Today’s guestpost was written by Susanna Holstein.
Mom, always the English lady.
“Marigolds are pretty, but they have a terrible smell.”
“That Lucy and Desi, they’re so common. I don’t want you girls watching that show.”
“Tea must always be served in an English teacup, dear, with a saucer. And milk and sugar. And brewed in a teapot.”
“Depression glass is just cheap glass.”
“China made in Japan is no good. Not worth wasting money on.”
“Wrap that baby up! Poor little thing is freezing.”
That was my mother talking. Her opinions, lightly and carelessly dropped, shaped my view of the world, of housekeeping, gardening, and child-rearing. I followed her rules and her lead, and only recently realized how much she influenced my own likes and dislikes.
Take silver for example. Mom loved silver. Looking back, I bet she would have adored having a real silver tea service but that never came to be. She also liked brass and copper, and there were certain pieces that we kept on display in the house for years, polishing them for the holidays. Two crystal decanters sat on either end of the buffet in our dining room; one held port, the other sherry. I do not remember anyone ever drinking those dark red liquids, but I do recall washing up the decanters along with all the other sparkling serving dishes for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
It was surprising to realize when she passed away how many of her likes and dislikes she passed on to her daughters. We all love crystal, silver and flowery English teacups. We all grow flowers, have an apron tucked away somewhere in our kitchens, and most of us still drink tea with milk and sugar. For a long time I did not watch the Lucy show or the Mary Tyler Moore show either (“Common,” Mom sniffed). To this day I cannot watch movies with violence or children being hurt, and I’m a fan of happy endings.
My English granny, Naomi Florence Hagger, who was visiting us in Centreville, VA, on her 60th birthday when this photo was taken. Granny’s tastes and opinions probably had just as strong an influence on my mother as Mom’s did on me.
I was surprised when I found that I actually liked the smell of marigolds, and of a bruised tomato leaf, another scent my mother did not enjoy. And I left the delicate English teacups in favor of the more substantial and, I think, just as pretty German-made cups and saucers. I have never been a big fan of pale pink and green Depression glass, but when I found I really liked the pale yellow version, I felt guilty for years!
My tastes began to become my own when I left Virginia and moved to the mountains of West Virginia. I became intrigued by handmade art-pottery, quilts, and baskets filled my home. I wore jeans and seldom put on makeup (Mom put hers on daily, and “freshened up” with new lipstick and a clean apron just before Dad came home from work). My mother visited my mountain home only rarely, and for the first few visits was visibly upset at the hard path her oldest daughter had chosen. I did not think it difficult at all–to me it was all a great adventure, a challenge to learn how to provide for ourselves in this then-remote place.
Mom and I, 1988, at my son Jon’s wedding.
Over the years my tastes gentled; Mom was surprised on her last visit here in 2003 to find air conditioning, lace curtains and a more civilized way of life–at least to her way of thinking. I went from minimalist to an eclectic, comfortable style that includes all of the things I love in a glorious mishmash that is still orderly–unlike my mother, I do not want “everything out where I can see it, dear.” I still recall how quickly she could trash a place, scattering belongings hither and thither, filling a dresser top with makeup, medicines, lotions and creams and completely covering a countertop in less than 10 minutes. She was happiest with a comfortable clutter, as she called it. I can deal with clutter for a limited time but then it has to get organized and cleaned up.
Every now and again, I’ll start to say something, and I’ll hear my mother talking again. I have to smile because even though she’s been gone for eight years, her opinions live on in her daughter’s subconscious mind. It makes me wonder if I influenced my sons in the same way. Is it this way with all mothers? Do you still hear your mother’s opinions coming out of your mouth?