My mother died when she was thirty six years old. I was nineteen. No, this is not a feel sorry for me because I was so young kind of story, my sister and brother were younger. I will admit I spent way too much time being angry at God and, in general, hating the universe over this. None of my tantrums brought my mother back and usually just hurt myself or others. Mother’s Day is coming this weekend. Since most of us will be remembering our mothers, I wanted to introduce you to mine.
Her name was Evelyn Knapp Griffeth and she grew up on a dairy farm in southeastern Idaho. If you just watched her life, you would think she was a mix of contradictions. She loved horses, but she never rode them. She loved the outdoors, but she didn’t hike. She loved to hunt, but she never carried a gun and I have no memory of her ever even shooting a gun. She was addicted to sports, but never played any.
My mother was stricken with rheumatic fever as a child and it left her heart muscles weak. Most of her life, she struggled to take a complete breath of air. In time, it killed her. A short version is that her heart muscle tissue was too weak to hold itself together.
She loved to bake, and more often than not, our home smelled of freshly made bread. She made the best cherry and lemon meringue pies in the world. I loved the cherry, not so much the lemon meringue. I was convinced the meringue was nothing more than raw eggs whipped with a little sugar in it. I don’t like under-cooked eggs, even today.
She was an artist and every magazine or envelope that happened to be next to the phone (remember corded phones?) was covered with sketches, doodles and cartoon characters. While she talked on the phone, she would draw studies of her hand, foot, or her eye, if a mirror was close by. She’d cradle the phone on her left shoulder, draw with her right hand and use her left to model or to hold her object. She also painted and I have one of her works in my living room. It’s a work of oil showing the canyon and river where I grew up. Stop by and see it. I’d love to show it to you.
She smelled of Jergans lotion; the original version, back before the companies scented them all. Thanks to this and leather gloves, her hands were always soft when she touched me offering a compliment or issuing discipline.
Her hair was dark brown, with a touch of red that showed up only when the sun glanced off it just right. Most of the time, it was close to being out of control. It was common back then to say, “Do your own thing,” and her hair did. She was kind enough to share her hair with me. Trying to control my hair gives me the opportunity to think of her almost every day.
Her eyes were also a dark brown and she favored dark red lipstick. She looked awesome in shades of green.
Her favorite singers were Patsy Cline and Marty Robbins. If you don’t know who Patsy Kline was, listen to Leann Rimes sing “Crazy”; you’ll understand.
I came in the house from running a tractor one afternoon, I guess I was about fifteen or so, and she was on the phone crying her eyes out. She was using an old dish towel for a hanky. Later, I found out she was talking to one of her sisters, but the part I walked in on was,
“I can’t believe it, they are getting divorced. They are such a cute couple. How can this happen? I’ll bet it was (insert name) who started this. He should have left (second insert) alone. It just won’t be the same once they have split up.”
I stood beside her silently mouthing the words, “who, who split up?” She ignored me. She hung up the phone after a few more sessions of tears, and finally brought me into the conversation. Her favorite couple, on her favorite soap opera was getting divorced.
My mom liked her soaps.
We were always close and in most ways, still are, as I said, I think of her almost every day and she is the core of every woman character I write.