I’m taking a break from writing about nature to write about my mom on Mother’s Day. For all my readers who are mothers, I wish you a very Happy Mother’s Day!
1. Received an Honorable Mention in the City of Chicago`s Annual Garden & Block Contest in 1989. She beautified her neighborhood of Beverly for more than 40 years with canna lilies, hostas, ornamental grasses, wildflowers, and much more—mostly at her own expense. At one time, she was doing the gardening for our local Metra station, grocery store, coffee shop, and cleaners, in addition to her own yard.
2. Met the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg. In the early 1950s, she babysat for some of Carl’s friends’ kids. She doesn’t have many detailed memories of the meeting, but she told me enough to inspire me to write a poem called “Marion & Carl,” which was published in the Wisconsin Review.Thanks, Mom! My mom also met another Pulitzer Prize-winning poet—Gwendolyn Brooks. No poem about her yet.
3. Let all her grandfather’s canaries out of their cages when she was a little girl in the 1950s. He was a miner in the Upper Peninsula and he used them to check for deadly gases in the mines. Suffice to say he was not happy. It’s one of her favorite stories to tell.
4. Was a speed demon on skates and wheels. She has tons of ribbons from winning ice skating races as a kid. When I was a little boy, I remembered her getting frequently “pulled over” by the skate police for going too fast at the Oak Lawn Roller Rink.
5. Was a physical force of nature when we were kids. I remember her painting the basement, chopping wood, baking cookies, taking us to the park, cleaning out the garage, and preparing lunch and dinner—all in one day.
6. Met Bill Veeck, the flamboyant and creative owner of the Chicago White Sox and other sports teams—and an inveterate smoker. She said he was a great guy, but was most impressed with the ashtray he had built into his wooden leg.
7. Led a walk off of 20 children (including me) from a school bus. My mom used to work at my elementary school, but didn’t drive, so she took the bus to school with us each morning. Our bus driver constantly swore, drove aggressively, and was just a terrible person (all of us kids were afraid of him). One day, my mom had enough and demanded that the driver stop the bus. She led all of us off the bus and told him to leave. I remember standing in a group of kids at 75thand Kedzie near Nabisco Hill, with my mom acting like a shepherd as the cars whizzed by, the smell of freshly baked cookies in the air. This was the pre-cell phone era, and I don’t remember how we made it to school, but the bus driver was fired.
8. Provided much-needed construction advice to my father when they bought my childhood house in 1966. The living room of our house had a charming fireplace, but the slate and bricks needed work. My handy father replaced mortar, subbed out broken bricks, and otherwise made it fire ready. But then it came time to install the slate in front of the fireplace. My dad wondered how far should the slate reach to catch a spark before it ignited the rug? My mom had a solution. She stood next to the fireplace and announced that she was a spark, suddenly jumping as far as she could. As she landed, she told me later, she said to my dad, “That’s where the edge of the tile should be,” and that’s where it is to this day.
9. Learned to drive at age 40. My brother, dad, and I left for Boy Scout summer camp, and when we came back two weeks later, she proudly showed us her new license. The look of astonishment on my dad’s face was priceless.
10. Is a master cook and baker. Chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, magic cookie bars, Irish soda bread, potato chip cookies…the list goes on and on. She is constantly baking and sending sweets to people she knows and doesn’t know at restaurants, the hardware store, and post office. Her thoughtfulness and generosity continue to help her make new friends throughout the neighborhood.
11. Is an undeclared lobbyist for Baker’s Square (one of her favorite restaurants). I’m more of a local, mom-and-pop restaurant type of guy, but my mom sent us Baker’s Square gift cards each week until we had so many cards that we felt guilty for not using them. (Until last year, I probably hadn’t visited a Baker’s Square for 20 years.) But given her generosity, we’ve rediscovered a family classic, where everyone can find something they like—and where the pie is free on Wednesdays.
12. Is solely responsible for keeping the U.S. Postal Service in business, sending us and many friends and family members probably a dozen cards and letters a week—and the Baker’s Square cards. In this age of emails and tweets, it is so nice to receive letters of encouragement—and sometimes cookies—in the mail. I treasure these letters, and I love and treasure you, mom! Happy Mother’s Day!
Copyright (text) Andrew Morkes (photo credits Amy McKenna and Andrew Morkes)