Yesterday I was reading a very touching article in a Southern Accents magazine. The author, designer Matthew White, wrote a tribute to his mother who raised him and three siblings in a trailer in Texas. She worked hard to plant a beautiful flower garden outside of their trailer and once a year she would load all of them up into the family car and drive to the “fancy” part of town where they would look at the beautiful homes and make mental notes of things that they might be able to do around their own home.
The author said, “We never once felt poor, though I suppose by some people’s standards we were. We didn’t look at these houses with envy; instead, we studied them for ideas. As we slurped the last drops of Dr Pepper and balled up the crinkly paper that had wrapped our now devoured hamburgers, Mama would sigh. Then, with great resolve, she’d say, “This fall we’ll plant bulbs.” Putting all her 98 pounds into turning the car around, she’d take us home.”
His tender description of his mother got me to thinking about my own mother and of how hard she tried to decorate our own modest Dutch Colonial home in Iowa. She painted a corner cabinet in the dining room creamy white and with little nail scissors she cut flowers out of wallpaper and glued them around the opening. I always liked it better than the modern French Provencial china cabinet that she bought years later.
She was an artist with an artist’s eye for symmetry and color. The living room was cream and taupe and rose. When she could, she added turquoise to the mix. She loved mirrors which she hung opposite windows so that they would bounce light around the room. Every Christmas, her sisters-in-law would give her a piece or two of sterling flatware until after many years she had a full set. She saved for a set of white China with pink rosebuds and was delighted the day she went to the F.W. Woolworth to bring them home.
My mother loved family pieces that had been handed down to her from her grandmother. There was a Victorian settee and matching chair that sat by the front door. Whenever I had a special occasion like the prom or a graduation, it was customary to pose on the settee looking as elegant as possible. Today, I am the keeper of the settee. It is in my upstairs bedroom. I must remember to have my grandchildren pose on it the next time they are all here.
Once, when my mother and her brother were children, they were alone in their grandmother’s Victorian parlor and they accidentally broke a vase that sat in a prized location on the piano. They buried the broken vase in the back yard and hoped that no one would notice its absence.
My mother made sure that the bedspreads matched the curtains in our bedrooms and that the towels always looked pretty against the pink tile in the bathroom. Her green kitchen was not very large but the white dishes with little rosebuds looked so fresh against the walls. She never met a pretty dish that she did not like or a crystal prism that she minded cleaning so it would catch the light. She taught me to refinish furniture, and repurpose clothing so that it could have a second life.
Once I left home to go to college she decided to concentrate on the yard. Her best idea was to ride with my father along the gravel country roads around their small farming community and get him to put large rocks in the trunk of the car so that she could make a rock garden around the well and along the walk to the garage. It would have been like my father to complain just a little, but he indulged her and they brought home more than a few heavy rocks to form her beautiful garden.
One of the best lessons she gave me came with a simple little story. She related that her father, who could do just about anything, installed a new faucet in her kitchen sink. When he came to visit a time later he noticed that it was water spotted. She told me that he said, “Shame on you. You need to take care of what you have or it will not stay nice.”
In her later years she taught herself to make jeweled Christmas ornaments from scraps of beautiful fabric and old jewelry. She made a stunning cross stitch quilt in her favorite color….rose. Her braided rugs were perfectly shaped and the colors were arranged so that they drew you into them. One morning when I was in junior high, I looked unsuccessfully for a wool skirt that I wanted to wear that day. When I went downstairs for breakfast, I saw that it had been put into a braided rug. “Oh, you were about to outgrow that skirt,” she said. That may be true, but I think that the fabric looked just too good in the center of the rug for her to wait until I could no longer wear it! I still have that rug and it makes me smile. I just can’t get rid of it!
Today, whenever I make something that turns out well, or I visit a model home that is full of wonderful ideas, or I see my daughters do something wonderfully creative in their homes, I wish that my mother could see what has happened. She would be delighted.
Create and be happy!