Lessons from my Mother


Lessons in living from my Mother

By Hazel Johnson
Ottawa Independent Writers
Ottawa Canada

Mother's Day always brings back a flood of memories of my mother and lessons in living that I learned from her.

What I remember most about Mother was her concern about what will people think?It was of utmost importance to her that the image of her family was of the highest standard. So it was always emphasized to us that we should never do anything that might bring dishonour to the family, or to cause people to talk. We scoffed at her archaic standards, Who cares what people think?But in reality we tried not to disappoint her — although sometimes we slipped below her bar. Her husband and family were her passion and her life. She lived and worked only for them.

My first memory of Mother was of a short, slim lady. She gradually becoming heavier, then slimed down in her late years. She had fair skin and a friendly face with a dimple on her chin. When I was young, she dressed conservatively, but later expanded to more vibrant colours. And I well remember the many hats she got from the catalogue to wear to church. She always wanted to look well when she went out in public. Mother also wanted her young daughters to look well-dressed, so she spent many hours sewing brightly coloured dresses for them, trimmed with lace or bric-a-brac. And I remember the ringlets in our hair that she learned to make as she twisted and wound our hair with strips of rags. One must always put one's best face to the world,she said.

When I reflect on my mother's stories of her early years, I often think about how incredibly difficult her life had been. She was born on a Saskatchewan homestead in 1909, three years after her parents left their repressive country for free land and free expression. There were no roads or towns in the area at that time, only open prairie and scattered bush. She grew up in a two-room mud-plastered log house with a thatched roof. Helping to till the fields with oxen was only one of many jobs she did as a young girl. When she married my father in 1929, it brought no relief from the unrelenting work. There is no question that she worked very hard as a young farm wife and mother for there was no electricity or running water on the farm. Furthermore, she was expected to sometimes help with fieldwork.

She had a difficult year of running the farm when her husband ended up in a TB sanatorium in 1941. I well remember how cross she would sometimes get at us for not obeying her. And what is more, she expected us to do our share of work even as young children. If she found us loafing, she would find a job for us. In her world, it was a sin to do nothing. I guess I learned her lesson well, for sometimes even now, I feel guilty when I'm loafing.

Another lesson drummed well into us was waste not.When I was a child, I remember bed sheets made from flour sacks.  Later they became tea towels. Next came the rug hooking, not one piece of material was ever thrown out; if it couldn't be used anywhere else, it went into the rug. She likewise unravelled old sweaters to knit socks, mitts, and scarves. And, of course, she sewed most of our dresses until my sister and I became teenagers. Later, after we left home, and the mixed farm became a grain farm with much less work, she started making patchwork quilts. I would see patches of her colourful dresses and blouses in her quilts. I still have one, as have my two daughters. The vibrant patches of bright red and pink flowers or green and blue paisley in my quilt bring a smile to my face. She loved bright colors.

In the mid-fifties, electricity came to the farm and life became much easier as the farm prospered. While Mother wanted her girls to have a better education and life than she had, she was unhappy to see us leave home. She longed for the earlier years when we were all on the farm. It was a difficult adjustment for her, as a big part of her life's work was done. I suspect many women of her generation had a difficult time adjusting to the empty-nest syndrome.

In the mid-sixties, Mother and Dad settled in town after their retirement from the farm. Mother kept herself busy with gardening and quilting, and another hobby was started — crocheting cushion covers and slippers. Our house still has a number of both. Her hands were never idle even though arthritis had set in. She lived by her principle of keeping busy.

When she was widowed in 1979, the adjustment was difficult. Dad had taken care of everything. She had a lot to learn; for instance, she had never written a cheque before. She did learn new skills, and coped very well. However, even after decades of being comfortable, she could not shed her frugal ways that had originated with her youth and the depression, and persisted through the war, and into the next several decades. One time when we came to visit her, she was then in her early eighties, I found her cutting up crab apples that grew in her yard to make an apple pie. She could not let them go to waste even though it consumed a lot of her time.

She lived comfortably but prudently and saved a portion of her pension so that she could give her children or grandchildren some money when they came to visit. She lived a busy and contented life in her own home for the next 15 years and died at age 85; but she left a lot of valuable lessons behind.



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