I have written about my mother before, but the last blog post I offered focused more on my mother’s kitchen–which then as now always made me think the kitchen was my mother’s hub. The following memoir of my mother was my eulogy to her at her memorial service in 2001:
MEMORIES OF MY MOTHER
George Washington wrote, ““My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All that I am, I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her”. Those words could have been applied to my mother.
As a family, we were probably not very different from many other families of our generation. We were the children of parents who lived through the depression and a World War, people who perhaps had a hard time letting us know that they loved us. I don’t recall either my mother or my father ever telling me that they loved me until after I was an adult, married, with children of my own. I think now, that maybe they didn’t know how. It started to come about after dad had his first heart attack in 1968; we started to tell him and mom that we loved them, and they responded.
But talk can be cheap. Words don’t mean very much if nothing is behind them. My mother showed her love in many different ways, even if she found it difficult to say those words to us when we were children. She made a big deal of our birthdays and all holidays. She really put a lot into making our Christmases special, despite financial hardships.
I think my mother truly was a child of the depression. She was born in 1917 and would have been eleven years old when the stock market crashed and America fell into the throes of the Great Depression. Like so many other people who were children of that great Depression she never quite got over it. She would always be frugal and thrifty; she would never throw anything out or waste anything. If you ever talk to other people who grew up during the Depression, you would hear similar stories from them, and discover that they had similar attitudes. There was always the fear that it could happen again.
The Depression was still going on in 1935 when my parents married and in 1936 when my sister Barbara was born. What ended the Depression was World War 2.
Life wasn’t a bowl of cherries, being born during the depression and war years, growing up in the 40s and 50s. However, none of us, I think, thought of ourselves as poor. We had no more or any less than anyone else we knew.
But we had each other and we forged a bond that nothing in this life could ever break. Yes, we sometimes walked to school in shoes that had holes mended with cardboard. But you know, we always went to school with a hot breakfast in our stomachs and our sandwiches made with homemade bread wrapped in wax paper, or we went to Grandma Schmidt’s for lunch. In retrospect, I realize now that many people in Europe were still suffering from the ravages of war, and didn’t have enough to eat. Rationing continued in England until the 1950s. We always had enough to eat. My mother once told me she had $10.00 a week to spend on groceries. No one ever stretched ten dollars further than my mother. How she accomplished this has been recalled by my sister Barbara (who, although she was loathe to admit it, was older than I and remembered a lot more).
It could not have been easy for my mother, raising seven children and providing them with many of the things she, herself, had been denied, like music lessons, and nice dresses, birthday parties and trips to Coney Island (*Cincinnati’s Coney Island–not the one in NY City. But she did it.
The writer Marcelene Cox wrote, “To raise good human beings it is not only necessary to be a good mother and a good father, but to have had a good mother and father”.
My mother was a good woman who did the best she could with what she had. But she gave special gifts to us, whether we realized it or not.
When I was in the fourth grade, I began taking piano lessons. I could barely read music, much less play, when Paul Whiteman’s Amateur Hour advertised that they would have auditions for children somewhere in downtown Cincinnati – the winning person would appear on his television show. I submitted an application and my mother took me to the audition. She never pointed out to me that I could barely read music much less play. I somehow stumbled through my piece of something very somber by Franz Listz.
The point of this story is simply this, my mother never discouraged me, never told me I didn’t have a prayer in this competition. Thinking back on this incident, I find this kind of support absolutely remarkable. Our parents gave us confidence in ourselves, and taught us to be self-sufficient. They taught us to believe in ourselves.
All of us have memories of going to Coney Island on Findlay Market Day and competing in the games. Schmidt kids were bound to win – and we did. None of us was ever afraid of competition. Barb has recalled that even mom would enter these contests – determined to win. Once, she won a silver tray.
When I was 17 years old, my brother Scott was born. And when I was 21, my baby sister, Susie, was born. My mother told me. “your father and I can’t imagine a house without children in it”. What may have been most remarkable about my baby sister’s birth is that my sister Barbara and my mother and I were all pregnant at the same time. David was born in June, 1960; Michael in September, 1960 and Susie in February 1961. I can’t imagine a life without my youngest sister and brother in it. My parents gave us many gifts. Perhaps the most wonderful gift they gave to us was – each other.
I spent weeks searching through reference books and the Internet for the perfect quote to describe my mother. I found the following in an Ann Landers column:
“My mother taught me there’s a time and place for everything. ‘If you are gong to kill each other, do it outside; I just finished cleaning the house’.
My mother taught me religion: ‘You had better pray that the stuff you spilled will come out of the carpet’.
My mother taught me logic: ‘Because I said so, that’s why’.
My mother taught me foresight: “Make sure you wear clean underwear. You never know when you might be in an accident and be taken to the hospital’.
My mother taught me control: ‘Keep laughing and I’ll give you something to cry about’.
My mother taught me the science of osmosis: “Shut your mouth and eat your supper’.
My mother taught me about being a contortionist: “Look at the back of your neck. It’s filthy!’
My mother taught me about stamina: ‘you will sit there until all that hasenpheffer is eaten’.
My mother taught me about weather: ‘Your room looks like it was hit by a tornado’.
My mother taught me about straight talk: ‘If I told you once, I told you a million times, don’t exaggerate’.
My mother taught me it is more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help. My mother taught me the quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.
My mother taught me a closed mouth gathers no foot. My mother taught me that some days you are the bug and other days you are the windshield. My mother taught me never to test the depth of the water with both feet. My mother taught me if you always tell the truth, you won’t have to remember what you said and to whom.”
A writer by the name of May Sarton wrote, “I would like to believe when I die that I have given myself away like a tree that sows seed every spring and never counts the loss, because it is not loss, it is adding to future life. It is the tree’s way of being. Strongly rooted, perhaps, but spilling out its treasure on the wind..” We are all here, today, because Viola Beckman Schmidt lived.
Remembered by Sandra Lee Schmidt Smith