I wrote this post nearly five years ago as a birthday tribute to my mother. She passed away on Friday from complications of back surgery nearly seven weeks earlier. We are all grieving.
I am glad I was able to share this with her when she was still alive. That's always the best time. But I also wanted to share it with you so you could get a taste of how special she was and is. Within the next few days, I'll try to post again with more photos from her childhood, as well as some more recent thoughts and links to some of my other blog posts which talk about her.
I am already back in Maryland, for the third time this summer, and so grateful for the time I and six of my children had with her this past month. Please pray for our family - my father, my sister and brother and their families, and my Aunt Nancy - as we make funeral preparations for next Saturday at New Hope Lutheran Church. Also pray for those who are traveling to join us.
Mom was born to Henry and Dorothy Hess on October 8, 1938 in Kingston, Pennsylvania, and grew up in the rural outskirts of the Scranton / Wilkes Barre area. She was named after her grandmother, Mary Grave Hess, who also had a grandmother named Mary. My mom’s first granddaughter (my daughter) is named Mary, which continues this tradition. Really, though, it’s because I associate the name with that sweetness and light that my mother exemplifies. Mom was the middle of five children. I don’t have a picture of her when she was a child, but I remember seeing the cutest one of her with braids. Her childhood pictures and mine look so much alike, and we were often mistaken for sisters. At age 17, she met my dad when he came for visits with his roommate (Mom's cousin Charlie Davis) from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in King's Point, New York. They celebrated their 50th anniversary on Christmas Day last year.
My brother John, sister Barb and I came along soon enough, so she kept busy mothering us full-time for many years. Isn't this a cute picture of us?
Eventually, when I started full day kindergarten and tough economic times hit the country, she went back to work. She’s had a variety of careers, including secretary, hotel manager, typesetter, and owner of an office cleaning business, medical transcriptionist, and computer trainer. She retired from this last position (working for the National Institutes of Health) several years ago. Even when she was working, though, she always made time to do stuff with us, like read us stories.
I wasn't always really grateful for what my mom and dad provided for us. They gave me this little red wagon for Christmas one year, but I thought it was a "boy toy" and refused it. Mom said if I didn't want it, she would take it. She rode off in it, then filled it with her own stash of Christmas presents. Of course, my jealousy was quickly incited, and she graciously gave it back to me. Smart mommy!
Gardening has been one of her favorite hobbies. We always had flower gardens when we were young! The first one she helped me plant, in Kansas City, had zinnias. We grew pumpkins there, too. Later, in a San Francisco suburb, we enjoyed growing pansies and golden poppies. We also had a small corn field and a blackberry patch (from which we made fruit leather) in our backyard there! Mom still lovingly tends gardens – her own flower gardens and a vegetable garden supervised by my Grandpa Hess, who is a gardener extraordinaire! I wish I had their green thumbs.
Along with the garden, my mom loves to watch birds. She has a whole bunch of feeders in her yard, just outside her windows, with different kinds of seed (or nectar) for the various species.
Mom was a Girl Scout leader for more years than I can count, and one year she was the city coordinator for all of the troops in San Carlos. She was also the cookie mom. I remember one time when a hapless young Girl Scout knocked at our door wanting to sell us a few boxes. I merely opened the adjacent door to our garage and showed her the cases and cases of them! Somehow she survived dozens of troop camping trips, but she always managed to come home with a splitting headache for some reason! We also camped often as a family, especially when we lived in Northern California and could visit the gorgeous Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, as well as Big Basin. We even had a family tradition of roasting hot dogs on the beach at Half Moon Bay on Christmas Eve every year.
My mother is also a very creative seamstress. I distinctly recall a pumpkin outfit that I wore for Halloween for several years, a big round orange thing that we stuffed with newspapers. She has also made quillows (a cross between a quilt and a pillow) for several of her grandchildren (and me), and together we made a few sets of jumpers for my five oldest daughters when they were naive enough to still put up with wearing matching clothes.
My mom loves to take and edit pictures and videos to record our family happenings for posterity. I know I inherited my love of family history from her, and I am blessed to know so many of my precious relatives because we often traveled to family reunions “up home” in Pennsylvania and kept in touch with everyone in between times. You can read about some of this here:Hess Family Heritage.
My mom has always been up for learning something new. When I started college at Northern Kentucky University in 1981, she took a class in Small Business Management with me. A lot of college kids might be upset to have their mom go to class with them, but I treasured this time with her! When I went away to college, she kept up with me through phone calls and letters. I remember one note that she wrote to console me when I had endured a big disappointment in life. She was so sweet about it. She is not only my mother, she is my dear friend.Mom learned the fine art of stained glass when she was in her 40s, and I am the lucky owner of a nativity set, as well as several other beautiful pieces.
And then there is her singing! I remember that from my very earliest years at home. Always a song in her heart! Her mother had been a church organist, so music played an important role in her own growing up years. Mom played the piano and made sure that the three of us had music lessons of our choice, too. My sister and brother performed in a whole bunch of high school musicals, so attending them as a family is another happy childhood memory. Many choirs have been graced with her voice, and she spent many happy years singing, recording, and touring with the National Christian Choir in her “spare” time. Though she is no longer a member of the NCC, she is going on a New England cruise with them, leaving this Friday! I’m so excited for her!
Speaking of traveling, my mom is the adventurous sort. When we were young, we traveled all over North America, visiting 48 different states, as well as Canada and Alaska. With all of that long distance driving, I don’t know how she had the patience to spend that many hours hearing, “Are we there yet?” and “I get the front seat!” But she did, and we are richer for it. I suppose it helps that we lived in several states: Illinois, Missouri, California, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky. They moved to Texas after I left for college in Florida, but they now live back in Maryland. Since they became empty nesters, she and my dad have taken the opportunity to visit such far-flung locales as Bolivia and Germany, among other countries.
But really, my mom is just as happy right at home. You see, she is a nurturer at heart. And she’s had plenty of practice, starting with her own three kids and thirteen grandchildren. She also opened her home for months at a time to a few of my cousins in their teen or young adult years. My sister’s family stayed with them for a while and my mom helped home school my nieces and nephew. She still plays an active role in their lives since they live nearby. (My one and only beef about living in Florida is being so far away from them. At least she visits us often!) Mom also took care of her mother-in-law, my Grandma Driggs, who lived with them from 1995-1997.
And twice, for a total of three years so far, she has had her own parents live with them. They are turning 96 and 94 next months, and she keeps very busy as their primary caregiver! Right now, she is helping my grandma recover from surgery for a broken hip. She does all of this so cheerfully, even though she herself suffers from migraines and arthritis. She is such a treasure. I told her I wished she could take care of me when I am in my 90s, but she has declined that opportunity.
Here is she is with my little Melody, who absolutely adores her Grandma!
There is so much more that I could say about my sweet and lovely mother, but I guess I’ll have to leave it at that!
I also wrote something about my dad on Father's Day. You can read it here:A Tribute to My Dad.
(P.S. You can probably figure out that this last picture is from my wedding in November 1985.)