Friday, May 6, 2005
Mother's Day: food, flowers and "home"
"So, what are you doing with your mom for Mother's Day?"
The simple answer goes something like this: "We're going to church with her up in Maine. We're taking her out to dinner, and giving her a bouquet of spring flowers."
It doesn't sound unique, but these simple traditions are richer than they appear on the surface. My mother, Ruth Claypool, lives in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, just a few miles from the town of Saco, where she grew up with her father (a Scottish immigrant), mother and two younger brothers. The church we'll be attending on Mother's Day is the same church where my grandparents met at youth group in the early 1900s, the same sanctuary where my grandparents and parents were married. Countless family weddings, baptisms and funerals have occurred under this roof.
To someone like me who has moved at least 15 times, (once as far away as Chicago), the history and grounding are meaningful. Despite the fact that I've never lived in Maine, this southern corner by the sea is the closest thing I have to roots. Here, my ancestry reaches back over 300 years; and this is the only place on the planet that I (and my children) have returned every year since birth. Although I'm sure it has a lot to do with the fact that Mom lives here, every time I return to Maine, I feel a tender stirring in me that says "home," a word made more precious by the fact that I've moved so often.
As for Mother's Day dinner, my mom will probably choose Wormwoods, a restaurant that has been perched near a jetty in Camp Ellis, Maine as long as I can remember, where we have gathered at long tables for family dinners and celebrations on countless occasions in the past. Surely our laughter and the good-humored ribbing of my grandparents, uncles and cousins still echo in the air there.
After family photos, my mother's favorite gift is flowers, so we will bring her a spring bouquet for Mother's Day. It's likely we'll also visit the crowds of daffodils at the family cemetery in Saco, where scores of Scottish and native Maine relations are buried, and where my mother already has a stone with her name on it.
But in spite of all the deeper meaning I invest in this holiday, I know my mother won't see her Mother's Day celebration either as merely church, dinner and flowers, or as grandly symbolizing home, tradition and a family history three centuries long. For her, the gift that matters most is the very thing we will be sharing on Mother's Day: time together.
Movie Mother's Day
My stepmother Jean and my father live in Syracuse, N.Y., just a bit too far for us to drive over and spend a weekend for Mother's Day. This year, as in past years, we will send her a nice bouquet of flowers. But that's not all we want to do, because things are different this year. This Mother's Day will be difficult for Jean because her adult daughter Nancy, from her first marriage, passed away last December. Her death from cancer came at Christmas time, soon after Jean visited her in California. This Mother's Day will be her first without Nancy.
I want to give Jean something that would be cheerful and fun, and give the kids a chance to show off for Grandma. We've decided to give her a movie of a "day in the life" of our family. I'm hoping this cheerful and totally unserious movie will help her get through what will surely be a bittersweet day.
We've been mapping out what our movie should show. Our ten-year-old, Rose, is planning to play her piano pieces in the movie. She also wants to travel around Carlisle and show Grandma all her favorite places. I'm sure Rose will shop at Ferns for some cookies, and she and my husband Paul will definitely end up at Kimball's for ice cream. Jean might like seeing the farm animals, especially the goat that can climb fences. Having just caught thirteen fish with his friend Bo, Luke, our twelve-year-old, wants to demonstrate his fishing technique. He has a huge supply of fishing gear, and I'm sure Grandma would like to see every fly, every pole, and every sinker. He is also planning to show how to find salamanders by turning over the old logs we have scattered around our property, a ritual we perform every spring.
Since Jean loves flowers, I want to show her the early-blooming plants: species irises, daffodils, and forsythia, and the shrubs that are already being eaten by the woodchucks and deer.
More importantly, we want to film comforting, everyday events: taking the school bus, feeding the cats, eating dinner, getting ready for bed — simple but happy tasks. We hope these scenes will let her know how much we care about her and that we are thinking of her on Mother's Day. Or as Rose says, "We love her so much in our hearts."
Mother's Day: a tea lunch
Until recently, Mother's Day has not been an important holiday in terms of celebration in my life. When I was working in educational theater, it was traditionally a day when my family left me pretty much alone at my request, because I had invariably closed a show the night before and just wanted to sleep off my exhaustion. Sometimes my husband and children would give me flowers, and they would always do the cooking on that day, however. I think they had fun cooking together, and I appreciated the day of rest and quiet. Late on that Sunday I would rally, call my mother and talk with her briefly, and spend time with my husband and children. That was pretty much the extent of the celebration.
This year, however, some changes have taken place, as they tend to do in all of our lives. My mother has not had a healthy year. She has been trying to get back on her feet after a serious illness and emergency surgery last summer, but has not had an easy time. She has a will of iron, though, so despite her frustration with physical weakness and loss of appetite, she has not lost her zest for "getting out of the house." For Mother's Day, if all goes well and she is able, I will take her to the Teapot Tea Room in Boxborough for a tea/lunch. Nibbling small sandwiches, sipping tea, and enjoying quiet conversation appeals to her more than dealing with lots of food in a large, noisy restaurant. The quiet conversation will be quite exciting too, because her eldest grandchild will be married next May, and will, hopefully, be the other member of our party that day. Mum will want to know all about the wedding plans, and my daughter and I will appreciate her perspective and advice. Three generations of women celebrating Mother's Day by talking about a wedding over tea, savories, and sweets: what could be more gratifying than that?
A Mother's Day with a family brunch
Mother's Day for me is a day with dual purpose — one as mother and one as daughter. I am fortunate to have my family and to also still live near my parents. They recently moved from my childhood home in Wellesley to nearby South Natick. The proximity enables a Mother's Day celebration in person for both of us and additionally a celebration of my mother as grandmother to my children. Traditionally my family has gotten together with my parents to share a meal on Mother's Day.
When my children were very young, I cooked a brunch, as it was not relaxing to go out to a crowded restaurant. As the kids got older, we had more flexibility and tried several different restaurants. Unfortunately, most are very crowded and meals tend to be rushed on Mother's Day. Our solution has been to go to brunch at the Wellesley College Club, a wonderful location on the college campus with views of the grounds and Lake Waban. The club is open to members who are faculty, alumnae or town residents.
While Mother's Day is ideally a time to relax and spend time with family, it comes at a very hectic time of year. With spring sports underway, we usually squeeze the brunch in between lacrosse, softball and activities in the yard sprucing things up after the winter. Still, it is always worth the effort to head to Wellesley, relax and enjoy a delicious brunch. My children would also add that the meal is always followed by the annual family photograph!
Yes, we could and do get together for a meal many other times, but Mother's Day is the one time when we try to slow down and just enjoy ourselves. We don't worry so much about what or where we eat, just that we get together and let someone else handle the preparation, cooking and cleaning. The sporting events and yard work that precede and follow the meal are always so much better on Mother's Day as a result of our traditional time together.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito