Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day


Thinking of Mom

In memory of Lorene Ethel Miller Craner

One of my earliest memories is sitting in my mother’s lap while she read to me. A favorite poem of mine was “Father William” by Lewis Carroll. My mother had a lovely voice and was very expressive. She always said it made me laugh when she read:

“You are old, father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white.
And yet you incessantly stand on your head;
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

My mother became a librarian and was an insatiable reader all of her life. She worked at the old Salt Lake City Public Library when I was in junior high school, and I would often go to work with her in the evenings. On the top floor of the library was a room where you could choose a record (yes, a vinyl 33 rpm record), sit at a desk, put on earphones, and a member of the library staff would play the record just for you. I completed a lot of homework there, listening to great music and gazing out over the historic old City County Building.

Education was very important to my parents, and they eventually made great sacrifices to finish their college degrees. Before Pearl Harbor and marriage, they each completed about a year and a half of college at Lewis and Clark State Normal school in Lewiston, Idaho, my mother’s hometown. Then my father enlisted in the Navy and became a pilot, stationed in the Pacific. The remainder of their courtship took place through letters and telegrams, and they decided to marry when my father could arrange a leave.

My mother traveled on a bus all the way from Lewiston, Idaho to Jacksonville, Florida, to marry my father. She later admitted to me that when she arrived in Jacksonville, she couldn’t quite remember what her fiance looked like, as she hadn’t seen him for months, so she made sure to be the last one off the bus, and there he was, a young man with blond hair, blue eyes and a dazzling smile, looking splendid in his Navy uniform. And, yes, she did remember him after all.

They found a Mormon bishop and were married that afternoon. When the local Mutual Improvement Association (MIA) leaders heard about the wedding, they turned that evening’s activity into an impromptu party for the newlyweds. That was my parents’ wedding reception, celebrated among kind strangers.

My father bought a box of chocolates for his new bride, and it was on her honeymoon that she discovered she was allergic to chocolate. Then he had to find a drugstore and buy a bottle of Calamine lotion to dab on her angry red hives.

When my father returned home from the war, a lovely baby girl, my oldest sister, was waiting to meet him. Then two more daughters were born, and my parents joined the ranks of Baby Boomer Parents.

When my oldest sister enrolled in college, my parents decided to go back to school, too. They each held down full time jobs while they attended the University of Utah and finished their Bachelor’s degrees. Our family life changed dramatically at that time, as the next daughter also began her studies at BYU, and I was the only child living at home. The dining room table was covered with books and papers, and someone was always studying or typing a paper on our trusty manual typewriter.

Once my parents took a class together. When the professor read their names on the roll, he asked if they were related. “Only by marriage,” quipped my mother.

My father took me aside a few weeks later and informed me that in class, my mother was an “apple polisher” (teacher’s pet), and he found that rather irritating. A few days later my mother took me aside and told me that if my father would only follow the instructions in the syllabus and complete the assignments as directed, he would do better in the class. As you might guess, she got an A at the end of the term, and he got a B. I was relieved when they didn’t take any more classes together.

I’m sure everyone remembers the momentous day when their parents sat them down and told them “the facts of life.” I was the third daughter but my mother, a shy person who could never bring herself to talk about intimacy between husbands and wives, handed me a library book on the subject instead. She did say that I could ask her questions after I read it, but I didn’t have the courage to follow up on her offer. I knew she would be mortified.

Then my parents each completed a master’s degree—my father’s in History and Political Science at the University of Utah and my mother’s in Library Science at Brigham Young University. This involved significant commitment and frequent commuting for both of them.

By that time I was in college, too, breaking with tradition to attend Utah State University in Logan, about ninety miles away from home. I married my college sweetheart the day after I finished my Bachelor’s Degree, and we honeymooned in Chicago, where he earned his law degree and I obtained my Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology. I worked for many years with people of all ages who had disabilities, to improve their speech and language skills. It was a rewarding career.

My mother always wanted to write a book about her ancestors. The title was going to be The Cardwells of Virginia. An avid genealogist, she acquired boxes of photocopied documents, pictures, and handwritten notes in preparation to write the book. Those boxes live in my basement now; cancer ended her life at age 66, and her book was never written. My father passed away eight years later from a stroke.

I began to pursue a writing career as my husband and I became empty-nesters and our own three sons all left home to attend college. My first book came about when I met writer Shaunda Wenger of Nibley, Utah. She had a splendid proposal for a book: we would pair selections from great literature with original recipes, and then organize the material like a traditional cookbook.

The work was intense and challenging, and I often wished I could call my mother for help. She had been a reference librarian, and when I was searching for copyright information, great books that might have passages we could use, or a good recipe, I would close my eyes and think, “Mom, help!” And I did feel her support. I believe both of my parents were cheering me on from the other side.

The Book Lover’s Cookbook: Recipes Inspired by Celebrated Works of Literature, and the Passages that Feature Them
, was published in 2003 by Ballantine, a division of Random House. I know my parents would have been proud, as they introduced me to great literature at a young age, proofed every paper I wrote for school assignments, and always encouraged me to discover the joy of reading. Many of the selections in our literary cookbook came from literature I was exposed to while I was growing up. Unknowingly, all my life I was being prepared to write a book about books.

Then I finally completed Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys, a novel published by Cedar Fort in 2007. The title comes from an old folk song my father used to play on the record player. Writing a book demands many different skills, and I am grateful that the seeds of my writing career were planted early by my parents.

As I wrote, I drew from my rich pioneer heritage on my father’s side, weaving family tales and lore I had heard all my life into my story. Many of my characters’ names were significant, as I borrowed them from our ancestors.

I’m sure that wherever my parents are, they took a moment to smile when they learned that in my book a clever border collie is named Eliza R. Snow (not an ancestor), after a famous Utah pioneer poet. As I reflected on my heritage, the solid values my parents taught me, and the careers I followed based on the gifts and talents I inherited from them, I wrote the following dedication in my book:
“To my mother, who married a Mormon boy.”


Pam Williams said...

What a delightful tribute to an inspirational woman. My mother passed away in 1991 and I miss her profoundly every day.

Joycee said...

I enjoyed reading about your Mother and Father so much! Your comment that you were being prepared for writing your whole life by these two people strikes home with me as well. My Dad was a storyteller of sorts and on my Mother's side a love of family history has been my source for so many of my posts. Love your blog and look forward to reading more. Come visit me at Granny Mountain in the Ozarks!

CTW said...

Your mother sounds like a gem. I love the story of her waiting to get off the bus in Florida.

Ellen said...

Two comments--the first thank you for reminding me of so many aspects of our lives and our parents'. The other--Mom was born in Nov 1923 and died in Aug 1989--which meant she was only 65 when she died, because she died before her birthday. Ian'r it funny how our memories work? I got the same treatment about the "facts of life", and again, I didn't dare ask any questions for the same reasons.
You also never misspelled a word (I just looked one up in the dictionary),when writing--and yes, father was great at extemporizing, and Mom was great at the research and long term projects. Thank you for bringing back such good memories.