Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy Mothers Day!

My mom as a teenager
By Bob Boldt

In honor of mothers, I thought I’d comment on the mothers in my life. The picture below is of me and my grandma – my dad’s mom. There was such an affinity we shared together, a bond. I recalled a line from a poem I had been writing, “I remember kissing my grandma when she was ten.”

   The next is the only known photograph of my mother’s mother. It always reminds me of curious bears dressed up like gypsies. Shortly after my grandma passed away, her father remarried. I don’t know how soon after. There was bad blood between Eleanor my mom and her stepmother, Leta. I can only speculate as to the reason or reasons.
    This is my mom (Eleanor Heine) in happier days before her mom died. Every time I look at that face I hear Thich Nhat Hanh saying he achieved liberation by meditating on his mother as a little girl. I am now an older person than my mother was when she died. I wonder, are we really better off as a species when we traded the story for the photograph?
    The next is my grandfather and Mom. They shared a passion for fishing. I know she and her dad were very close and there might have been something of a rivalry for affection with the evil stepmother. I also know that she did the greatest share of the housework, shopping, meal preparation, laundry, etc. I had the impression that she felt quite put upon in taking care of her stepmother and four males in the family.

    The next is a picture of my mother and her friends. All I know of her early adult life outside the family was she loved billiards. Her all-city women’s team took a couple of billiards championships. My parents’ first date was at the Chicago lakefront festival, Venetian Nights.

    This is my mom, lowest in the frame. Helen, her sister-in-law is next up. The dapper gentleman is her beloved brother Bill. I think Bill was the only other person in the world she really loved and trusted implicitly. God knows, her family was enough of a disappointment and a martyr’s burden to her. I think she felt exploited by her father’s family, where she once told me that she felt like a slave taking care of a sickly stepmother, her father, and her three brothers. Parenthetically, the reason for the strong bond my mom felt with brother Bill was that Bill always stuck up for his sister.
    Am I really such a perv for admitting to finding younger pictures of my mother mildly arousing? Pity. Because since Back to the Future such an admission is more cliché than sin.

The next photo is of me and my mom in one of her “gag photos” she would stage from time to time.
I think both my parents stimulated different regions of my creative life. My father was an artist, designer, fine art painter, and sculptor whose creative imagination was as vast as his skill. My mom on the other hand was the practical, sometimes the too practical, of the polar opposites that was my parents’ marriage.
    My earliest memory of my mom was of her reading to me. My love of books, reading, and learning can be traced back to these earliest experiences. She was a sucker for an encyclopedia salesman. We had three sets. Actually two of them were from Book House Publishing. One was a beautifully illustrated eight-volume history book, and another was an equally lavishly pictured set of world fairy tales.
    In spite of their supposedly loving each other, my parents had a stormy relationship. Even though we were pretty securely stationed in the middle class, there always seemed to be money issues. There were temperamental issues as well. I think in some ways she always felt put upon by her role of taking care of males who could never meet her standards of order and cleanliness. We lived in Tinley Park, Illinois. This was my dad’s home town, where he was born and raised. Tinley was one of the satellite suburbs of Chicago, where most worked in the big city. This was before the Enterprise Zone sheathed the route west from Chicago.
    I remember going with my mom into Chicago to visit her dad, who worked as a floor salesman at Fish Furniture on Wabash Avenue in the Chicago Loop. Usually on those trips we would eat lunch at Marshall Field’s. While there, I would take in a marionette show provided for the kids. A couple of times she took me to the spectacular puppet opera theater at the downtown Kungsholm restaurant. At that time my interest in Medieval knights was growing, so, on some of our trips, we would visit the George F. Harding Museum of Arms and Armor (now on display at the Chicago Art Institute).

    I can never remember my mother ever discouraging me from anything that fired my interest or creativity. Everything that influenced me I had to somehow involve myself in interactively. My parents did nothing to reign in this excess. In fact, they encouraged every interest and expression I became interested in – especially the artistic ones. I remember that after my visit to the Harding Museum my dad helped me make a crusader knight’s costume. I was the only kid in town who was busy making masks and costumes and planning fantasies all year round – not just for Halloween!

My mom’s favorite brother was Uncle Bill. He would visit us often. He reminded me of Walter Matthau, although it would be more accurate to say that actor Matthau reminded me of Uncle Bill, since I knew Bill first. He was the joker of the bunch, never seeming to take things too seriously, always looking at life in an offhanded mildly amused way. I think that is why my mom loved him so much. He always cheered her up.

My mother was an almost compulsive archivist, note taker, list maker. The handwritten captions for the photographs I collected were dutifully inscribed by her on the back of each print.
    After I moved out of her house to continue my education and live in Chicago, she would correspond with me, accompanying her letters with clippings of interesting cultural and artistic events going on in the Chicago area. Often we would have long phone conversations. After she passed I found notebooks full of notes she had made of those phone calls.
    After she was diagnosed with cancer (my mother had been a smoker since her teen years), I spent a lot of time visiting her where she and my dad were living in Sandwich, Illinois. I really loved these visits and the comfort I was able to give her. She was really quite terrified of death. All the doctor wanted to provide were drugs to dull her consciousness of the very thing she was facing. I felt it was most important that she pass this final life experience in a state of calm acceptance. One thing that seemed to help her was listening to tapes of the pop psychologist, Leo Buscaglia. His calm, reassuring voice and wonderful stories seemed to bolster her spirits.
    Those last days for me set the final book end on my relationship with her. From my first memories of her nurturing my emerging consciousness to my cherishing her in her last days, there seemed to be the completion of a great circle.

Copyright © 2016 by Bob Boldt


  1. Bob messaged me that the version of today's post that appears on his Facebook page has "gone viral"; I hope he'll send some of those readers over here, where they can see the whole remembrance in a single post. <smile>

  2. I withdrew the first draft of this because, after it was published, I found many errors I don’t usually make. Here is the revised one, a little better I hope. I think the problem may be with the four-line at a time typing format for the comments – made it hard to read what I was writing all of a piece so to speak. Anyway, here is my original post.

    It’s interesting to see how many "likes" and comments my FB homage to mothers got. I hope folks here on this blog remember and share other mothers' stories. Nice writer prompt: “My Mom” (share)

    Just curious: you used to post a notice on my FB page announcing new material on Moristotle. Didn't you?

    It is unfortunate that the picture of my mom and me was
    of such poor resolution. (It's the only one I could find on short notice.)

    I don't know if people can make out the letters on the Zoo sign in the picture or not. The sign (and the point of the gag) was, "HOLD SMALL CHILDREN BY THE HAND" Ha ha

  3. Bob, thank you for being an exemplar in writing about your mother. I should write about mine, too, and perhaps other members of the staff will write about theirs. Jim Rix has written a lot about his mother, some of which has been excerpted from his book Jingle Jangle. And James Knudsen has written about both of his parents in his Loneliest Liberal columns. And Rolf Dumke in his Growing Up in America. And Vic Midyett in his Missionary Kid stories. (I'm again encountering the danger of enumerating - overlooking someone!)
        I need to get back to advertising posts on Facebook - a practice I abandoned while in Paris.