This Mother’s Day I am going to speak about my mother Norma Briggs Laughton and my grandmother Elizabeth Wiggins Briggs. Mother graduated from high school at 16, so was too young to go ahead immediately with her education, but by 18 she was attending Farmington Normal School from which she graduated with a teaching degree.
Mother was skilled musically on four instruments – the piano, violin, drum and flute. She was also the drum majorette for the adult Community Band in Houlton. When it was my turn to take piano lessons no lesson passed muster if I could not play the piece with Mom drumming or playing the violin and Dad playing the banjo.
My mother was also skilled artistically, in cooking and preserving foods. She never found a fruit or vegetable she could not preserve by canning or making jellies and sauces. My grandmother didn’t have the time to teach Mom and Aunt Stella to cook, so when Gram was busy selling the starter vegetables she grew for the farmers, tending the apartment house she purchased as a fun investment or playing bridge, Mom and Stella would experiment with recipes. If they were successful they ate them up then and there. If they were failures – off to the chickens! In later years (my preteen and teen years) the butter we churned would be sculpted as a horse, George Washington’s head or whatever struck Mom’s fancy at the moment as being fun or creating an educational topic of conversation at the dinner table.
When teaching Mother did not waste her summers. One summer she interned with a tailoring shop. She became skilled in making men’s suits, dress coats or any sewing such as all her homemade slipcovers and my couture wedding dress. Another summer she interned with a photographer. Back in the 1930’s there were not colored films, so Mom learned how to oil color the professional photos. One of me in my first piano recital gown is exquisitely done – skin, hair, clothing. She kept those oils on hand and used them well into my teen years. Another summer she went to Boston University and took a course in how to teach the students to look at the music notes and recognize where their voice should be placed for each note. Without a piano and with her pitch pipe ( I still have it.) she would sound the beginning note and the students would sing away. That technique was used on many of her teaching jobs.
Sadly, Mom and I did not have the usual bonding of mother and child until her late 80’s and early 90’s. I knew she was ill after I was born. I knew that her mother, Gram, and Dad had the sole care of me. I always thought just for a short time. I would later learn otherwise. In those later years of her life her conversations led me to believe there was more to the situation. After her death her baby sister who lived to 100 and a cousin who was a teen at the time filled in the blanks. It seems she had postpartum depression which would have been humiliating to my Mom. Therefore, I bonded with Gram and Dad. Mom was barely on her feet again when she became pregnant with my brother. 13 months are between us. That was a very bad breach birth and both barely made it through. Again, Mom and my brother were hospitalized for a time. Therefore, Gram and Dad were again my caretakers. Particularly Gram the 2nd time, since it was September and Dad was back teaching and coaching at Albion.
For some reason, pride? My mother never wanted me to know of the reason for that close bond with my father and grandmother. I never questioned the fact I always received special gifts from my grandmother when I was a teen. Or why she insisted that I have her entire dining room suite after her death. Nor did I question the wonderful handmade quilts and items for a hope chest. When Mom at 91 gave me Grams beautiful set of china and told me she bought every piece and gave Gram the set in thanks for caring for me the light began to come on. There was more of a story there than I had ever known.
Mom made sure I had things: for example, piano lessons and education. She made sure that I joined the Rainbow Girls. She made most of my clothes but there was never the warm bond that my brother and sisters had with her. Note: This is why it is so important to have that special bonding time between parents and the newborn child. I completely approve of maternity leave for fathers.
Did you know that once the medical field knew there were germs causing illness doctors discouraged parents from cuddling, hugging and kissing their children for fear they would pass those germs on to their children? That is why there were at least two generations of parents who were very distant from those beloved children. We recall some as distant and cold. A touch on the shoulder or pat on the knee could represent great affection! Women were discouraged from breast feeding and bottles of milk were introduced to feed the infants. That is also why women stopped wearing long skirts. It was feared that germs would be caught up in them.
Our Mothers and Grandmothers were and are great people. I’ve learned a great deal from mine. I don’t waste anything if I can help it – irks my husband at times! Use all the gifts that Infinite Intelligence gave you. Turn back the bedding in the morning, do your breakfast and morning chores and then makeup the aired out bed. Gram taught me that one.
I have a lot of memories and stories which I cherish. Today grandchildren are rarely near their grandparents in the way I was able to be. On this Mother’s Day cherish a memory or two of those who have passed to spirit. Call those still here and “visit” by telephone, zoom etc.
“The sole purpose of a child’s middle name is so that he/she can tell when he/she’s really, really in trouble.” Unknown source.
True, when I heard Elizabeth Ann, I knew I had better have a good explanation!
Benediction: May the life given us by Infinite Intelligence and our Mothers animate us; May the truth given illumine our minds;And may the love given fill our hearts and our souls.