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The Umbrella Stand

July 18, 2012

In the entry of my house there stands a large ceramic umbrella stand. It is well over 100 years old and is adorned all around with beautiful irises in chocolate on a cream background. It actually holds one large floral patterned umbrella…..mine…..two decorative, but functional walking sticks……my husband’s, and 4 English stick seats, also known as shooting seats or golfing seats, etc……also my husband’s. I don’t pay much attention to my beautiful umbrella stand except on days when it is pouring rain and I actually get to use my umbrella. That is rare here in Southern California. My hubby probably uses the stand more than I do as he is prone to take his walking sticks in and out and “play” with them at times, and he actually sewed new leather seats on the stick seats so he occasionally pulls them in and out as well. But if you were to ask him what the umbrella stand looked like, I would bet a fair amount of money that he couldn’t tell you!

Today, however, for some reason I stood and stared at the umbrella stand with its beautiful Victorian irises and tears came into my eyes. My mother was known as the “Iris Lady” back in the little rural berg of Berlin, Wisconsin where I grew up and she lived for well over fifty years. My mother was many things….a middle school teacher and principal for 35 years, a member of the Rural Rembrandt Society of Wisconsin who sold many of her landscape and abstract paintings and drawings across the state, a self taught pianist with a very good solo soprano voice, a very funny woman to those who knew her best, but extremely prim and proper in public, a highly intelligent woman who pursued education throughout her life and obtained a Master’s degree long after she became a grandma, a very sophisticated seamstress who made my dad’s suits, her own winter coats, all of our clothing when I was a kid and both my sister’s and my wedding dresses.

I loved my mom dearly but I was terribly intimidated by her as well. She was a pretty, slim, well groomed and coifed lady my entire life who did almost anything she tried with perfection. My father, who is a dear, sweet man was not really her intellectual or cultural equal, but he worshipped the ground she walked on and spent most of their fifty some years together trying to please her. They met when she accepted the job of  teaching a one room church school in Poy Sippi, Wisconsin and he was a young, good looking buck running his parent’s dairy farm and talking about his plans for college.  They were the only two people under the age of fifty in that tiny little country chuch so it was inevitable.  Good lookin boy meets pretty girl…it was love at first sight on his part, and from the stories I have been told he didn’t have to convince her. He did however show up one day at her school with a shotgun (he’d been deer hunting) so of course there is the rumor that he held her at gunpoint until she said “yes”. That, of course, is and was pure rumor!

Little vignettes play in my mind when I think of my mother; the time she came down to the boarding high school I was attending and sat one whole afternoon making me a new dress to wear for a concert that night. There was one area of life that my mom did not ever master and that was in the sports arena. She never learned to swim or ride a bike. She would play badminton with my sister and me and our dad but never, ever, ever could hit the shuttle cock. We would fall on the ground in peals of laughter and she usually ended up there too. We played a silly game where two of us would stand on one side of the house and the other two on the other side and we would throw the ball over the roof. I don’t know where that came from or what it was called, but my mom never could get the ball over the roof and certainly never caught it when it came back over. Again, gales of laughter and we girls rolling on the ground in glee. One time we all rented bikes while on vacation and we rented her a three wheeler. Somewhere there exists a picture of her off in the ditch on her side. She was still young then so no great damage was done, but we did laugh. She told us stories of her and her siblings cross country skiing to school in Northern Wisconsin when she was a kid, but since we never saw that for ourselves we have always wondered!

Another huge memory is the day during the summer between my 7th and 8th grade years. My sister and I picked strawberries for the truck farmer who lived across the creek from us and in the late afternoon after we were done, we would ride out bikes into town to go swimming. On that particular day I put my long hair up into a ponytail on the very top of my head. It looked like a cascade of water and I thought I looked pretty cool. When my mom got home that day and found me decked out in my new do, she went ballistic. It is the only time in my life that I remember my mom completely losing it with me…..yelling, scolding, carrying on. I was shocked. I was also grounded for two weeks because a proper young lady did not go out like that in public. What on earth would the neighbors think? To this day I have never really understood her over reaction and once I left home, my mother professed to have totally forgotten that dark day in my young adolescent life. Looking back it is hilarious. At the time…..not so much!

My mother loved Christmas and went a little overboard when it came to that holiday. The house was decked out from top to bottom, every room had its own special pieces that came out each year. She made a dozen or more kind of Christmas cookies and my sister and I loved to watch her roll them out, decorate and frost them. I don’t remember helping. I remember watching in awe and of course getting to taste as each variety came out of the oven. My mom’s Christmas gifts were legend. Each year there was some men’s clothing store where she shopped and they often had “buy one sweater, get one for a nickel”. Needless to say it was always a big joke among the guys as to who had gotten the nickel sweater. My mom gave everybody their very own box of chocolate covered cherries….and I do mean everybody. Trouble was nobody like them….and I do mean nobody. She never caught on and we laugh about it to this day. She loved to give gag gifts…..hair rollers for my balding husband, toe rings for the teen age grandsons, a Viking helmet for somebody to use as a potty to housetrain their pupppy. Oh yes, we lived to see what she would do next.

But about the irises. My mom always loved flowers and as she became older, retired, and had more money, she spent more and more time in her gardens. Her lawn was immaculate, filled with huge evergreens, sweeping birches, lilacs, peonies, etc. Every spring she added to the lovely display, but her pride and joy were her irises. In the end she had a bed over 75 feet long and many, many rows wide. She had more than 50 varieties of irises and they were exquisite. Deep purples, bright yellow, dark amber, rich maroon, pale pink. It was breathtaking and my mom took great joy in cutting those irises and depositing them all over town.  For years she took bouquets to the hospital, the nursing home, the library, the bank, church, friends homes. It was endless and it didn’t take many seasons until the local paper did a story about my mom’s pretty irises. People were proud to get her flowers and many asked for bulbs, which she gave freely.

Sadly my mom died nine years ago now, but her legacy lives on. In the garden where her ashes were spread and the fields behind the home where my parents lived for so many years, the irises live on. Every year there are more. They have become wild now…..strong, resilient, beautiful, and everlasting……just like my mom, who I miss more than I can express, but whose spirit is always with me in the memories she left behind.

My umbrella stand reminds me………..always.

Chatty Grandma

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One Comment
  1. jeannie lindberg permalink

    How precious to me are your memories of your mother. They brought her vividly into my minds eye. Thank you.

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