Delivered at Mars, PA
Nov. 26, 2005
We all know the saying “Like Mother, Like Daughter.” I got to know my mom in an off and on again fashion during my fifty-five years. Of course I was with her full-time while growing up and through high school, but then I was off to college and then to Florida to work, and then back to Chicago for extended schooling, and then finally back to Florida again before moving to North Carolina just prior to moving back to Pennsylvania to help Mom and Dad six years ago. I was gone thirty-one years. Visits to and from her were infrequent because of the distance. So, of my fifty-five years, I spent only twenty-five years, less than half, in close contact. Those initial eighteen years at home bring memories of her as a parent. The final six years, and especially the last several, I’ve watched our roles change—reverse somewhat—with me becoming more the parent to her as she slowed down, But her traits have always been evident, even during her final years. My mom, first and foremost, has always had a schedule to keep.
As we kids grew up we could easily see that her days of the week were always scheduled: Mondays for washday, Tuesdays for ironing, Wednesdays and Thursdays might have been for watering the plants or gardening or canning, and then of course Friday she cleaned the house and went grocery shopping with Dad in the evening. Well, Larry and I knew their shopping schedule to a tee. Once they pulled out of the driveway to the store Friday nights, we knew we had an exact length of time to terrorize the house and each other. At the house on 225 Springer Dr. there was a circular route from the family room, down the hallway, through the dining room and kitchen, and back into the family room. Larry and I would play terror tag, chasing each other round and round the circle, pulling and tossing over chairs from the kitchen and dining rooms and throwing couch pillows at each other. But we kept one eye out for their car coming down the street after shopping, giving us about one minute to get everything in order and then fall, out of breath, on the couch, looking like perfect angels before they came back inside. Did Mother ever know? She never said a word.
Saturdays, Mom baked and Sundays were reserved for nothing else but church and family time. In the last few years as I took over and changed the weekly schedule to suit my needs, she was only able to maintain her schedule of church on Sundays. But, she continued to keep a strict daily schedule: out of bed in the morning at 7:00, and regardless of a 9:00 TV show in the evening, she headed back to bed in the evening at 10 minutes to 10 so she could get ready and do her nightly devotions before lights out. She also kept a bit of an eating schedule, having the exact same breakfast every morning, the same lunch foods each day, and as Larry said, reserving Friday nights for fish and macaroni and cheese. But in recent years she changed over to bacon and eggs on Saturdays, and Sundays, mini-pizzas. This was week after week. It’s a little bit scary but I now find myself eating the same exact breakfast and lunch each day and the same meals certain nights of the week. Like mother, like daughter?
For as long as I can remember, Mother had the kitchen as her primary domain. Noted for her baked goodies, she made the best chocolate chip cookies, and there usually were some waiting for me in the jar after school. I still have a cookie addiction, and so does Larry. She made the best Christmas fudge, home made pies, and specialties like vegetable soup and pot roast with potatoes. In recent years, sadly, some of her specialties had begun to taste a bit off. I don’t know if she unknowingly left out key ingredients or simply mis-measured. Like mother, like daughter I stepped in to take over the challenge of making the best cookies, fudge, and roasts, doing her proudly.
Growing up, we always had meals on the table on time. The Pearces have rarely missed a meal [laughter]. We ate as a family. This is something rare in this day and age. There was never a dirty dish left behind in the sink. Even to the end, she was still a stickler about dishes being done and the sink cleared. When I was a kid, she tried to get me, her only daughter, to be domesticated by having me dry the dishes after dinner. Of course, I wanted no part of that. I wanted to be out in the yard playing with my brother Larry, but she made me stay in to dry the dishes. If I didn’t do it right, I had to do them over again. And to this day, I still want to go out and play. I still hate drying dishes. Sorry Mom—NOT like mother, like daughter.
Mom had many kitchen or food-related sayings, or “Ruthisms” as we called them. If you dropped silverware, that meant that company was coming: a knife was a man and a spoon was a woman. I’m not sure who a fork was. My cousin Jim Pearce from Seattle remembers my mother telling him to always eat the crust of pie because it would make his hair curly. Well, I always eat my pie crust—first, as my dad always did—and my hair is curly. Mom would always say she was getting some money because of the foam on her coffee after stirring in the milk: the bigger the foam, the more the money. Of course, you had to scoop it off with a spoon and slurp it down before the foam drifted over and touched the edge of the cup for it to count. Granddaughter Diana and daughter-in-law Jean recall that every year, year after year, when my mom and dad arrived at brother Butch’s house for Thanksgiving, as soon as she came in the door and before greeting anyone, the first words out of her mouth were, “I smell the bird.”
My mom never finished high school, but she had the most perfect handwriting. Over the past year she was addicted to her favorite pastime, puzzle books, namely “search-a-words.” She worked on puzzles from morning until bedtime, completing dozens if not hundreds of books over the years. She never seemed bored. She’d often look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary to know what they meant, until the print became just too small for her to see any more. And I’m confident that working on these puzzles helped keep her mind alert and sharp until the end. She also enjoyed reading. She had her daily schedule of devotions, devotional calendars, a large print New Testament Bible, and some special magazines: Guideposts, Readers’ Digest, and Prevention magazines. She loved getting and reading cards and letters from family and appreciated getting pictures from her loved ones and cherished keeping recent photos of loved ones under the glass plate, chairside at home.
In addition to working her puzzle books and reading, Mom also spent time watching TV, but only a few select shows. She loved Jeopardy and Millionaire, maybe as a means to continue the education she was never able to complete in school. She also watched Wheel of Fortune and The Price is Right.
Well, being scheduled, she looked forward to her neighbor Sandy washing and setting her hair every Saturday morning. Some weeks, Sandy needed to come on Fridays instead. Sandy recalls that Mom would never let her come at 11:00 on Friday because that’s when The Price is Right was on. But I sensed something wasn’t quite right the day before she went back to the hospital because she didn’t want to watch The Price is Right. She somehow was off schedule. I started her watching Survivor and Lost and we watched some of these shows. Her favorite show, however, was The Joy of Music with Diane Bish, a half hour of sacred music each Sunday afternoon at 2:30. We were able to have this show on at the hospice during her final Sunday afternoon with us. We hope it reminded her of things at home and of heavenly music to come.
Between reading, doing puzzle books, and watching TV, Mom also loved to watch the neighbors. From her chair she had a clear view of the street and the neighbor’s houses. She always knew who was jogging up and down the street, who was walking which dog, and which dog had baptized our bushes out by the street, what the school kids were up to as they came down the street after school, and of course, what the neighbors were up to across the way or in their yard or driveway. She never missed a trick or a coming or going. She loved reporting everyone else’s scheduled going ons to me.
Another gift Mom had was a green thumb. Her specialty was growing violets, the number declining from several dozen at one time to maybe a half-dozen at the end. The few that are left are still blooming. She also drove us kids crazy by mixing in plastic flowers with the real plants. Like mother, like daughter? I do have some success with growing violets, but I do not have my mother’s love for plastic flowers. Sorry, Mom!
Dad was the green thumb in the back yard and Mom canned, a variety of vegetables, juices, and jellies. But, the fruit cellar that was once loaded from floor to ceiling with her canning expertise finally became bare just last year, Sadly, although I had continued gardening for Mom after Dad died, I never learned the art of canning.
Another talent Mom had was knitting and crocheting. Every bed and chair in the house has an afghan she made. I’m sure each of us kids and grandkids has an afghan or knit baby booties or sweater she made. I still have all of the sweaters she knit for me and will treasure them for my lifetime. I’m wearing one of them today. Like mother, like daughter, I tried knitting, but only ever made one sweater. Unfortunately, I leaned over the stove one time when it was hot and burned a hole in the front of it, thus ending any competition I might have had with my mother in knitting.
Mom loved cats, especially her white, long-haired cat named “Princess.” When I moved in with Mom and Dad six years ago to help them out I don’t know if Mom was glad to see me or more glad because I brought two cats. I have just one cat now, and Mom loved to feed her, to watch her eat, and enjoy her enjoying the squirrels and birds out the front window or enjoy her taking a cat nap on the rear window. Quiet, simple pleasures—a cat always made her smile. Taffy, my cat, misses her. Until the end, Mom still had three stuffed animals on her neatly made bed at home everyday: three white cats.
Emotionally, Mom was very stoic with a high pain tolerance and reports never crying in her lifetime. Earlier in her life, she was not readily open with words of praise or signs of affection. She rarely raised her voice or showed signs of anger. That’s just not how we were raised, but in her later years, perhaps after many doses of psychology via Oprah or Dr. Phil, she was finally able to speak those three little, but oh so important, words to us all, “I love you.” It wasn’t in the speaking of her love, but in her actions that she showed it. She kept a good home, clean and tidy for us kids, kept us clothed in hard times, well fed, perhaps too well fed, especially with her desserts, and she kept us on schedule. I too found it hard to speak those three little words back to my mother, even though she saw my love for her in my actions during our time together in the last weeks as I became her full time caregiver.
As a wife and mother, Mom was always guided by her faith. She rarely missed church on Sunday, but if home, she watched it on local TV. At church she always sat in the same seat, the same pew every week. And no matter who joined her, friends or neighbors, she would not move out of that—her special place. The Bible she had donated to the church was in the rack in front of her, and she enjoyed using it each Sunday at church. While Larry and I were growing up, she and Dad saw to it that we attended Youth Club at Sharon Church on Wednesdays after school where we both got our grounding education in Christianity and Christian music that have grown into our faith today.
Mom disciplined us by saying, “We do not do that in this house or in this family for God would not appreciate or approve of that behavior,” words that imparted more fear and respect in us because of a higher authority than any harsh words or spanking ever could. Most important, Mom was a pray-er. I’m sure she prayed for everyone in this room at sometime in her life, her family and her friends. If she nodded of in her chair at sometime during the day she would never admit to napping, just “resting her eyes.” I wonder if she was praying. Mom prayed and that was her unspoken service to us and to God. When my father and brother were ill, she prayed. God knows, we all prayed. Now, during her illness, it was our turn to check our level of faith and pray for her. Did we, as she certainly did, have access to God the Father through a faith in Jesus Christ?
Well, I’m a lot like my mother—like mother like daughter. I received her talent for baking, her green thumb for growing flowers, her love for doing puzzle books and reading, watching TV, and most importantly, her faith in Christ. I’m not the prayer warrior she was, at least not yet. My hope is that friends and family may continue to see a glimpse of my mother’s good traits in me in my years to come. Yes, she was highly scheduled, but with that came a sense of stability and security to us. She was honest. She was kind. She was patient. She was faithful. She was gentle. She was self-disciplined. This is love. She was a good wife and a good mother. When a loved one dies, it reminds us of our own mortality. Time can be long or short; it’s not known. Mom lived a long life at 88, but her final illness and death seemed to come too quickly and unexpectedly. But, on the morning of this past Monday, November 21st, Mom had a schedule to keep. She had to go to a heavenly home. She had to reunite with her beloved husband Ralph, son Carl, and all those who had gone before her. She had to be free from her weaknesses, short comings, and free from her illness. She had a schedule to keep. She had to meet her savior Jesus and see the face of God. Mother, rest in glorious peace with your God and Savior Jesus, and I’ll see you again in Heaven someday, when like mother, like daughter, I too will have a heavenly schedule to keep. Thanks, Mom, for everything.