites before writing my post and for not including links to Mr. Sharlet's blog and the other two sites. As I wrote in the previous post: "
Ah well. Read the articles for yourself. You decide. That's what a free, unbiased press is all about, right?"

But I should have given you the tools to do so.

And, regardless of my semantical struggles over the title "journalist" and regardless of any other opinions I may hold, Mr. Sharlet is a best-selling author and prolific writer about religion in America. I did him a disservice in suggesting otherwise.

My apologies to him and to you.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ode to Joy!

Gotta see this -- be sure to watch it all the way through!