“But Mother Was a Queen,” Ensign, Apr. 1974, 60–61
Mother’s life was sheer drudgery. Everybody said so at the funeral. And it was true. But now that my own children are grown and leading independent lives, I am increasingly aware of the joy that fills my heart when I think of my mother. Even the meanest task for her held a joyful purpose; and she somehow conveyed this to her children each day.
There were seven of us, and father passed away shortly before I was born. At that time we had the bare necessities of life plus 35 acres of land, three cows, a large brood of chickens, and a dog who was as much a member of the family as any of us.
But, in these days preceding modern conveniences, mother was a constant daily giver, and we felt rich receiving her gifts. We grew up thinking she had personal control over items of comfort and that she passed them on to us in her own special way. Take hot water, for instance. I never wash on a cold winter’s morning without remembering my mother’s promising good morning words: “I have some nice hot water for you to wash with!” And she would hand me a small pitcher filled with that precious comfort.
Drudgery? Yes! But her face belied it and my washings on such mornings were pure luxury as no princess ever experienced.
From the first sprig of snowdrop in the orchard to the last aster in the fields, we always had flowers in the middle of the big kitchen table where we gathered each evening for supper and study. Mother felt that the natural gift of wildflowers was an index to the seasons of the spirit, just as asparagus in May and grapes in October controlled the pace of the palate. So she made the appearance of each wildflower a study in botany and a challenge of our ingenuity in arranging the bouquets.
Many times our meals were so meager that the plates were portioned ahead of time, restaurant style, in order to save the possible embarrassment of an empty platter before it had made the rounds. On such days Mother somehow always found the strength of spirit to find reason to praise one of us in a special sort of way. “Jimmy,” she would say to the youngest of the boys, “Father must be very proud of you! Your teacher spoke to me after our meeting last Sunday, telling me of the good work you’re doing in school!”
Mother always kept Father in our midst by speaking of him as a presence. We never felt the lack of a father’s good influence—Mother saw to that by verbally dedicating all our efforts and small virtues to him. There was never any conflict in our minds about the fact that mother would lapse into past tense with regards to our father! “Father will be” and “Father did” was a way of life for us.
Even though we were dirt-floor poor during our early years in Salt Lake Valley, Mother had a formula for sparing us childhood’s frustrations regarding material things. If we asked for new shoes, new ribbons, or even toys, she immediately countered our clamor with logical reasons showing why we really didn’t “need” any of these things. We never heard Mother say: “We don’t have the money; we’re too poor!”
Mother looked on us as her responsibility far above the need for food and clothing. She evaluated us as human beings with a future to come to terms with. And so it was that she one day decided my habit of daydreaming should be harnessed, and her first try to do so was successful. She said to me, “Fleur, Mrs. Buehler is willing to lend you the violin left to her by her father in return for keeping her woodbox filled. You could stop each day on the way home from school to do the job.”
I was daydreaming at the window at the time, gazing across the valley and south to the Wasatch Mountains, probably for the last time. “Mother!” I screamed, and danced around the table to give her a bear hug.
Mother smiled triumphantly and said, “Father will be pleased to have a musician in the family! He did so love music.”
These violin lessons were literally scrounged for! Mother baked bread for the teacher, and, as if she hadn’t enough to do already, undertook the teacher’s sewing also.
Mother’s life was sheer drudgery. But I remember her as giving love, joy, encouragement, and courage to a family of seven children—in addition to the drudgery of sustaining life. I look at my own children and wonder if they will ever see in me the “all giving” human being that my mother was. Will they have some ordinary thing to cradle in memory—like the exquisite luxury of a small pitcher of hot water on a cold gray dawn, more precious than that experienced by any princess?—Fleur K. D’Eramo, Findlay, Ohio