Friday, March 16, 2012

No Greater Love - Mother

On March 16, 1976 my sisters and I gathered around the death bed of our beloved mother.  Gray-haired, frail, and so very ready to journey on to the Lord she loved ... she lay utterly still, the victim of a stroke.  In diminishing frequency her breaths lessened until, at last, they came no more. 

I do not mourn her loss as those without hope might; I am utterly certain I will see her again.  But I miss her terribly still.  I will forever be her baby, and she will forever be mommy

The following tribute is something I penned to add to the ancestry records I've worked on for well over six years.  It suits her, and never more than today.

It is with complete an utter fondness that I pen this addedum to the life of one amazing lady! I say "amazing", because from first to last Helen Grinnell-Wells was a class act. She went from belle-to-bride, and from devoted wife to equally devoted mother. Her life was her family. 

Mother left South Dakota late in 1928 to visit her brother, Wayne, in Pateros, WA.   It was there, in 1929, she met my father; she writes of it in her diary:
"I left South Dakota for the State of Washington on the 26th day of August 1928. Mr. & Mrs. Harold Hultman and Jim Bunting took me to Aberdeen Sunday PM. It was their I bade my very dear friend farewell.  (I have come to believe that this "very dear
friend" was, at the time, her fiance.)
I arrived in Washington the 28th of August, and was met in Spokane by Mr. F.E.  I started to work the first part of October at the American Fruit Groewrs plant, and it was here I met Mr. Wells - another dear friend of mine.  I shall always remember the good times, as well as those that weren't, that we have had together.  One to be remembered was Halloween Night at the Frieman's home.  One more of our noted times was Christmas night at Omak, and likewise New Year's.

Those are times that will always hold a memory in my heart, regardless of what comes or goes.
I am writing this little line today, and I wonder what I can write in here a year from now. I only hope I am not confined in Pateros. This has been a life of episodes since I've been in Washington, many which will never be known."
                                             (Written January 7, 1929)
Thus my mother's high adventures which seemed to begin with a case of wanderlust, changed course because of a tugging at the heart-strings which culminated in their marriage the following year, June 4, 1930. Theirs was a love affair that spanned nearly four decades when, in December of 1964 my father died at the age of 62 from Leukemia. Mother was struck hard. She was only 56 at the time.

The years in-between 1930 and her passing found mother hard at work, always. She stayed home to raise we four girls - Dolores/1933, Barbara/1935, Carol/1941 and me/1948 - and then went to work when at last I entered school. She kept an immaculate home, cooked and baked like no one I've ever known, maintained a loveliness of form and fashion until her dying day, and tolerated absolutely no poor behavior. 

She and my father were of very little means in their early years, but we girls never had a clue. They loved us mightily, which left us all feeling wealthy and royal. We still do.
I was the family's surprise, being born into the family when mother was 42; dad 46. My sisters wer 15, 13 and 7 when I arrived. For many years I balked at what seemed like mothering x four. They adored me, and none more than mother and father. Mine was a cherished position; I cherish it still. 

The older girls were experiencing life or off on their own as I grew beneath the watchful gaze of my parents. Many were the nights I watched Joey Lewis boxing matches with dad, or the Lawrence Welk Show with the both of them. They enjoyed my companionship and antics (I could digress here and tell ad nauseum tales about those antics, but it's best I move on ...).

We lived in the city but farm life was never far from either mother or father. They had a little garden, a couple of apple trees, and several rows of raspberries. Mother hung the laundry to dry out-of-doors in the warmer months; in the basement when it was too cold or wet. She sewed and mended everything from socks to trousers; and she ironed nearly everything as well (much to my own personal dis-taste on those occasions when made to help).  

Mother held friendships dearly, and developed close alliances with women from her work or from our church. She never, however, allowed anything or anyone to come between her and the needs of her family. "Devotion" was her middle name.

Lest I give a wrong impression and leave you thinking mother was nearly perfect, let me tell you she could be one tough cookie! She fretted some about "what people will say", so we were always lectured on manners, appearance, etc. She fussed about vanity, too, warning we girls to not be so enchanted with the mirror. If she scolded (and she did), it was typically due to impertinence or selfishness. She rarely spanked, but I know I got a few - and I deserved each of them!

Over the years mother and dad took us often to Eastern Washington to visit kin. The Grinnell family rooted in Pateros and Wenatchee (Wayne & Bernie), while the Wells side settled the Okanogan. Many a memory is laced with the scent of Uncle Wayne's back porch due to his wife's gift of pie baking. She'd bake early and set the goods on the screened porch to cool. I loved their chicken coop, Uncle Wayne's train set, and the profusion of flowers that grew in abundance throughout their yard. There were always dogs and cats in assorted array, and for a child from the city it was nearly Paradise. I never wanted to leave.

Often Uncle Bernie and his wife Dolly would join us for family visits, or we'd drive to their home on our way to or from the Okanogan Valley. 

The Rawson clan was always good for a baseball game or picnic; for sleeping beneath the stars or for rounding up snipes with a flashlight.  The mayhem and bedlam of their existence was the hysterically funny antithesis of our own ordered, tidy culture. 

Mother worked nearly all of her days. Early on she worked in the shipyards, then at a local cannery. But most of her latter years were at Rhodes Department Store in downtown Tacoma where she handled their switchboard. She retired at the age of 62, four years after my father's death. 

Both mother and dad were God-fearing Christians of the Catholic tradition. Mother converted when they married, so they educated we girls via the Catholic school system and made sure we were in church each and every Sunday. Mother loved the Lord, and in her later years spent much time perusing the scriptures.  She came to know ans love her Lord in a way I could barely understand at the time.   She especially appreciated Billy Graham. 

About the time of her retiring she met a neighbor, Ed Marshall, and they married. It lasted several years, but proved to be burdensome to mother. She divorced him just a year before her own death in 1976. 

After retirement mother had a few health problems, though most of them related to anxiety. I think her heartache over my father's loss, her sorrow over a failed marriage, and her increasing frustration with aging (she had arthritis, minor back pain, asthma) all combined as a toxic elixer. In truth, she longed for that other home, believing she would again be with her Jimmy (my father), and the Lord she'd come to lean upon.

Mother died rather suddenly following an unanticipated stroke. She left us on March 16, 1976 - only 69 years old at that time.  None of us have found a salve worthy of the wound. Especially me, the baby. 

Amongst her things was this, a Helen-Steiner Rice poem written in a card she'd addressed to "My Girls". She knew where she was going. She knew when she was going. She didn't want to leave us to wonder: 

When I must leave you
For a little while,
Please do not grieve
And shed wild tears And hug your sorrow to you
Through the years,
But start out bravely
With a smile.
And for my sake
And in my name,
Live on and do
All the things the same.
Feed not your loneliness
On empty days,
But fill each waking hour
In useful ways.
Reach out your hand in comfort
And in cheer,
And I, in turn, will comfort you
And hold you near.
And never, never
Be afraid to die,
For I am waiting for you
In the sky.

Thus Helen Evelyn Grinnell-Wells passed from here-to there. And I do believe she waits, just beyond view, to greet her precious daughters one-by-one.

(Photo: Mother as a teen)


Terri Tiffany said...

This was the most beautiful story I've read about someone and their life. It's hard for me to see that you lost your parents so early in your life. Your mother sounds wonderful and in fact your family does too--no wonder you all are so close still today--a tribute to how you were raised.

Linda Hoye said...

What a beautiful tribute to an amazing woman. We never stop missing our mothers, do we? Hugs Kathleen.

Debbie said...

Oh Kathleen I found this tribute to your mother so heart warming. How hard that no doubt was losing your mother at such a young age. We never stop needing our mothers do we? How wonderful to know that she waits for you there and that you will see her again. Love to you today! HUGS

Saleslady371 said...

This is a beautiful tribute to your mom, Kathleen. I would have loved to know her, but I know you and that's been wonderful. I enjoyed reading every word!

Glenda said...

Beautiful story . . . beautiful life! You are blessed to know where she is and that you will see her again!

a portland granny said...

Oh Kathleen, what a beautiful tribute to your Mom. Those ladies of that era were people to admire for their hard work and devotion to their families. It was especially moving for me, as today is my dear Mom's birthday and I am reflecting. Its been 12 years since her Home call, at age 96, but the missing never stops. We, too, look forward to that day when we are reunited with the hosts of heaven who have gone before. What a promise!

Rebecca said...

What a remarkable woman you know as "Mother". The story of her life is well worth repeating and celebrating frequently, Kathleen. Thanks for sharing her with me (us).

There IS no salve worthy of the wound - only the balm in Gilead...

Jackie said...

Hey Kathleen, I'm back to blogging and stopped by for a visit. Hope you are doing well.

What a beautiful tribute you've shared. My heart grew full as I read it. You might remember that my mama has been very ill and at death's door for a long time now. And I too am the "baby" (my sis is 12 yrs older than I) and know that I will miss her terribly when she's gone. But find sweet comfort in knowing that she will be waiting for me on the other side.

Your tribute to your special mom really touched and encouraged my heart today. Bless you for sharing.


Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Oh, Kathleen, this was beautiful. What wonderful memories you have of your parents and life.

Maryann said...

This was a lovely tribute to your mom and will be something your family will treasure in years to come. You have such wonderful memories and I loved the Helen-Steiner Rice poem...sounds like you had a wonderful mom

Beth E. said...

A wonderful tribute to your precious mother...her life and legacy (and your love for her) will always be a part of you and your sisters.

Welcome back! I've missed you!


Denise said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful, precious tribute to your mom. I love you my friend.

cindy said...

How blessed your were.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

Such tender, lovely remembrance. I wonder what I will say when the time comes for me to grieve my own parents passing... or what they will say of me should my journey precede theirs.

It's a beautiful thing... remembrance. It tells the whole story, refusing to leave out any parts.

Good to be here tonight. Love you sweet friend.


Nel said...

I am just now trying to catch up on reading blogs and I am so glad I did. What a beautiful tribute to your momma! Sounds like one special lady! You did a wonderful job at writing this as you always do. I think that is neat that she was writing in a diary in her younger years... evidently you got her love of writing. Beautiful!
until next time... nel

Just a little something from Judy said...

What a beautiful tribute to your dear mother! I am so thankful that I visited your blog today and had the privilege of reading about this remarkable woman. Every mother would dream of having words like this written about them. Our mothers are the best gift.

I miss you and think of you often.