Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mom's Memories on a Shelf

I wish so much that all four of my daughters-in-law had gotten to meet and know my late mother-in-law, a true second mom to me, a one-of-a-kind lady who left her kids and grandkids much too soon.  If I am succeeding at all at loving my sons' wives well and making them feel welcome in our family, it's because of the excellent example I had in her.

My mother-in-law passed away very suddenly in 2009, before she had the chance to see any of her grandchildren get married.  She died about eight months before our oldest son's wedding.  Our firstborn's wife, Regina, did get to meet and spend a few days with her future husband's grandmother during the summer of 2008, when she came to a Pearl family get-together at the old homestead on Lake Champlain.  But unfortunately, Preciosa, Braveheart, and Ginger, the three other girls who have joined our family since Mom's death, never even got a chance to meet her.

It would be impossible to describe this amazing woman in one blog post.  To tell you the truth, trying to put into words what she was like and how I (and so many others) felt about her simply overwhelms me.  It can't be done.

But she did have a smile that lit up the world.
I'm sorry about the poor quality of this blurry old photo, circa 1991.  But her smile shines through, even in this fuzzy vintage snapshot.

I've been thinking of Mom a lot lately.  I can hardly help it, you see.  My husband and I have been staying at his childhood home this summer, with all of her things about us.  It makes sense for us to stay here, rather than in our NH home, because it's right down the street from Oyster Haven and that makes it easier for us to manage our VRBO property.   (And while we're at it, we get to enjoy the lake that's right in the back yard; there's that, too.)

My husband had to commute to work and fly a trip to Rome, and I'm here all by myself for a few days.  So I thought I'd make myself useful and do some housekeeping and cleaning.  I've been organizing drawers and cabinets, dusting, sorting through some of the clutter and figuring out which items are keepers and which we can donate or toss.  The family has already done a lot of culling and sorting, and yet there is still much to go through.  There are still lots of knickknacks ("objects d'art," Mom used to call them, in her best French accent) gathering lots of dust on the many shelves throughout the house.

Mom was a collector.  She collected china, silver, crystal, religious medals and devotionals, Hummels and other figurines, fabric, high-quality linens...and so many other interesting bits of bric-a-brac.  Many of her precious tchotchkes are of very little monetary or even sentimental value (on a number of them, the TJ Maxx red clearance tags are still stuck to the bottoms).  Those are easy to find new homes for.  But some of Mom's things are essentially priceless.  They either belonged to her own mother, or were acquired during travels, or were given to her by her children.   They tell a story of a life filled with curiosity and purpose, a life well-lived and filled with love.

One of my favorite showcases for some of Mom's memorabilia is this high narrow shelf in the kitchen.  It's been there as long as I can remember (and I first visited this house in 1973, when I started dating my husband); every inch of it is filled with mementos of Mom's beautiful life.


This shelf, which is located right over the island in the center of the big, warm kitchen that is truly the heart of the house, is crammed with cups and saucers, pitchers, and vases, and miniature tea set pieces.  A few of these treasures appear to be new, the kind that often come with FTD floral arrangements.  Some, on the other hand are definitely antiques and might be worth something at auction; they come from Ireland, England, Spain, Germany, Japan...and also from locations in the US, such as Williamsburg, VA. In the past few days, I've taken every single beloved piece down to remove years of dust layers (and even long-dead insect carcasses).  As I was carefully washing each item in a sink filled with soapy water, part of me thought, "We need to get rid of some of this.  All it's doing is gathering dust (and bugs)."

But how in the world could we ever decide which of these well-loved bits of pottery and china should go?  They all meant something to Mom and held special memories for her--and not one of the sweet knickknacks on this particular shelf has a TJ Maxx sticker on it.




Last weekend, my second-oldest son went to the mall and fought through a crowd to meet a pair of local sports-talk radio celebrities.  He came home with bobble-head figurines of the two men, and his wife Ginger was laughing about how much our son loves to collect things (a passion she doesn't share).  Our boy has large collections of hardcover books, decorative bookends, movies on DVD, statues of favorite saints, Notre Dame collectibles, football cards from his boyhood days...well, you get the idea.  I had to laugh, too, because you know, I kind of like to collect things myself: dolls, Catholic artwork and statuary, English transferware dishes, Salmon Falls pottery, nativity sets...again, you get the idea.  And my mother-in-law...I tell you, no one had a greater passion for collecting things--and the memories they hold--than she did.  So the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree with my boy. It's in his genes, I guess.

Well, Mom, I know you'll be happy to hear that I put every single piece of your china and pottery right back where it belongs up there on that shelf above the island, all shiny and clean.  Lined up in the same order, each piece in the place you assigned to it decades ago.  And if this house is still in the family decades from now, I'm sure the whole collection will still be right there, where it's always been, reminding us of you every time we walk into the kitchen.

Oh, and one more thing: I love you, Mom, and I sure do miss you.

12 comments:

  1. I'm glad to know you had the same sort of mother-in-law I did - a true second mom. Mine passed away in 2004, and her children-in-law now talk about how we had the best mother in law in the whole wide world. What a great way to be remembered, huh?! We miss them, don't we? But oh, how blessed we've been to have had them :).

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    1. Yes, how very blessed we both are! I'll tell you, if I can be remembered as half the mother-in-law she was by my girls, I will be a lucky woman indeed. :)

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  2. You wrote a lovely testimony on how your mother-in-law welcomed each new family member. She sounds as if she were a true gem; a real blessing and wonderful role models for women assuming the role of mother-in-law.
    Perhaps her life story might be your next book? I know I'd love to read more about her faith and devotion to family.

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    1. Yes, she was a true gem, Gail. And she did have an extremely interesting life--it actually would make a compelling novel, I believe. Her father is the one who immigrated from Ireland at 19 and never went back there again. She lived with her parents and an older brother in NYC until her dad died very young from a bleeding ulcer, when she was only 10. She and her mom and brother then moved to Upstate NY to live with a maiden aunt who owned a dress shop and ran a boarding house. She was beautiful enough to have been a model, and she had an amazing soprano singing voice and could probably have been a professional singer. But her biggest accomplishment was raising eight kids with great moral values who have all stayed strong in their Catholic faith, siblings to whom family means everything. So yes, I do think her life story might make a good book...whether or not I will ever get around to writing a third one is another story. But thanks for the encouragement!

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  4. I love this blog Laur....You do such an amazing knack of making the shelf above the island such a special place. Thank you <3.

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    1. To know Mom was to love her. She was SO good to me. I love writing about her. <3

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  5. What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful woman. I just love how you make everything you write about come to life!

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    1. Thanks for saying that! You're inspiring me to try to get back into the habit of writing every morning. <3

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  6. Laura, you make Tim's mom come alive for us! Your memories of her are so warm; the inspiration she gave you to be the mother-in-law you are comes thru loud snd clear. You are truly blessed.

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  7. Laura, you make Tim's mom come alive for us! Your memories of her are so warm; the inspiration she gave you to be the mother-in-law you are comes thru loud snd clear. You are truly blessed.

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