For Mother’s Day I would like to share a moment between my mother and myself. On an evening this past week we sat outside to watch the day come to a close. In usual fashion we had a bottle of wine open, and a little cheese to tie us over till dinner. My father sits back with his cigar, mother bustles around watering her plants before taking her seat. These are my favorite times on the farm. After a long day of vine field work, production, meetings, interviews and endless phone calls we always find ourselves back on the front porch. Wine in hand, reflecting on the day. This time I asked my mother if I may ask a few questions while recording her. She agreed. It went something like this…
Mom: I know I’m such a pain [Reaching for my wine glass to take a sip. Her’s was not yet poured]
Me: [with a sigh] Its alright you’re cute…that was larger than a “sip”!
Mom: It was just one sip! [Teasingly hands the glass back to me]
Me: Ok so here we go, just like a chat… What was Grandma like? What was she like as a mother, a young women? What where her stories, how did she inspire you? Things like that..
[My grandmother passed away in the late 70s. My mother’s memories have become mine over time.]
Mom: Grandma Tennant was…she never met a stranger. She was always so friendly, talked to everybody. She was very inquisitive, she loved to find out new things. Um… I remember on our trip out to the West Coast to take them..
Me: Who is “them”?
Mom: My dad, mom and baby sister. They we’re headed to the Philippines for his assignment..
Me: In the Navy?
Mom:…no, at this time he was with the Veterans Administration. They had a VA office Manila because there were many in the Philippines who fought for us during WWII. On the trip out West she was always so interested in new things. She was just very inquisitive. She never met a stranger, and she never met a food she didn’t try at least once.
Me: Like what?
Mom: She ate these rotten 1000 year old eggs! Which I wouldn’t eat! [laughing into her freshly poured wine glass]
Me: They’re not THAT bad..
Me: Did she have the um…?
Mom: The Balut?! Yes!
Me: The boiled bird embryo?!!! Did she ever say what it tasted like?
[We both scrunched our faces trying to imagine an odd flavor]
Me: If you say scrambled eggs I’m never eating breakfast again!
Mom: [Laughing] I don’t remember what she said it tasted like! I just remember she said it was “interesting”.
Me: Thats like saying someone’s boyfriend is “Unique” after meeting them the first time.
Mom: Right! Yeah, so that was something. I don’t know if she would do it again but she did try it.
[We pause a moment. Sip some wine. The dog, Chianti, is barking next to us asking for a bit of cheese. Looking pensive mom continued..]
Mom: She was raised very poor, but she would say they didn’t know they we’re poor. It was during the depression. They lived on a farm in rural Pennsylvania. Her mother made new clothes from nothing, for all three sisters. They all went to school, they always had food. So they didn’t know they we’re poor. Her mother took care of the family so they did not want for anything.
[Moment of pause]
Me: What was that saying you said Grandma would always would say?
Mom: Oh! Yes! Umm… “Its no sin to be poor, its just damn inconvenient”. [Laughing together] And her other one was “Unfortunately, we have a champagne taste and a beer pocket book”
Me: That sounds about right!
Mom: And she certainly had champagne taste! [Chucking with her thoughts] When she was in Manila she got to live like queen. They lived in the embassy compound there. Which was amazing for her, this little country girl from the back woods of Pennsylvania.
[Pause for wine.]
Mom: She had a sense of adventure. You have to remember, this was 1944. She had met my father when in high school. He went off to war in the Navy. They had written back and forth, very much in love. So when he got wounded and was sent to California to recover they wished to get married. One of the nurses there, Mrs. Wente, helped father write his letters to mother.
Me: [Excitedly] Of Wente Vineyards?!
Me: How fitting you now own one [vineyard]!
Mom: [Laughing and raising her glass slightly to cheers] So mother was only about 20 years old at that time, and she had never been out of Greene County, PA. She got on a train and went across the nation to marry this sailor! Mrs. Wente was so taken by the love story that she provided the wedding. So, mother had a great sense of adventure. Which I have and you have as well.
[Mom takes a moment for thought. Dad sneaks a piece of cheese to the dog. I refill everyone’s glass]
Me: You told me she would always say education would be your…. ummm how did she word it? I forget.
Mom: Yes. Your most prized possession.
Me: And that is what you taught me as well. No matter what happens, even if I lose everything no one can take my education from me.
Mom: Exactly. No matter what happened to you in your life [gesturing wide to show a sense of everything]. If you lost everything finically, you would always have your education. She was a great believer in it’s power. From the very beginning, for as long as I can remember she would say “You will go to college”. There is a story she would tell over and over again [beginning to giggle at the thought]… When I fell in love with my first boyfriend, in second grade…
Me: [Chuckles into wine glass]
Mom:….in second grade, I said that I couldn’t marry Bobby because Bobby wasn’t going to college and I would have to go to! She wanted a solid education for all four of us sisters. So we could have something we could rely on for ourselves.
Me: She wanted you to be independent women.
Mom: Exactly! Back then, in the 1950s, women largely depended on their husbands financially. She didn’t want that for us four girls. No matter what happened she wanted us to be able to stand on our own two feet.
[Another pause for wine. I let a cat back inside the house after a loud protest of being out to begin with. We settled back down in our chairs. A nice breeze starts to pick up.]
Me: So when I came along, what did you take from Grandma in terms of how to be a good mother?
Mom: I would say… her values. She always… [weighted pause] she always said she was not the perfect mother. Um… [weighted pause] but she always did the best she could. So you know, the thing is you just have to relax. What I took away from my mother was do the best you can because children are very resilient. If you instill in them with solid family values…they will be fine.
Mom: She also thought things like birthdays were very important. [Smiling brightly from a memory that surfaced]
Me: Milestones were to be celebrated?
Mom: Yes! Always! Never a birthday we didn’t have a big cake. Two or three layers with 7 minute frosting. Do you know how hard it is to make home made 7 minute fronting?!?
Me: Longer than 7 minutes?
Mom: Yes! At least 7 minutes in the mixer alone. That is a long time for a 10 year old!
Mom: Yes! She would frost the cake with this beautiful 7 minute frosting all over the place. Then sprinkle coconut on top. I remember one birthday… there is a picture somewhere… of me getting my birthday cake in bed because I had the measles! But I got my cake!
[Laughing together. The cat wants back outside, wish granted]
Me: What was it like to become a mother?
Mom: [Softly] It was very natural. Like you were always supposed to be there. There was a time right after you we’re born. Your father went home because he was exhausted and they let me sleep because I was exhausted as well. They had you in the nursery. The nurse came in to wake me saying “Mrs. Sokol, Mrs. Sokol may we bring your baby to you? She wont stop crying!” [Laughing at the memory]
Me: I was demanding even then!
Mom: [Continued laughter] Yes, very much so! So they brought you in, crying and hollering. I cuddled you up to my chest and you immediately quieted down. The nurse looked astonished.
She said “How many babies have you had??!!”
I replied “This is my first”.
“You just know what to do” she exclaimed!
We took you home, and had champagne. We have that picture somewhere too.
Mom: So, back to the original question. I don’t know if it is anything that my mother taught me as much as just the way she lived her life.
We continued to talk as the late afternoon turned to dusk. I listened to my mother’s experience of raising me. Advice for mothers based of her findings. I heard stories of my childhood from her perspective. Some new to me and some quite embarrassing!
I realized, after bit of time, I was being lulled by the sound of her voice. As if I was once again a small child asking for stories at bedtime. I wanted to sit and listen to her speak until the stars were brightly lit. But alas, the wine was empty and dinner was ready.
Grandmother, second from left. Great Grandmother, third from left. On their farm in rural Pennsylvania.
Grandmother and Grandad, 1950
My beautiful mother, Patricia. 1984
Mother’s Day with the two of us, 1995.
Present Day. 2017