Happy Birthday Mom!

2011/01/mom_me.jpg mom and me in the Dominican Republic 2006

Today would have been my mom’s 71st birthday, but if she were here, she’d be far from “old.” She was always so youthful, fun, and energetic.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 1.5 years. In some ways it seems like a lifetime since mom died, and in other ways, it seems she was just here yesterday. I can still hear her soft, comforting southern drawl, and visualize her warm, engaging smile. I can hear her laugh at my jokes, and cry over her cancer. I still see her sitting in her favorite green chair, and grinning when I teased her about her compulsive kitchen cleaning—she washed every dish I used for cooking before I had a chance to set it down on the counter. I wonder how long it will be until her voice fades and I can no longer remember?

Mom had a hilarious sense of humor. I remember her telling me since I was a kid that she wanted her epitaph to read, “I told you I was sick.” Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I always called her “Cinder,” short for Cinderella, because she was a compulsive house cleaner. I loved cooking at her house because I could totally wreck the kitchen and never had to do a dish. But this particular trait drove me crazy sometimes too!

mom was playful and great with people

She was so well liked that she was elected as the President of our local Chamber of Commerce for two terms, and later she was nominated and elected as the first woman President of Rotary. The picture above shows her at a community fundraiser, cooking a spaghetti dinner.

Mom was a total hoarder. She had 25 of everything, “just in case.” After she died and I cleaned out her stuff, I found 52 bras in her drawer. Like, who has 52 bras??

She was also a pack rat and couldn’t throw anything away. The week she died, I noticed an ad magnet on her filing cabinet from a hair salon that had closed down like 15 years before. I asked her why she still had it and she said, “It still works!” I found an entertaining collection of many such things she had in drawers, some probably since the 60s.

Mom was a devoted mother with scars. My brother was always the black sheep and she hadn’t heard from him in several years before her death. After she died, I found some of his toddler clothes in a prominent place in her closet. I wonder how many times she cried over those clothes, wishing for another chance to hug that baby boy (at 6’6″) goodbye?

in my yard two weeks before she died

We often traveled together, whether to exotic vaca spots or, in later years, to her many doctors appointments at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. We had a blast visiting places together like Mexico, the Bahamas, Florida, and the Dominican Republic. Once we even went on a cruise together and the captain said it was the roughest he’d seen in his 25 years on the Eastern Caribbean seas, with 30-foot swells. Mom wanted a glass of wine with dinner the first night so she didn’t take a Dramamine. That resulted in three days of seasickness and caused her to miss the fun almost the entire cruise!

In places we visited, she was terrible at bartering, partly because of her generous and compassionate spirit, and usually ended up somehow paying more than the starting price. And she always got the red light in customs and we’d have to open up her suitcase in front of 150 people while the security rummaged through underwear and bathing suits (and who knows, probably a dozen bras, she brought along “just in case”). Being a proper southern girl, this was mortifying to her. It wouldn’t have bothered me in the least, which is probably why I never got the red.

I guess I got my dingy streak from mom. Once when visiting her doctor at Mayo Clinic, we were waiting for him to come into the room and she noticed his computer. It was a black screen covered with unusually shaped, light-colored dots. She went over to the computer and was looking at it when he came in and she said to him, “Dr. Marks, are those my tumors?” Dr. Marks gave her a funny look and said, “No, Molly, that’s a view from the Hubble Telescope and those are galaxies.”

at a Victorian tea party for my 32 birthday

It’s heartwarming to see how some of my mom’s traits were passed on to my girls. My youngest daughter who has a similar personality and looks a lot like my mom also has an identical, unique hairline in the back that grows strongly to one side. Dani got my mom’s fetish for shoes and for buying gifts for people—two endearing qualities unless you are sharing a closet with her.

Sometimes you inherit bad things from your parents, but other than her colossal bunions and a little bit of her hoarding tendency, I’d like to think that I inherited some of the best things about my mom. I missed out on the compulsive house-cleaning gene (my sister might have gotten that one), but I got my mom’s love of people, a dash of her sense of humor, and many of her stellar organizational skills. I think I also inherited her tendency to embarrass my kids, something I’m quite proud of!

I love how God did that—how He designed the genetic traits to keep our parents alive in us and in our children. It’s awesome to become at least a little bit like a parent you admire and love deeply. So, until I see her again, I am thankful that mom lives on in me, but I’m not planning to buy a few dozen bras any time soon.

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  • Anne

    This is really a beautiful tribute to mom, Happy Birthday to her and I know she is celebrating together with God her 71st birthday, which will be one of her very many. May God bless you and family lots…

  • Yes, what a wonderful tribute! Great and blessed memories for you to cherish.


  • joyce

    Thank you for your article of love
    I still have my mom and treasure her!!! The thought of giving her up brings me to tears — we now live in different states; i love hearing her voice and cry when we skype… LOL
    I am grateful for my mom and her deep devotion to her family
    she has taught me so much —
    Thank you for your post your a blessing!!!

    hugs, Joyce

  • This post is so beautiful, Julie. It made me pause this morning, and think of what I would miss most if my 82 year old mom was no longer in my life. Moms are so often taken for granted while they're alive. I see it in my own kids, the way they assume they can unload on me just because I'm the mom, and I am just as guilty of doing the same to my mom. But reading your words this morning put my selfishness in a new light. Thank you for this lovingly written tribute to your mom. I doubt her voice will ever fade from your memory.

  • jferwerd

    Thanks everyone! It brought me a lot of joy to see all your caring responses this morning. Have a wonderful day.

  • Sandy Stensland

    Your tribute is awesome, I love it! I'm crying my eyes out, seeing the pictures and missing both of you! Will call you soon. Sandy

    • jferwerd

      Aw Sandy, I've been thinking about you lately–how could I NOT?? I miss seeing you for sure and I was thinking the same thing–it's time for us to catch up. Look forward to hearing from you. I will never, never forget your kindness.

  • This is a great tribute! It made me pause for a moment and to think about my own mum and family. blessed memories for you to cherish.

  • Thanks for this post! It's a reminder for everyone to pay attention to your family and closed ones!