Thursday, July 23, 2015

Remembering Mother

This is a special year for me, and this entry will be another non-political rumination for your consideration.

Some will recall that I recently wrote about my father, Robert J. West, on what would have been his 100th birthday on May 6th, HERE.  Well, today, July 23, 2015, my mother, Dorothy M. West, would have celebrated her 100th birthday, too.  Today I'll tell you a little bit about her.

I am a blessed man to have had two such wonderful parents, who loved each other and stayed together through thick and thin, for more than four decades.  Their lives together would have been much, much longer. but my father passed away too early.

My mother was a special person.  She was born and raised in rural Ohio, one of five children who grew up in a loving, supportive family.  Along with her three brothers and her sister, she had the great advantage of growing up in a small town in the heart of the Amish country in the middle of the state.  She got her math skills from her father, an accountant in a granary who could add a column of numbers by just passing his finger down the line.  That small town atmosphere created a strong "family" feel to my mother's life and she remained close to many of her classmates.  Her high school graduating class - the Class of 1933 - had 33 kids in it and when she returned for her 60th reunion nineteen of her classmates were still alive and 16 attended the gathering!

She and her peers were part of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation", who grew up during the Great Depression, so they learned the hard lessons of self-reliance and frugality.  My mother became a hair dresser and met and married my father just as World War II was beginning to boil in Europe.  I was born just before Pearl Harbor and my first sister was born a couple years later.  During that time my mother and father worked hard to provide for the family - I mentioned in my earlier post that my father worked at least two jobs for the duration of the war since he was physically unable to serve.

At the end of the war my family migrated to California, with my father preceding us, finding work and a home.  My mother and our Aunt Myrna drove my sister and me from Ohio to California in an old Plymouth business coupe with no back seat, but a very large trunk.  So, all our belongings were in the car with a mattress spread on top, which is where my sister and I perched and shared that great adventure - seeing Indians and Wild Horses and all manner of other delights on the trip.

As the eldest child I had the great advantage of getting most of the early attention.  My mother would sit patiently with me on her lap as a young child and read to me - no television or video games in those days.  I would read along with her and was a very proficient reader before I started to school.  That leg up was foundational to my entire life.

My mother worked off and on as we were growing up in Los Angeles.  While my father worked hard to keep his small business afloat, she was a pretty typical stay-at-home mother, raising the three of us - our youngest sister was born before the last century was half over.  She was my Den Mother in Cub Scouts and was a Scout leader for my sister's Girl Scout group.  She was the go-to person in time of distress, whether it was one of us kids or a family member or a friend - she was always there. 

She was a fantastic cook, who made everything from scratch - including the bread we ate.  Our home was always filled with the fragrance of some hearty meal.  It was not unusual for my friends to invite themselves to our house around meal time, knowing full well that there was always plenty of good food on the table.  We used to laugh at the timing of some of my Father's employees, who would manage to arrive at our house to drop off a work truck just in time for dinner.  I don't recall many meals when there were just the five of us sitting around that big, round table in the kitchen.  I can taste some of that food now - enchiladas, chicken and noodles (home-made noodles), fried chicken, roast beef and pork... yum.

As I recall my mother there are many snapshots of her that flash through my mind.  I recall snuggled in their bed when I was sick with a cold and Mother bringing me Campbell's chicken noodle soup.   I recall her in the basement of our house, canning peaches and cherries for future consumption.  I remember her hanging the laundry on the back yard line to dry.  I remember her hiking across the desert in Death Valley, picking up stones - treasures for a future use.  I remember her with fish - lots of them - on a stringer as a result of a day of relaxation and fishing.  I remember her sitting in our kitchen, cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other, patiently listening to a tale of woe from a friend or family member.

Our family was not wealthy, but we kids didn't know that.  Many years my Mother would take a job in the fall so there would be money for Christmas presents for us.  She worked at the Post Office for the holiday rush, or for a friend who had a Christmas-oriented direct sales business.  And yet, she was always there for us.

I recall the evenings when she and my father would take a rare night out "on the town", and she would wrap herself in her cloth coat and off they would go for a night of dancing while my aunt would stay with us.
I remember the many family outings - my father's eldest sister and her family lived nearby, as did his brother and his family.  Plus, his mother and sister and her children lived across the street, so we spent many a weekend day at places like Cabrillo Beach or Sunset Beach chasing grunion or Pops Willow Lake in the San Fernando Valley.

Our family were campers.  We would trek off to places like Death Valley and other sites of interest in California, pitch a tent or two and rough it.  We usually invited friends to go with us, so my sisters and I had pals along for the trips.  And, as always, with a boiling pot and frying pan my Mother would prepare some of the most delicious, simple, yet filling meals over an open fire that you could imagine.

My mother was an avid fisherwoman... she loved just sitting in a small boat, trying to lure bass, blue gill or cat fish to her line.  It was a restful, much-deserved break from her busy life.  We began vacationing with relatives at Clear Lake above San Francisco in the mid-1950s and ended up having a series of small boats with which we water skied.  Mother would take her obligatory spin around the lake once or twice, then just relaxed and enjoyed fishing.  As you can see from this photo, she was very successful.

Later in our lives - after my sisters and I were grown - my parents would frequently enjoy a few days in Las Vegas, playing Blackjack and Keno and making friends with the casino staff.  They were never high-rollers, but enjoyed the companionship and time together.  Sometimes they would win, but most of the time they didn't, but they always stashed $20 in the glove compartment for fuel for the trip home.  The friends they made in Las Vegas lasted a lifetime.

My Mother was a safe haven in our lives.  My sisters and I, as well as dozens of friends, knew she was there for us.  She was the loving grandmother to my nephew and nieces and to dozens of pseudo grandkids who roamed through her life.

I mentioned in my entry about my Father how friends would refer to him as such - "Father".  Well, it was the same with my Mother.  Although over the years she was referred to as Dorothy, Dot or Dottie,  in addition to young people - my sisters and our friends - adults called her "Mother", too.  That was the relationship she had with folks - she was the mother to us all.

As I said, my parents were lifelong campers and really enjoyed the hills in the Gold Country above Sacramento, where they would explore the back roads and sit with their feet in a creek, panning for gold.  After my Father retired at age 62 they spent a couple summers living in their travel trailer in that Mother Lode Country of northern California as campground hosts - staying in a campground and making sure it was habitable for the steady stream of visitors.  And, they would pan for gold in the many streams in the region.  Then my Father passed away before his 65th birthday.

That following spring my Mother contacted the government officials who managed the campground where they had been hosts and asked if she could return on her own.  They welcomed her with open arms, and that began the next phase of her life.  She spent the first summer on her own in that campground, tending to the business of keeping it ship shape.  That fall she returned home, but quickly realized that my Father had been the link to all their friends, so she remained in the area of the campground the following winter and eventually bought a new home in an adults-only mobile home park, where she lived for most of the last fifteen years of her life.

She created a whole new life for herself, spending the summer at the campground along the creek on Highway 49 and the winter living in that mobile home park, joining the Fire Department Auxiliary and helping to run the Thrift Shop.  She was active in her church and would also "call the numbers" on Bingo Night at the park for, as she termed it, the "old people" in the park - she was 75 at that time.

Always the responsible person - she was the rock of our extended family - during her time as a campground host she would take that job very seriously.  She would arrive at the campground early in May - before any tourists arrived.  She would rake up the winter's worth of pine needles from each of the 17 campsites and put them in bags for the Forest Service staff to pick up.  Then she would go to each site and rebuild the stone fire rings that had been filled with debris the previous year.  She would shovel that stuff - bottles, cans, and ashes - into bags for the Forest Service to pick up.  Then, she would take her trusty broom and sweep every inch of the paved roads in the campground so no debris awaited the campers as they arrived.

She had no responsibilities to collect money at the campground, just to be a presence there a couple hours a day, five days a week and to be sure the pit toilets were clean and had the necessary supplies.  But, she really enjoyed the folks who visited the campground, so she would fish camp chairs out of the dumpster that folks had tossed away because they had broken webbing and she would re-web the chairs and set them around her own campfire, where they would await visitors drawn to her roaring fire like so many moths to a flame.  She made many, many friends that way.

When she got a little bored she would just jump in her four-wheel drive truck and drive a half mile to a local general store/restaurant/bar where she had become friends with the owners.  She would "work" - pro bono - helping the owners in the kitchen, wait tables and make friends.

My sisters and our families joined her at the campground each year and saw the wonderful life she had created for herself.  We would pick blackberries from the wild bushes nearby and she would use an old family recipe to make cobbler out of them.  I'm salivating as I write this.

In the later years of her tenure as a campground host the powers-that-be honored her at a luncheon as the Tahoe National Forest Campground Host Of The Year - an award that had not previously been given and, to my knowledge, stopped after she retired from that gig.  They had no other way to recognize her contributions as a volunteer for more than a dozen years.

As she approached 80 my mother realized that she could no longer deal with the rigors of being a campground host, nor living on her own the rest of the year, so she moved to Reno to live with my sister.  A lifelong smoker - that's what folks of that generation did - the cumulative effects of that nasty habit finally took her after a year in a convalescent home, just a few days after her 81st birthday.

The family gathered a few weeks later to spread her ashes in the hills of the Mother Lode Country, along a creek on a mining claim where she and our father had spent so many happy years late in their lives.  We sat on the boulders along a little creek where they had panned for gold, spoke of our lives with Mother and left her there in that part of the country she loved so much.  We miss her every day for the love she gave us, for her soft touch on our fevered-brow, for her wisdom and steady hand in our lives and the life lessons we learned just being around her.


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Blogger Honeyman said...

Beautifully written, Geoff.

7/23/2015 07:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

That is a beautiful tribute, Geoff.

7/23/2015 08:26:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Great tribute!

7/23/2015 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger Flo Martin said...

You reflect deep love and respect for Mother with every phrase. And, I truly believe that she still shares special hugs with you in spirit. My Mama "turned" 100 a month ago. She has been gone 8 years. My Papa, like yours,died in his early 60s.

Like both years our parents, you, dear Geoff, are beautiful in every way.

7/23/2015 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger Flo Martin said...

You reflect deep love and respect for Mother with every phrase. And, I truly believe that she still shares special hugs with you in spirit. My Mama "turned" 100 a month ago. She has been gone 8 years. My Papa, like yours,died in his early 60s.

Like both your parents, dear Geoff, are beautiful in every way.

7/23/2015 11:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike Scheafer said...

nice, too bad you didn't get her good looks

7/23/2015 11:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Teresa Drain said...

Thank you, Geoff. You had generous, civic-minded parents, and you do them well by continuing their good works in your own way. We are as blessed to have you as a friend, as they were blessed to have you as a son.

7/23/2015 11:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

A wonderful tribute.

7/23/2015 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Ocpublicsquare said...

Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing.

7/23/2015 06:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Ken Nyquist said...

It took me some time to get done thinking about your post, which I read this morning at dawn. No doubt you miss your parents.
I was remembering my parents moving to Timber Trails, near Avery and living in a 29' travel trailer. They had moved from Corona Del Mar. Then on to a mobile in Murphy's, that my father passed away in, back in 1988. He had a favorite fishing hole up river on the way to Calaveras Big Trees that was paradise. I miss him a lot. My Mother moved back to Palm Springs, where she had graduated from High School back a few decades and lives to this day.
The photos are moving, but the river shot belongs in a magazine. Big guess on my part but the river photo looks pure early 70's,sideburns, Thom Mcan,Ked's or Van's on the feet,a wife with a huge smile,with a very familiar looking can in hand, and it looks like an Ivy League haircut variation on you.

7/23/2015 09:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Robin Leffler said...

Thank you for a lovely article about someone who was obviously a lovely person.
-I tried to post earlier but I guess it didn't work. You were a fortunate kid, and no wonder you turned out OK with a mom like yours.

7/24/2015 12:09:00 AM  
Blogger Cindy Lou Who said...

Wow. What a tribute Geoff. It brought a tear of joy to my eyes.

7/24/2015 10:21:00 AM  

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