The truth is - I've had a school girl crush on my pretty mother ever since I can remember. She always made sense to me - even when Other People said she was ... well, let's use the word "flaky". She was like some magical fairy - like Glenda the Good Witch as she was portrayed in the movie version of Wizard of Oz. (the literary Glenda is much more like a wise headmistress at some very well run girl's school - nothing near as ditsy as the lady with the frizzy hair saying "Home?!? Why didn't you say so? I thought you wanted to go to Kansas!")
Mama always knew a song you hadn't heard before - and she had a pretty voice to sing it with. She knew how to take a pair of scissors, make 2 cuts and VOILA! You had a new dress for your doll ... even if you couldn't sew. Till she grew old and crippled, her house was spotless and I don't remember ever seeing her clean it - not dust it, push a vacuum, or wipe a counter.And yet there were the odd bits of clutter that kept our home from looking like some magazine lay-out. I know I got my trick of keeping one room "company ready" from her. Granted she had daughters who were assigned house cleaning chores but we never had to do it all. She was a durn good administrator, now I come to think of it.
She believed that everybody needs a day off now and then, and gave us carte blanche to pick the day - just so long as we weren't avoiding real responsibility. The knowledge that you could duck out of school some day for no real reason except you wanted to was like having a jewel in a treasure box - no school year ever lasted too long with that sort of wealth.
Her weakness was food - which she could barely cook - we had some awful meals interspersed with a raft of bland food, punctuated, now and then by inspired deliciousness. She was quick to resign cooking duties and all her daughters were given free rein in the kitchen. I began cooking at 12 and I'm still having fun with pots and pans. Mama, otoh, preferred to eat the 4 C's: cookies, candy, cake and cheese - with a little ice cream on the side. She struggled with weight all her life and it curtailed a lot of her choices once she crossed into Old Age. And yet - she'll be 90 on her next birthday - so .. she's contradicted all the statistics. Not that I would want the Old Age she's had - because it's so sedentary and so alone. Still and all - it's something to think about - this striving for eternal youth we Baby Boomers cling to.
Yesterday I visited her and took along a notebook of stories, memories and poems she wrote in the 1980's. I hadn't realized how many of these I had not read. Her memories included the tale of her parents' cross country road trip in the 1910's, driving a Stanley Steamer from Pennsylvania to California. They included stories about being a student nurse at the hospital in Wimber, Pa. They included tales of boys she knew who died in WWII. They also included one painful episode from my teens. They are powerful and they are precious.
Some of her stories were about how hard it was to be the Not Pretty sister in a big family with a terrorizing bully for a big brother. And yet - she refused to be crushed by that. She decided that if she couldn't be pretty (???!!!???) she could still be attractive and boy could she attract people to her ... like flies to a honey pot. I know there have been, from time to time, within the family and without, people who thought Mama was either silly or insincere or something. They were wrong. Mama was what she was - and she wanted to belong. She was willing to add to her store of social tools to fit in, but she never compromised her own gifts to do that. She enjoyed flirting. She liked to sparkle at the center of attention. But she never gave up her essential self. As I said - she merely added a dressing to the salad.
And it was that belief that, if you didn't like what you had you could do something about it, that she passed on to me: Perhaps the greatest gift a parent could give a child - the gift of action - of choice - of possibility.
Obviously ... I still have a crush on Mama.
We have a book in the library by Rosemary Wells: Hazel's Amazing Mother. I read it at story hour every May near Mother's Day. It's my favorite story about how amazing mothers are and whenever I read it I think "Yup. Bess' Amazing Mother" Because boy did I have one. If you know an amazing mother - especially if she's a new young mother - you might want to give her a copy of this, come next Mother's Day.