It’s Mother’s Day, and time for me to talk about my mother
Here she is at 18. Mommy told me she made that dress out of tube-knit fabric. All you had to do was cut some slits, and there was your dress. My mom wasn’t a big sewer, she was an artist. When she was in eighth grade she was accepted into the Music and Art High School in New York. Later on, she went to the Cooper Union in New York and learned there until she got married and moved out west.
Margareta Regina Nebel Jennings. That’s what she’d write on the back of her paintings. I remember watching her nail the canvas to the wooden frame, balancing little nails in her mouth while she stretched the linen fabric and hammered it down. I loved the feel of that canvas, and it smelled so nice.
Mommy loved to paint people, and when she wasn’t painting someone in town, she’d paint us.
Here’s a painting she did before I came along.
Along with the kids, you can see a cat, tortoise, and a bunny.
We always had about as many animals in the house as we had people.
She named the painting Six of my Children
I was number seven.
When you’re near the end of a big family, people always figure you were just an add-on. No one planned you, you just showed up.
But here’s my version
They were waiting for me to come. When Mommy had her first child, she asked the doctor,
“Is it Lucy?”
No. No Lucy yet.
So then she had her second child,
“Is it Lucy?” No. Still no Lucy.
Well, they just kept trying to get me to come down to earth. I was the seventh. Seven is a lucky number. I’m so special.
And then they had a couple more for me to boss around.
That’s my version, and I like it.
This is me and my big sister Robin at the river.
And me and my little sister Sheila. I was always the one with messy curly hair…. that hasn’t changed.
Learning to Sew
Every spring Mommy would make us matching Easter dresses. Lent wasn’t much fun, but getting those dresses ready was. Easter was great, the dresses had to be done before that special day. The rest of the year was a different story… sometimes the projects sorta got lost in a pile somewhere underneath something in the house.
When I was about 10, I watched her cut out all the pieces to make a dress for me. It was a neat blue-y-green fabric that reversed into green-y-blue on the other side. There the pieces sat, in a box in her bedroom. I really wanted that dress, so I figured if I was going to get to wear it before I grew too big for the pattern, I’d better make it myself. So I did. I’m sure I bugged her to no end with all the help I needed.
I learned to sew through the bathroom door.
I’d knock on the door and ask her what to do, and she’d tell me, but never would that door open. One time I walked in on her by mistake.
Now I knew her secret. She was sitting on the edge of the bathtub, fully dressed, reading a book. That was the only way she could get any peace.
Our friends liked to come to our house, it was always a mess, but we had fun.
People in town would tell me she was the nicest lady in Needles
Of course, they were right. I never heard her talk poorly about anyone, she never gossiped, and helped people who were different, people others made fun of.
There was this little old lady we called Gravel Gertie.
She lived in some shack out in the desert, and there were all kinds of stories about how mean she was. She’d run out of her house with her gun if you got too close to her place.
One summer day it was just me in the car with my mom, and she noticed Gravel Gertie walking down the street.
Summer days in Needles are hot, really hot. 115 degrees is normal. My mom stopped and offered her a ride.
I was terrified. Not Gravel Gertie, she’ll kill us!
I still remember the woman’s beautiful clear blue eyes as she sat in the back seat, smiling and chatting with my mom. She had a dirty old dress on and looked just like some character from the Andy Griffith Show. She was so thankful to my mom, and when we dropped her off, I couldn’t see any place where a person could live. Gravel Gertie just wandered into the desert.
Mommy taught me to accept people, you never know what they are like inside.
Still the Nicest Lady in Town
About a year ago, what we were afraid was coming, came.
Mommy, who was always on the go, always driving somewhere, couldn’t drive anymore.
She couldn’t be on her own, either.
She had Dementia.
We found a nice nursing home for her, and she could have her dog with her too.
Sounded good, but it was hard. It was hard to see her unable to do what she wanted when she wanted. But she didn’t complain, well, not much anyway. Dementia is that way.
Mommy just accepted it. At least she had her dog. She had him with her a whole year, but it’s kind of hard for someone with Dementia to keep after a rambunctious dog, and a few weeks ago we had to take her little Chico away, he’s with my sister now.
I was afraid she’d be too sad to go on, but when I call her, she never complains.
Mommy still, even with Dementia, accepts life as it happens, doesn’t judge, and wants us to know she’s okay. Even if she isn’t, really.
This photo is my family at around 1969 - I love how my brothers are trying to look cool. I'm sitting next to Mommy.
Here’s Mommy when she was about my age, with her mother, Winifred. My house was just being built.
And here she is a couple of years ago, with my daughter. In the same house!
I am very lucky.
Happy Mother’s Day!