By Amy Palumbo-LeClaire
It would be impossible to write about Mother’s Day without honoring the unique qualities that make our Moms, undeniably, our Moms. Have you ever perused rows and rows of cards to find just the right words, only to choose a flowery blank one so that you can write your own message? Or, on the flipside, the first card you reach for seems to say it all.
Every relationship is as unique as the selection of cards available to us. Some are deep and emotive, others light and humorous, and some more stoic and traditional. For this reason, I’ve decided to capture Mother’s Day stories from a few different perspectives, starting with my own.
I save all of my Mother’s Day cards, never knowing when a sentimental day will find me opening one for the second or third time around. My son’s printing, distinctly Ben’s, blurs my vision while I recall a season that’s passed us by like a turned calendar page, there and gone: that was the Siesta Keys Beach year, the year he got his permit, our first trip to Italy.
Ben’s words capture our relationship with a clarity that Hallmark can’t quite compete with. A message that stands out in my mind is one in which he thanked me for showing him a sense of optimism. Really? It hasn’t been all my fault? I did that? I guess I hadn’t realized the impact my attitude has had on my son. Truthfully, there have been times when parenting has reduced me to a state of sheer foolishness, and I’ll confess to feeling like a hot mess.
But my son’s words settle like fireflies in my heart each year, alighting dark worries and bringing forth a sense of peace. After I’m gone –Ben will take what I’ve shown him and ultimately choose happiness. Knowing this, I’ll die a happy mother. Is there a better way to go?
I have to believe that his words have reached me without coincidence. My mom, like me, is a glass-half-full kind of a lady. She taught me to survive life’s challenges by having faith over fear, kindness over crabbiness, and a healthy dose of tenacity.
Elaine was a teenage Mom, giving birth to my older sister at the age of eighteen and me, a few years later. She battled forward with eyeliner and perms to somehow beat the odds and celebrate (last year) 50 years of marriage with my Dad, a Shrewsbury Street Italian guy, a Worcester Boys Trade master cabinet maker, her high school sweetheart.
Otherwise known as Moody (a rather humorous irony since she was anything but temperamental) my mom was - and still is - unconventional. She didn’t’ bake the perfect cake because it was more fun to mix up a batch of Magic Cookie Bars. She didn’t care for sewing, so my campfire-girl vest always had a few missing beads and loose threads. She wasn’t obedient to priests, teachers, or town leaders, yet deeply rooted in the little things that went a long way, and which happened behind the curtains of our 60 Rockland Road cape house in Auburn, the gold-then-white house with the mean German Shepard and custom made fireplace.
Elaine taught me that mopping a floor does nothing to sharpen one’s intellect. People, especially family, are far more important than things. It’s no surprise that one of my greatest joys today is to meet and write for people.
Moody would take us shopping for first-day-of-school dresses at Cherry & Webb even though we technically (and financially) couldn’t afford them. We’d spread five days of fashion (cleverly purchased on layaway and credit) across the couch like the rich girls we were not. By today’s standards, my family might have been considered poor, but we never felt it. Moody drove us from house-to-house when we had paper routes so that we wouldn’t get soaked delivering papers in the rain. She’d write us phony dismissal notes from school because, in her eyes, we were strong students, and needed the mental health day. She’d roll her eyes at the proud parents in town who boasted that their kids were raised with good old-fashioned values and tough love. What a drag, she’d say, passing out tic-tacs a few decades later at my sister’s Boston College PhD graduation ceremony.
I grew up pondering why other kids had to “wait until Dad got home” to be disciplined. What the heck was he going to do that Mom couldn’t handle? Put his tired foot down? My mom strived to listen and understand her daughters. As a result, she raised confident, self-directed girls whom she rooted for amid the good, the bad, and the inconvenient. Around my mother, I was free to fully be me. I never had to prove myself, compete, or earn her love. I’m the artist I am today (in part) because of her sense of openness and optimism. My point of view has always been a vital part of my essence. She gave me the freedom to fail, succeed, and create new beginnings for myself. I’ve been writing since the sixth grade, inspired by Mrs. Farsi, who shared with the class that I’d be an author someday. My mom is no more proud of me now than she was when no one knew my name.
When Morgan King, owner of OFF THE COMMON Antiques Marketplace in Grafton, reflects on Mother’s Day she can’t help but think about her Dad, who passed away four years ago of pancreatic cancer, and whom she claims is the reason she has two mothers to love and be loved by.
A child of the seventies, Morgan grew up with marbles, yard sales, sandboxes, bikes, and the freedom to play outside until dark. A free-spirited girl with a sister fourteen years older, Morgan learned to be independent and social at a young age. She microwaved meals while her parents, Dick and Judy, ran a gift shop in Orrington, Maine. She learned to create her own fun while her mother, talented and crafty, worked tirelessly through the years as a floral designer, business owner and fierce Bingo competitor.
Morgan’s parents divorced when she was seven. She saw her Dad around the holidays. A part of her wondered, as most kids do, whether or not her parents would get back together. But life had different plans for a latch-key kid who adored going to auctions and flea markets before she knew she’d someday own her own antique shop. Five years following the divorce, her father met her stepmother, a woman twenty years younger than he (she was twenty-seven, he, forty-seven) and who easily related to the growing pains of a twelve-year-old girl. Her name was Carrie. Morgan would later call her Mum.
“When he met her, we became an instant family,” she recalls. “I’ve always bounced ideas off of her. I could talk to her about personal things like teen pregnancy and going on the pill. She had been through some of the same things that I had been through in high school. She gave me emotional support and guidance because we shared similar experiences. She gave me confidence as a girl.”
The memory of her father’s second marriage, lacking the innocence it held when Morgan was a child, brings tears to her eyes now. At the age of forty-two, nearly the age her father was when he met Carrie, she empathizes with her mom. “I can only imagine how my mother must have felt, knowing her daughter was excited about having this instant family. My father and stepmom took me everywhere. I would brag about everything they bought me. It must have been difficult but she never showed bitterness towards the situation. If she hurt, I never knew it. My mom and stepmom have attended numerous events together. It never felt awkward. My mom is strong.”
Morgan dusts off the framed and mounted “first dollar bill” that her mom earned at the Four Seasons gift shop in Orrington in the late seventies—a gift presented to Morgan during OFF THE COMMON’s grand opening, when the family’s interest in antiques came full circle. She blows her nose and jokes about how, for years, she automatically answered the phone with the greeting, “Good Morning, Four Seasons” and has adopted her mother’s ability to effectively interact with customers and run a business. “Most people warn their kids to not talk to strangers. I grew up talking to everyone - in supermarkets and just about everywhere. My Mom, also known as Edith, is very personable. She gave me the independent streak to figure things out on my own.”
Morgan King is the grateful daughter of a mother, a stepmother, and a father who gave her a new family, along with a sense of humor. “We could talk about anything – sexuality, religion… well, everything except for politics. He was Republican but I’m a Democrat. We used to argue about money, but he was always right. He was an entrepreneur. He owned an ice cream shop, was in the restaurant business, worked as a book publisher, and a driver to make ends meet. I get my entrepreneurial skills from him. He made me believe in myself. He made me believe I could do anything.”
Dick Harriman passed away on June 25, 2014. This Mother’s Day, on Sunday, May 13, his daughter, Morgan Harriman King, will be selling antiques at the Brimfield Flea Market, and remembering all her father gave her.
Visit Morgan at OFF THE COMMON Antique Marketplace, 4 Worcester Street, Grafton
It’s a typical day in late April. An indecisive rain spatters from a grey sky, followed by glimpses of sun. The New England spirit - hardened by the cold - dips, though the attitude fails to reach the residents of St Camillus Adult Day Health Center, located on 670 Linwood Ave, Whitinsville.
Upon entering the dining room, a resident steps up from her chair and offers me a random act of kindness, a handmade beaded necklace. A nurse hands me an immediate cup of coffee. “This Land is Your Land” plays in the background. The St. Camillus brochure motto – Compassionate Care – comes to life before my eyes and ears. Then, in a small conference room, Lydia Borst enters, using a cane for balance. She is a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a St. Camillus day resident. She sits down carefully, and tells her story.
Lydia’s mother, Agnus Benzenberg, who lived to be 86, immigrated to Brooklyn, NY, from Germany in the late 30s, enduring sickness during passage on the boat and a hard life that came thereafter. Lydia was birthed out of wedlock in 1940 before her parents, who lived close to each other, married only a few months later, yet, according to Lydia, were ostracized from the community. Eighteen months later, Lydia’s sister, Betty, was born, followed by Helen, and Ruth during subsequent years. Her stepbrother, Ralph, made them a family of five.
Lydia, a first born, recalls with respect and admiration a traditional upbringing that included pot roasts, mashed potatoes, green beans and an immaculate home. She remembers her mother being home and preparing three square meals per day. She remembers hand-laundered clothes that hung outside to dry on a line. More solemnly, she recalls her mother’s sadness, tears and breakdowns.
“I hated her at times,” she tells me. “My father was a carpenter. It was a trade passed down to him and he did well but since our family grew so fast, I remember us being poor. We didn’t have a lot of toys, though I remember having many dolls. It was hard because my mother didn’t understand English and my father had to write all of our school notes. There were times that I wished I had been an only child. But I know that only children, too, wish that they had siblings.”
A hard life did nothing to suppress Lydia’s desire to start her own family with values kept and lost. Married for 52 years now, Lydia is immensely grateful for being brought up with church values, and for a mother who provided the same traditional lifestyle in which she has passed down to her own three boys, Kevin, Nathan, and Steven. She claims to have parented her own children with more affection and outward expressions of love. “They (her childhood family) were not touchy-feely but we are. We say I love you a lot and hug each other and touch.”
Lydia recalls the desire to have children shortly after marriage. “I couldn’t wait to have children. I think we were stupid,” she jokes, adding that her husband, Rich, used to compliment her for carrying her babies with such a radiant glow during each pregnancy. Still charming, her husband takes care of her these days with an attitude, according to Lydia, that stems from a belief that “she did the same for him for forty years doing what women did.”
Lydia’s stroke ten years ago led the couple to the welcoming arms and home of her firstborn son, Kevin, and his wife, Meri. “We live in a beautiful ground floor apartment in Milford. We have grown to the pitter-patter of our grandchildren, Lily (now 17) and Sam (now 13) who live upstairs on the second floor. I come to St. Camillus in a van every day so that my husband can get things done. He picks me up Monday through Friday. We are so proud of our son for doing this for us. Being a grandmother is even more fun than being a mom. We are crazy about our grandchildren, and them about us.”
A grateful mother of three and grandmother of six (Lily, Sam, Emma, Trinity, Isaac, and Andy) Lydia Borst, who serves as a leader at Indian Community Church, Worcester, advises the next generation of moms with compassion. “Try and stay home with them, especially during the early years, and the Lord will prosper them. He is into families. He loves families and honors them. Jesus has always been a big part of our lives.”
Lydia Borst would like to thank her children (Kevin and Meri; Nathan and Penny; Steven and Nicole) for all of the support they have given her and her husband throughout the years. She hasn’t forgotten the dental debt paid for by her son, Steven, or the countless TGIF nights spent at Kevin and Meri’s.
Most of all, she hasn’t forgotten her savior, Lord Jesus Christ. “We have both been healed thousands of times. He came to heal us and deliver us from every bondage. All of my grandchildren know Jesus.”
Peter Lavallee, of The Little Coffee Bean, Northbridge, doesn’t mind brewing a fresh cup of pistachio coffee for a customer while he shares an impactful Mother’s Day memory that happened seventeen years ago, when he served his mother pancakes.
“I was a Cub Scout, about six years old at Treasure Valley, Rutland, attending a Cub Scout breakfast. I still remember that day clearly. I’m not sure why it has had such an impact on me, but the memory has stayed with me all of these years.”
The former Cub Scout, now twenty-two, describes himself as a “townie” and claims to be loving life in Northbridge, where he has worked two jobs (Little Coffee Bean and King Jade) for the last few years, and plans to join the Imperial Chevy team in Mendon in a few weeks. To his success, he credits his mother with a job well done.
“My mom has always been a kick-ass Mom,” he says. “She was one of the only moms who came to Treasure Valley for the Cub Scout breakfast. I lost my Dad of cancer at the age of thirteen. I think I realized after that how she had been doing so much all along. She didn’t have to change her operation after he died. We had our ups and downs during my teenage years, but she’s always been a good mom. She was a baseball scorekeeper for my baseball team in Northbridge and very involved in my life.”
Colleen Lavallee, known in the town of Northbridge for her bubbly, positive attitude, packed her Jeep Liberty and moved to Littlefield, Texas, a few years ago to pursue a fresh start, but not before ensuring that her three boys, Patrick, Peter and Eric were settled and okay.
Hard-working and focused, Peter has responsibly managed to continue renting the same Northbridge apartment that he grew up in, never missing a single payment in a town he calls home.
“I have found so many things to be positive about,” he says. Life is pretty good in this area. There are opportunities everywhere. I frequently hear people complain about their parents and I say to them, ‘Dude, appreciate them. If you haven’t realized how much your parents have done for you, you’ll wish you knew sooner.’”