A fellow genealogy blogger, Jeanne Bryan Insalaco, recently blogged about a Memory Jar that she made for her mother. With Mother’s Day coming up, it seems like a particularly timely idea. Jeanne wrote down her memories of their past and put the individual slips of paper in a jar. She meant for her mother to read one per day–but of course her mother couldn’t wait and read all of them right away.
My mother would have done the same thing. Unfortunately, she is no longer here to share these memories. Thanks goodness we had opportunities for long talks when she was in her last decade. Here are a few of the things I remember about my mother, Harriette Anderson Kaser. I have organized them by different places that we lived.
My earliest memories for the memory jar come from when I was nearly three years old in New Philadelphia, Ohio, but other than stories mother told me, I don’t have any specific memories of mother in New Philly.
I do remember the little house in Ames, Iowa where we lived for a short time during World War II. I was a few months short of four years old. Mother was teaching me to read. She probably needed to do some teaching, because she had set aside her teaching career to follow Daddy to Iowa for his job, and she was VERY bored.
I remember the thrill of recognition of squiggly lines become letters and words and stories about Dick and Jane and Sally.
King Avenue, Columbus Ohio
I remember when mother got her first hearing aid. We were living in a two-story brick house that in its grander days in the early 20th century had served as the home of managers of a beer company.
She knew the hearing aid was inevitable. She had inherited a hearing problem from her father, Daddy Guy, who wore a hearing aid. His was a big clumsy thing (I was going to say the size of an early transistor radio, but some of my readers would not relate to that) with a visible wire to his ear. Mother’s Beltone was smaller than a pack of cigarettes and she wore it clipped to her bra and hid the wire in the bun on the back of her head. Much later she had the in-ear type, which is what I now have.
In the same house, when I was about nine years old, I learned that a third child would join my brother and me. My parents cheerfully announced the expected new arrival, but I had overheard their earlier conversations, so it was not a surprise. Not only that, but I did not greet the news with the enthusiasm they wanted. Not because I didn’t want another baby in the house, but because mother was 42 and I had heard their conversations worrying about the dangers of pregnancy at an advanced age. The memory jar reminds me that worry goes both ways between mother and child.
Loretta Avenue, Columbus Ohio
Next my memory jar turns to the late 1940s. I remember soft summer nights with my mother sitting with her friend Leona Culshaw on the back steps of our house, overlooking the lawn and gardens my dad had planted. Kids ran up and down the streets or alleys until it got too dark to see. Fireflies blinked, garlic smells drifted from the kitchen of the Italian house next door. It would have been idyllic, except to me as a vulnerable pre-teen, their conversations about cancerous ovaries and failing hearts and other icky things made me nauseous.
Again, mother had taken a leave from her teaching career, and filled her time with doing crafty things, which she loved. For PTA (as a parent rather than a teacher) at Linden Elementary School, she took charge of the organization’s scrapbook. During later years, she made creative centerpieces for ladies’ luncheons at church or at her golf club. And when I married, she created the headpieces worn by my bridesmaids and put her creative touch to other parts of the wedding.
We had lived in Killbuck off and on before, but our longest stint took place in a hundred-year-old house on the Schoolhouse Hill. I attended eighth grade through high school there, so of course the memory jar is packed with memories–but being a teen at the time, the memories are pretty self-centered.
Mother sewed, despite her full-time teaching jobs, a succession of formals for me. I belonged to Rainbow Girls (a girl’s auxiliary to the Masonic Lodge) and needed to wear a formal every four months. Of course it would be out of the question to wear the same dress twice! Like a wizard, mother would take off a ruffle here, add an overskirt or shawl-like top there and give new life to an old dress. I loved her creativity and all my “new” dresses.
The family moved to Hilliard, a suburb of Columbus, in the summer of 1956 to relieve Daddy of the commute to Columbus and to be closer to Ohio State University, which I would attend that fall. Mother immediately got a job teaching at Hilliard High School and the family stayed put long enough for my brother and sister both to graduate from Hilliard.
Mother’s history of loving word games predates the move to Hilliard, but I relate her love of Scrabble to that time. She was a formidable opponent, because she would make up words and who could argue with an English teacher? If you dared say the word did not appear in the dictionary, she would scoff that dictionary was no good.
After she retired from teaching, she started every day with the Word Scramble found on the comic page of the newspaper, while Daddy did the crossword puzzle.
Tucson Arizona–the Final Years
After retirement, Daddy and Mother moved to Scottsdale Arizona, following her migrating children west. There they played golf and enjoyed apartment living. When their health began to fail, they joined Ken and me in Tucson living first in an independent living apartment, and after Daddy died, mother lived in a nursing home.
The transition was made easier for her by her love of poetry. She had to have a bookshelf of poetry books beside her bed, and took joy in letters from old students about how she had planted a love of poetry in them.
Like all aging people, she liked to reminisce, and we went through her old picture albums and she told me stories. How she loved cars! One day she told me about every car she had owned, starting when she was twenty-one years old. She had to have new ones every couple of years, and in her nineties, she remembered every one.
Her other love encompassed all of nature. “The world is so beautiful,” she would say as we took short road trips to a nearby national park, or looked up to the mountains surrounding Tucson, or drove along roads rimmed with wildflowers.
I suppose that is the most important memory I have of my mother to put in the memory jar would include–her enthusiasm for the world, for people–particularly teenagers, and the way she threw herself into her activities with enthusiasm.