Tuesday, January 22, 2013
My Teacher, My Guide and My best Friend, My Mom
My Mom, Margaret Matjasic Smith, was not only my Mother, but my teacher, my guide, and the best friend I have ever had. She showed by example how to be a good person. She allowed me to be at her side when she was cooking, cleaning, entertaining and sewing/crafting. My Mom was Croatian and knew how to make from scratch foods that most people, even back when I was a child, would buy at the grocery store. She taught me how to make noodles, strudel including the very thin dough that is stretched instead of rolled thin, and many types of bread products. We also cooked the majority of our meals from scratch. She knew how to take a tough piece of meat and made it tender. When we were poor she could stretch whatever we had in the house to feed four or more. When someone stopped by, expected or not, they would get a fresh cup of coffee or tea and something to eat. It may be a piece of her great homemade pie, I could not begin to tell you what kind, because she made many varieties, or a complete meal if it was that time of day.
While many of my friends were getting up and trying to find something to eat before school, my mother made sure my brother and I was up, dressed in clean clothes and ate breakfast. We would watch out the kitchen window for our bus to cross the railroad tracks and then we would get our jackets on and wait for the bus to travel the half mile or so to our house on the edge of town. Some of my Dad's jobs required him to be at work very early in the morning, so Mom would get up and make him breakfast and usually a lunch to carry with him. We usually ate dinner as a family, late afternoon when Dad arrived home. If one of us had to do something that caused us to get home later than the usual dinner hour leftovers were kept warm for when we arrive. My Mother worked in the garden, helped with all the yard work, painted walls and trim, kept a clean house, washed clothes with a wringer washer and hung them out on the line in the backyard to dry. I love the smell of clothes dried on the clothes line in the middle of winter or on a windy day. Even after we got a dryer she would still hang some of the laundry outside. My Mom was my Dad's helper when he was building our house, repairing our cars, and even helped him study when he was trying to further his education. She also went fishing with us and attended games and other activities, just to morally support her family. My Mom would work the polls during elections and helped to make the major decisions of a growing household. On occassion my Mom worked outside of our home to help with the household budget, but for the most part she did things that would make the money my Dad was bringing home go further then expected. I was always a designer. My dolls had clothes made from scraps of the clothing my Mom would make for me. She first taught me how to sew by hand, and then at the suggestion of a neighbor Arta (sp), my Mom taught me how to use her pedal singer sewing machine, that I still own. She encouraged me to move from making doll clothes to making my own clothes. Before I moved away from home I was making clothes for everyone in the house, making drapes, reupholstering furniture. She also taught me to crochet, embroidery, weave and many other crafts. She helped with the troop when I was in Brownies and Girl Scouts. Throughout the year Mom was always making sure we had plenty of items canned or frozen. I remember helping pick and freeze strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, rhubarb and apples for pies. We would also make jams, jellies and butters. We would can peaches, pears, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and even pork. Sometimes when we had a variety of vegetables she would also can soup.
One day my Dad went to an auction. He bought live chickens, I don't know how many, but there were a lot of them. He was working nights at the time. When he got up in the morning he would kill a certain number of chickens and hang them up on the famous clothes line to drain the blood. Then before the morning was over Mom and I would pluck the chickens and freeze this selection of birds. The smell is something that will be with me forever. Sometimes Dad would go hunting or fishing. Mom knew how to cook whatever he brought in and it was always good.
Mom's favorite flower was the rose. So we had roses all around house. Our front flowerbed had red and white climbers, yellow, red, white, pink and peace regular roses. The same was true in the back yard, but unless you came to visit, most would not know they were there. One of the favorite places at our house during summer evenings was the back yard. When we were young my brother and I had the standard swing set. Mom and Dad would sit in their chairs or at the picnic table while we played. After we out grew this type of swing our old swing frame was used for the long wooden swing many could sit on. It became one of the favorite places to visit with friends and relatives. Our house was always open for friends and family. Many stayed overnight, some moved in during times of need. My favorite guest for many years was my grandmother on my Dad's side. My Mom took care of her making sure she had a room of her own, food to eat clean clothes, etc just like us kids. Mom even took care of her wounds when she had operations and nursed her when she was sick. Granny had her own life and would go places to play Bingo usually with one of her Daughters. Sometimes she would go to stay with one of her other children. This may be for a week, a month or maybe longer, but her home base was our house until my parents decided to moved to KY.
When I was in Junior High and High School, Mom and I would walk to the bus stop at least once a month on a Saturday morning. (Mom did not drive.) We would take the bus to downtown Hammond, IN to go shopping. Lots of time this shopping was window shopping, but sometime we would get something we could not buy in our little town. Usually our trip included a movie. I remember people commenting that when we were together we looked and acted more like sisters rather than mother and daughter. Once a year we made that special trip on the train to downtown Chicago, IL. This trip was always after the Christmas decorations were up in all the windows of the many department stores that used to be located there. That was such fun having a mother daughter day. Mom also often times went on the many field trips we had at school. We went to museums, zoos, special activities all over the area.
Often in the spring and summer we would go on picnics. Mom would make special salads and desserts and Dad would cook the meat and sometimes vegetable. These picnics were sometimes just in the back yard, but sometimes at "far" away places like Lake Michigan or Kankakee River. One time we even went on a picnic when we still had snow on the ground. One of the special things about my Mom was her family. They mostly live in or near Cleveland, OH. This was always our big trip when I was young.
Her father Mathew came over from Europe as a young man. He married and had two children, my Uncle and my Mom. I never knew my Grandmother as she died while my mother still lived at home. My Grandfather married twice after that, so the only Grandmother I really knew was his last wife, Mary. She was also a special woman willing to share what she knew about cooking and sewing. Now my Grandfather is what I call today a character. He loved life and I think he taught my mother much as she was growing up. I know he taught her the love of roses. He also taught my Dad how to graph fruit trees and start roses from old plants.
The sad part of my Mom's life was her dementia. Several years ago we notice that she was not herself. She spent more and more time in her chair. She would organize and reorganize her recipes, but could never find what she was looking for to make for dinner. I was doing more and more things that she used to do. She no longer liked to go on road trips, out to eat or even shopping. Keeping the check book and getting the bill paid was impossible. "Burnt offerings" became common meals when she was cooking. Even talking on the phone or visiting with people who would stop by was hard on her. The last time my Brother and family visited while she was still at home she said when they left "I don't know who those people were, but I am glad they are gone". How sad is that! I became the "lady downstairs!", but she knew my husband Bill. We had other times when we meet with friends or relatives and she had no idea who she was talking to all day. She used a walker for years due to knee problems, but looking back on the whole thing it may have been her dementia. One day while she was alone she put a plastic container that had a gelatin salad in it into a heated oven. Fortunately we caught all the times she did things like this before she caught the house on fire. Then she started falling. She would never hurt herself as she would roll when she fell. At first Dad could get her up, but then it would take Dad and someone else. Then it would take Bill and I until the day even Bill and I could not get her up. That was the day we had to call for professional help. They managed to get her up and took her to the hospital and that was the last day she was at home. She had a sever Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), but didn't have the normal signs of the infection. She spent over a week in the hospital and they transferred her to the nursing home for rehab. They planned to teach her how to walk again and to do things safely. She could not learn how to walk. Her brain didn't know left and right and her temper would get in the way of her trying. They stopped the rehab once she was evaluated and it was determined she had sever dementia and recommended that we allowed her to stay in the nursing home for her safety and ours. After long discussions and evaluations of the home situation we decided the best place for her was the nursing home. She was not there too long when she had a broken hip. She told me at the time that the pain was worse than giving birth. They had to so some test before they could give her pain medicine etc. After she had the hip replacement surgery she was no longer in pain and didn't remember the trip to the hospital. Sometimes she knew Dad and sometimes she didn't. Sometimes she knew me and sometimes she didn't. Most of the time she knew Bill, but towards the end she didn't. She had a reoccurring UTI, they would treat at the nursing home with antibiotics. Right before she died she had a bladder infection that put her into the hospital. Every time we visited her she didn't know we were there, but she was carrying on a conversation that we could not understand. She did go back to the nursing home and she was never awake when I went to visit her. Her last day was a good one. She got up, ate breakfast, talked to the aids and nurses, had her hair fixed at the in home beauty shop and passed away during a nap.
Mom I love you and miss you,
The "Lady down stairs" your Daughter Peggy