Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thinking About My Mom On Mother's Day

Doris with Dave and lamb

Dear George,
We owe Mother’s Day to a woman named Anna Jarvis who was born in the tiny hamlet of Webster, West Virginia.  Her mother, Ann Maria, had founded Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in five cities to promote sanitary conditions and to feed and clothe Union and Confederate soldiers.  After her mother’s death in 1907, Anna embarked on a campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday, and her efforts resulted in Woodrow Wilson declaring it an official U.S. holiday in 1914.  It didn’t take long, though, for Anna to become fed up with the commercialization of Mother’s Day, and in the 1920’s she and her sister spent their family inheritance protesting against what the holiday had turned into.  Both died in poverty.  Embittered by so many people sending their mothers printed greeting cards, Anna said, “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.  And candy!  You take a box to Mother – and then eat most of it yourself.  A pretty sentiment.”

Despite such misgivings, I always get nostalgic on Mother’s Day.  I’m sad that my mother is no longer alive and regret not saying to her many things that I might have.  People whose mothers are still living should relish the fact and take advantage of it.  Growing up in our family, the saddest thing we ever talked about  was being a “motherless biccus.”  No one knew exactly what this meant, but being motherless was clearly a dire state of affairs.  I spent some time this morning looking at photos of my mom, Doris L.  These were taken mostly by my dad but also a couple by my brother Peter.  Here are  a few memories in honor of Mother’s Day and of my mother in particular.      


My mother was a quite striking beauty.  She grew up in Omaha in a one-child family, majored in French in college, and met my dad at the University of Wisconsin around 1929 or 1930.  She was a sorority girl, a horseback rider, and an excellent tennis player  Doris had a deep voice such that callers on the phone would frequently say, “Hello, Mr. L***”   She tanned darkly in the summer, and, even though she was a 100% Daughter of the American Republic, my dad joked that she was part American Indian. 

Doris and Vic

Doris and Vic married in 1932.  After a stint in Omaha, they returned to Menominee.  They led a most amazing life together.  They struggled to survive financially through the Great Depression.  When Katja and I married, my dad gave me a silver dollar that Doris and he had kept in a secret place during the late 1930’s in case they lost everything.  Then my mom raised Steven and myself while my dad was stationed in the Pacific theater during World War II.  The fifties got better.  

Family photo at YMCA camp (circa 1950)

Doris was a wife, mother, homemaker, and social hostess; Vic, a Menominee lawyer and prosecuting attorney.  She gave birth to four kids: Dave (1937), Steve (1941), Peter (1945), and Vicki (1947).  In most families we knew the men were breadwinners and the women raised the children.  With four children in our family, it wasn’t an easy task.  Here we all are at family visitation day at the YMCA camp near Green Bay.   

With Vicki

After three boys, Doris was completely thrilled to have a daughter, and she lavished special attention on Vicki.   While the boys presented more problems, I think that Doris worried the most about Vicki and devoted herself to bringing her up properly.    

Doris with Steve and Dave at River House

From 1946 on our family lived in a house made of Norway pine on the Menominee River.  My mother loved that house and its surroundings: the summer sunsets, the trees and wildflowers, the river and its view, even the snowy winters.  She stocked a bird feeder outside the dining room window daily and called us excitedly if a cardinal or a red-winged blackbird appeared in the driveway. 

Uncle Karl, Aunt Millie, Thor, and Uncle Kent

Doris and Vic made Xmas a special occasion in our household.  Our extended family would gather on Xmas eve, along with visits by friends.  Vic’s twin brothers Karl and Kent and Kent’s family, along with my aunt Martha, Uncle Ralph, and their kids came every year.  We children would be at a fever pitch in anticipation of Santa’s pending visit.  Doris was an excellent cook, and she would prepare a big dinner of turkey or ham or even a goose.  The adults would get a little tipsy after a couple of Jim Beams on the rocks. 

Vicki and Micky at Mike’s grave

We had two Irish Setters in our childhood, and Doris adored the dogs.  When Mike fell through the river ice one winter, Doris commanded the children to stay in the house, and we watched out the living room window as she crawled out on the ice on her stomach and pulled the dog to safety.  On another occasion Mike and Micky got into a vicious fight, and Doris sustained a deep gash in her hand when she got in the middle to break up the fight.  

Friends at hunting camp in Cedar River (Doris second from left)

Doris and Vic lived their whole adult lives in Menominee, and they had a wonderful friendship   group there.  My mom was very sociable and enjoyed nothing more than gatherings with their close friends.  At the Worth’s hunting camp, we kids would go off in the forest while the parents hung out, drank beer and smoked, and talked and talked. 

Swedes at the costume party

Doris, Vic, and their friends had many parties, and often these were theme parties, e.g., centered on art, poetry, music, theater, etc.  Costume parties were the best.  Here are some Swedish warriors who, despite their beards, are actually my parents.   

Doris and Jean

Jean O’Hara was Doris’ best friend, and our families spent a lot of time together.  The moms spent a lot of time cooking and talking in the kitchen while their husbands debated politics and Notre Dame football in the living room.  

Doris and Dave on the Green Bay shore

The O’Hara’s lived on Green Bay, and we spent a lot of time swimming there.  Usually Doris sat in a lawnchair on the shore, keeping a watchful eye on her children.  I still have a vivid memory of walking alone into the bay at around age 6 till the water got up to my neck, then completely panicking and screaming for my mother to save me.  She did, and I got a lifelong lesson in why mothers are so important.

Doris and Steve at the art museum

U.P. towns like Menominee were small and fairly isolated, but they were in driving distance of Milwaukee and Chicago.  Doris and Vic took us on regular forays there, and visits to the Chicago Art Institute were an annual part of our childhood education.  

Family reunion

My mother was distressed when her kids reached young adulthood and scattered all over the country – Vicki in California, Steve in Washington State, my family in Cincinnati, and Peter in multiple places from L.A. to Toronto to New York City.  My parents insisted that we all convene each August in Menominee, and these were wonderful occasions.  Here are Doris and Vic at the foot of the willow tree in our front yard at River House, with various children and grandchildren up in the tree.       

With Aggie at Farm

In the mid-1970’s Doris and Vic moved into a farmhouse that they had renovated in the Birch Creek area.  Farm was an immense source of gratification to them in their later years.  Here’s Doris with Aggie, one of their several dogs during this period.  Though Aggie was a rather hyper dog that killed their pet goose in the front yard, Doris remained emotionally attached to her nonetheless. 


When Puff, my parent’s last dog, was killed by a passing car, a friend gave Doris a white cat named Lovely.  Though she’d been a dog person all her life, Doris bonded completely with Lovey and spent many hours petting her at the living room window.

Doris and Vic leaving Farm

My mother’s last years were difficult.  She’d had two bouts of lung cancer, and she had difficulty walking because of being in constant pain.  She pretty much gritted her teeth and rarely complained to others.  Peter and I were with her in her hospital room on the last day of her life, and she said to us, “I’m grateful.”  I think those were probably her last words.  Even at death’s door, my mother’s inclination was to be considerate to others.  

Doris laughing, with Vicki and Peter

More than anything else, what I remember about my mother was her laughter.  She had an ever-present sense of humor and impressed upon us the importance of fun in one’s life.  Of the four of us kids, I think that Steven learned that lesson the best.  But Doris knew more about having fun than any of her offspring.  That makes me happy.  

G-mail Comments
-Kiera O (5-16):  O, my, David. Such a feeling of richness I have upon concluding the Mother's Day installment of your blog. Thank you.
-David W (5-13): wonderful entry David!!! So funny-i had a dream last night night that you and I were hunting alligators which were chasing us all over this swampy area-funny and horrifying.  Take care.    david

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