This one’s for the wonderful women whose love and wisdom formed the backbone of the human beings we have become. Some are still with us, some have passed on, and some remind us that families aren’t always biological. Here are the things we learned from our favorite ladies…
My Nanny (pictured above, center) was 5-ft nothing and might’ve weighed 80 pounds soaking wet. She was the cutest, the giggliest, the tiniest and the toughest little person I ever knew. She made a giant country breakfast EVERY morning… got cold when it was 80 degrees outside… drove only by interchangeably slamming either the brake or the gas pedal of her Buick… and her right eye always squinted when she laughed, just like mine does. She taught me & my cousin Jill how to sew, how to make biscuits and gravy and countless other useful tricks – but the intangible things I learned from watching her hit a much bigger chord with me: She always stood on her porch and waved, and waved, and waved, long after you’d pulled away. She didn’t take crap from ANYBODY. She was ALWAYS laughing – more like giggling uncontrollably – and I do mean always. Wherever we went, she was the most popular person in the room – everyone loved her, and she loved them back. Everyone was always welcome in her house, and her family always WAS in her house – at the table playing Scrabble, in the kitchen cooking, or around the piano singing. She always wanted everyone to be together. And most extraordinary thing about the woman I just described is that you would think someone with that sort of demeanor had led a charmed life, but hers was incredibly tough. She was widowed – not once but twice – once by the father of her children, and later by her high school sweetheart. She worked more than a few jobs when my Dad and Aunt Deborah were little to provide for them. But you would never, ever know any of that, because she NEVER complained and she NEVER felt sorry for herself – there was no time for that kind of nonsense. I only ever saw her dust herself off, never sit down, bang 99 pots & pans together in the kitchen, rally her family around the table and find joy and gregarious laughter in everything around her. I miss her and I miss her sweet laugh terribly, but remembering her always reminds me to keep things in perspective, to keep my family close, and to be blissfully grateful for everything I do have instead of ever worrying about any of the trivial things I don’t.
She was different from my mom in that she DIDN’T think she needed to be around anyone other than family. We were the center of her world, and we were all that mattered. She was a fierce woman, judgmental (woooops, I *might’ve* picked up on that trait juuuust a bit) and with a sharp Latina tongue. But boy, did she love until it hurt. She taught me to be financially independent. ”Don’t ever let a man be responsible for your finances; write down every bill paid, and don’t ever be in a position where you don’t have your own money, at least a little bit.” She taught me to love conditionally… At least, sometimes, with a man. Set the bar HIGH and know how you want to be treated by one. She also taught me never to take yourself too seriously. Allow others to make fun of you. And for crikey’s sake, make fun of yourself.
Ruthie was a real ball-buster. If a party was at 5pm, she’d show up an hour early and wonder what was taking everybody else so long. She could ask you 17 more questions before you had a chance to answer her 1st question, would ask for your Christmas list in August every year, and she always had the dishes done before you’d taken your last bite of food. That woman was ON IT. She also let me sit in her lap until I was in my 20’s, scratched my back and told me stories at night for more nights than I could ever count, and made every single Halloween costume I ever wore. She and Bud picked me up from school every day, made me and my Mom dinner most nights, took me to my 1st volleyball practice in 3rd grade and came to every game and every practice thereafter for the next 15 years. No one in my family ever has or ever will have a lot of money, but Bud and Ruthie gave me the most invaluable thing any grandparent can give a child: their time. I don’t know many kids who are lucky enough to grow up knowing their grandparents the way that I did. Someday when I have kids of my own, I will know how infinitely important it is to just be there, all the time, no matter what. To play cards with them, to make cookies with them, to cheer them on no matter what they’re doing, to indulge them and let them steer the car when they’re 8, and to make them feel like they are the most important and most special little people in the universe.
My mom is the most compassionate person in the world. Show her a lost baby duck, an AT&T commercial, or a stranger in peril, and the woman is sidelined for days. I do my fair share of eye-rolling at Jayne, because I’ll admit – she does get a little excited from time-to-time… *cough* like the time she sent a scathing text message to the person who just broke up with one of her kids (…I’ll pause for you to cringe… I know… she’s totally out of control.) But everything my mom does is out of love. I may question her level of cooth at times, but man. She’s in my corner and my little brother’s corner no matter what. She never judges, she always listens, and she is still – as I type this at crusty age 32 – the person I want to take care of me when I’m sick. She always drops what she’s doing and rolls up her sleeves to help me when I need it… she ALWAYS says inappropriate things that make me cackle and want to hide under a table… and she instilled in me a deep love of Don Henley and Michael Bolton, the wisdom to always be considerate of other peoples’ feelings, and a love for the simplest and most beautiful things, like the way the leaves rustle in the afternoon breeze.
My mom has such an appreciation and insane knowledge of music. My earliest memories include sitting at the kitchen table listening with my mom to U2’s “War”, or driving down country roads when Sweet Home Alabama came on, and being given the meaning behind each lyric. She also always encouraged me to travel. One’s 20s, according to ol’ Tina, are meant to get the ya-ya’s out: to be completely selfish, to focus on establishing one’s career, and to get the BLEEP out of dodge and take as many journeys as possible. She also always taught me to try and include everyone. “So-and-so’s parents aren’t home; see if he wants to come with us into town”; “Call so-and-so and see if they want us to pick them up so they can eat dinner with us”. If only I could be half as friendly or gracious as Mom. Mom, I love you, and you are my best friend.
Mac and Jeff have been wonderful friends of my parents’ since the 70’s, and these two gems have been my other set of grandparents since I was a baby. Mac is the kind of lady who – despite being ancient for her time at the time – didn’t get married until her late 20’s, loves the smell of library books, thinks the Farmer’s Market is good for the soul, still drops the F-bomb like a sailor, and loves a stiff cocktail right right around 5:00 sharp. They are of no blood relation to me, but Mac & Jeff always, always loved me like one of their grandkids. Whenever I’m home, I swing by Mac’s house, and we have a long chat for about an hour or 5. Despite being married to the love of her life for most of her life, she is a fiesty and FIERCELY independent lady, and that was always a huge lesson to me: You can do both. The biggest thing she instilled in me – probably without knowing – is that a solid marriage is also a best friendship. She and Jeff were such a good team – I remember knowing that even from a very young age. They were the kind of couple that genuinely loved hanging out on a Tuesday night. Even after he fell very ill with terminal brain cancer and was mostly paralyzed and confined to a hospital bed in their house, she used to tell me how much fun they still had, and how wonderful life with him still was… that she’d crawl up in the bed with him at night and they would talk and just laaaaaaauuuuugh and laugh and laugh. That’s what it’s all about, kids.
There is ONE other woman we must give a major shout-out to: Marge Hobley. Marge has been our surrogate mom for many, many years. We literally think of her home as ours; we’ve been staying overnight there since we were 15. Marge was front & center at Karrie’s wedding. Marge threw Stephanie’s college graduation party. Marge’s house is always full of love, laughter, snacks, extra blankets, animated stories, pliés and yoga moves. Marge’s children are the most salt-of-the-earth, intelligent, kind and wonderful contributions to society that we know. Marge: you are the brightest, warmest, most energetic, most resilient, most interesting and artistic person we know. Thank you for allowing us to spend what’s amounted to YEARS at your home. Thank you for loving us like your own.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you, and for continuing to shape the people we are. We love you!
Steph & Karrie