Story by Caryn, Cristen, Geoff & Gregg
If we had to pick a motto that best depicted our mom, it would be that she lived her life walking to the beat of her own drum.
Our mom grew up in Yeadon, was the youngest of three and was largely cared for by a young nanny that her parents hired named Gene Nimitz. When asked about her childhood, she would often say she had a very sheltered and uneventful life.
Maybe this explains her flare that she developed over time as an adult. Our mom attended Drexel University, where she met an amazing group of women that became lifelong friends. One story we never tired of hearing was how our mom left her hat in our dad’s car after their first date, and how he used this excuse to visit her the next day under the guise of returning it.
Once married our parents moved into a small apartment and lived very frugally. They had plans of buying a house and starting a family, and agreed that my mom’s salary would be saved for the sole purpose of purchasing their home. Our mom worked at Sunoco in downtown Philadelphia as a secretary until they had enough money saved.
They found a great family home in Springfield, PA, where all four children were born and raised through their formative years.
Our mom took her role as a mother and wife very seriously, and when asked what her vocation was, she would say, “I am a homemaker.”
Looking back through the lens of our own parenting experience, it is with a renewed admiration that we recognize how hard she worked each day at her “job.” There are a number of categories in which our mom’s approach to parenting was – how do I say this – unique. These were not approaches or traits that had a short shelf-life – they lasted our entire childhood. Our mom’s interests were the same; she was intensely committed to learning and perfecting whatever caught her attention.
Writing this, I wondered if there was a deciding moment that caused our mom to begin to veer down her own path or if it was just a gradual progression. This question is still unanswered, but her distinctive approach was sprinkled throughout – like a chef that cooks without a recipe or measuring spoons.
Without further adieu, below is a brief sampling of our memories by category.
In the rigor category, I would say having to read a “positive” news article daily during breakfast and then explaining it in our own words is up there on the list. The first hurdle was finding a positive news article, and the second, obviously, was being able to explain to our mom’s satisfaction.
We had an hour of required reading during the summer. We had to play outdoors dependent only on two weather factors: the absence of rain and a temperature above 32 degrees.
Television was minimal to include Saturday morning cartoons, sports when our dad watched, and Sunday nights.
We had to write “papers” when we got in any kind of trouble, which entailed writing 68 times whatever was deemed the lesson that needed to be learned. These papers were stored in the attic, filed by name… I am sure you can guess who had the largest stack of boxes collecting dust.
There was a closet dedicated to items that we left laying around our rooms – this closet was named the “confiscation closet.” Half of my belongings were in there, and only could be released seven days after you realized they had been confiscated… which means Mom had a ledger tracking all of this.
There was a lot of importance placed on punctuality, so there were certain cues and time schedules that had to be abided by (we all had watches), and there was the infamous bell rung for mealtimes. Yet another ledger was kept with some complex accounting tracking lateness, resulting in various levels of house arrest depending on frequency and duration of one’s tardiness.
Being a household of positivity, our mom would charge us 5 cents per negative comment. This money was collected weekly from our allowance, and a few times a year our family of six would go out to dinner at the Townhouse, where our meal was fully paid for by this fund. The dinner was aptly named the “Eat Your Words Dinner.”
You would think someone so driven by structure would not be fun, but that was not the case. We had “play” clothes and were allowed to come home covered in mud if we wished. We had fast food Thursdays – that was short lived – but we had them. Our mom allowed us to shift the gears in her Volkswagen when driving locally, and would speed up and drive through large puddles upon request.
She created the most magical birthdays for each of us. The day began by being greeted in the mornings by your siblings, who would each reluctantly tell you what chore that they would do for you, followed by the lighting of your own personal birthday countdown candle, a dinner of your choice, presents, and then a personal slideshow of all photos taken to date.
In the summer, we would walk to get ice cream and bring our own can of Charlie Chip pretzels, go to the pool for the afternoon and not have to wait a half hour after eating to swim, take weekly trips to the library where we were allowed to get out the maximum number of books.
We all have a collective memory of listening to KYW on school days when it snowed in hopes that our school would be closed, and if so, we would have a “snow party,” which was a European-like dinner of cheeses, meats, bread and fruit.
Cristen, being the youngest, missed out on some of these memories, but scored big time in the fun category. Her memories of being able to sleep until 10 am is unfathomable to the rest of us, as were her European vacations with mom and Dad as she got older.
I would say our mom is one of the most selfless people we know. She has energy and time for everyone. When you were sick, our mom would bring a small TV into your room for unlimited viewing all day, and insist on cooling the sheets and remaking the bed twice a day so that you were comfortable.
Mom (pre our healthy eating days) would bake homemade cakes and pies a few times a week, and took great pride in serving us dinner every night. I am not sure what the typical topic of discussion is at dinnertime for most families, but we each had a turn “telling our day,” and to our displeasure Mom would be interested and ask follow-up questions.
We had what were called “love nights” where Mom carved out a night a month for each child, and we could plan out how we wanted to spend the night with her. Sunday nights were family nights, and after dinner we all crammed ourselves into the den and watched Walt Disney. This is pre-sectional days, so most of us sat on the floor, and it was perfect.
We never heard our mom saying something critical of anyone; she always can find the smallest nice thing to focus on, and she strives to know everyone’s name and acknowledge them. Our mom sweats our issues as if they were her own, and still at almost 90 will follow up on any anomaly in our lives, because that is who she is.
As I alluded earlier, our eating habits took a sharp left in the late 70s. Prevention Magazine is partially to blame. My newly diagnosed hypoglycemia and Greg’s adverse reaction to dyed foods and candy were also factors. We honestly didn’t know what hit us; within a week there was a full elimination of sugar and salt, and preservatives were soon to follow.
Shaklee vitamins were introduced in horse sized pills to add to our morning routine, as well as protein shakes, which were never really shaken enough. The infamous vegetable medley was introduced into our weekly dinner rotation. Mom once again was ahead of her time.
Our mom is extensively knowledgeable in the category of the American classics and Russian literature. If you have ever attempted to read a Russian novel, you will have an appreciation for the difficulty, but this seemed to only make the reading more enjoyable. Our mom reads with a highlighter, a pen for shorthand note taking, and a dictionary.
Mom was a talented seamstress, sewing mother/daughter outfits when I was younger. None of us are clear on where mom’s interest in handwriting analysis came from, but she was attracted to it and began attending classes. Whether it is lore or not, the story goes that our father stopped writing in longhand in order to avoid being an experimental subject.
Our mom, who is a lover of history, began giving tours for the Historic Sugartown and General Anthony Wayne’s house, retiring this past year after 30-some years of service.
Saving the best for last is our mom’s dedication and interest in religion. I think this is the one thing – other than her family – that she has committed her life to learning and exploring. Most of us remember having to listen to Eric Butterworth on the transistor radio in the kitchen before school… I think we already had our hands full with our breakfast routine, so I am not sure how much was retained.
Louise Hay, Eckhart Tolle, A Course in Miracles, and Science of Mind are just a few of mom’s deep dives. We were all taught the power of your thoughts, how to redirect them, and the importance of forgiveness. I think our mom’s devotion to her spirituality is what makes her such a beautiful human being.
When Gregg asked if I would help collate our memories and write a tribute, I was a little overwhelmed by the idea. The “Sound of Music” was always a family favorite, and a line from the song ‘Maria’ came to mind. “How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”
Well, I have no idea, and it is most probably impossible, but that is what it feels like to try to capture the true essence of our mom in a few paragraphs. I figured the ending to this would be some witty summary of our quiet, yet somewhat eccentric mom, and then it dawned on me…
She, in her conscious curation of herself, and her deliberate and tiring dedication to raising us, molded four individuals that grew to embody the above qualities. A sprinkle here and a sprinkle there. This was her goal all along; I guess her life’s work.
We all have learned to comfortably walk to the beat of our own drum. Could there be a greater gift given? I don’t think so.
So, from all of us, Mom, the most heartfelt thanks.
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