I wrote this ten days ago.
Mom was born in '23 and I was born in '52; she would have been 95 this year and I am now 66. She died of cancer when she was only 49 and I was 20. She's been gone a long time, but I miss her to this day.
My memory of our mother is of a woman who was endlessly curious and apparently never bored - traits I believe I inherited from her. She was curious about what Alaska was like (not long after it became a state in 1959) and longed to travel there one day. She was fascinated by the U.S. space program and was convinced there would be passenger travel to the moon. Of course, she wanted to be among the first. And Mom was always teaching herself things. One year she taught herself how to make dandelion wine and, in another, she converted the laundry room into a photography lab and learned how to develop pictures. We rarely saw clothes on a clothesline but that year there were drying photographs hanging everywhere.
During the summers on Cape Cod, we were sent to sailing school and Mom and Dad bought us our own small sailboat which was kept just down the hill in the Oyster Pond. Mom thought it looked easy enough and wanted to learn, so one day, (somehow) she rigged the boat and took it out by herself. She was found on the far side of the Oyster Pond, sailing backwards and was rescued by my little sister in a row boat, and towed all the way home. (I wish I had a picture!) She may not have always succeeded at the things she tried but she made a real effort.
Mom had an artist's streak and would create lavish holiday displays in the windows at the family store, the Mayflower Shop. She outdid herself the year she created a 34-inch "gingerbread" house trimmed in dozens of different types of candy.
Having seen the work of Ralph Eno (1902-1962), an artist who carved and painted bird scenes on old boards, Mom decided to try her hand at it too and thus was born "Holly's Folly". Mom sold several pieces and gave away more, and to this day the pieces each of us have are among our most prized possessions.
We were told, Mom was raised for the most part in a residential hotel in the Midwest, so I expect that's where she developed her diverse palate. She adored a "good steak", relished finnan haddie (smoked haddock), and treated herself to a lunch of caviar on buttered toast from time to time. And, she loved eating all kinds of shellfish and could be found, throughout the summer, shin-deep with her hoe in the Oyster Pond digging for her favorite quahogs.
Hotel living does not accommodate learning how to cook however, and when she married it's been said that it took her a month before she dared to make jello (or so the story goes). We never starved but we also had very basic meals prepared with little to no frills. Cooking chicken breasts? She placed unseasoned chicken breasts on a bare cookie sheet and cooked them in a 350℉ oven for one hour. Pork chops? She seared them in a dry frying pan to give them color and then placed the unseasoned pork chops on said cookie sheet and cooked them for one hour at 350℉. Pass the applesauce please!
I disliked tomatoes when I was young. For the most part, all we got on Cape Cod were TERRIBLE hothouse tomatoes that were rock hard, hardly red, and tasteless. One summer, when vine-fresh tomatoes were available at Phillips' Farm, Mom was determined to have me taste a real one. I vividly remember, she sliced it, sprinkled the slices with a little sugar, and then sat us both cross-legged on the living room floor (a real no, no), and had us eat them with our fingers! What a memory - learning and breaking the rules all at the same time, and to this day I long for tomato season on the East End.
Good behavior and following the rules were paramount in our household every day of the year ... almost. Christmastime was the exception which is probably why it's still so magical to me. Christmas Eve was the only day of the year we were allowed on the first floor in our pajamas and bathrobe, and in fact, outside. On Christmas Eve, just before we hung our stockings, Mom and Dad would bundle us up under blankets in the back of our station wagon and we'd drive around Chatham seeing the houses that were decked out in colorful Christmas lights. The pièce de résistance for rule breaking however was when Mom gave us our "Christmas cash" stuffed inside the biggest red Christmas tree balls we'd ever seen and then gave us each a hammer and told us to smash them. We couldn't believe our ears. We were always being told to "be careful", "don't run in the house", "don't break anything", and now this. What a memory!
Well Mom, Happy Birthday ... thanks for the life we've all had, we only wish you could have shared more of it with us ... making more of those warm memories.