Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Moo-Maw: witty and wild

Lang-Way-Ten Farm/Tad Barney photo
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Happy Birthday, Moo-Maw! My mother-in-law would have been 90 today and I suspect she's celebrating with lots of cooking and family. Those were here life. She was named Patricia, but my daughters and I nick-named her Moo-Maw because she raised cattle on Lang-Way-ten Farm, which she inherited after her father died at the ripe-old age go 96. It was a long wait before she could move to the 200-plus acres of her dreams and the pre-Civil War brick farmhouse.

Serendipitously, we took a Sunday drive up to the farm in Urbana last weekend on the spur of the moment. It's currently between tenants and we wanted to visit; rekindle our memories and jog those of our daughters. The youngest remembers her grandmother, but not the farm. It was a beautiful autumn drive up 71,  along 48, then 42 through Warren County, Xenia, Yellow Springs and, finally, the farm on the southern edge of Urbana. I always used to get butterflies rounding the last curve before the long drive came into view and Sunday was no exception. It's like I was expecting to visit her there as I had the last time years ago. I've never been to the farm when she wasn't there.

I entered through the kitchen and quietly gasped. It was still her kitchen: powdery blue commerical-grade linoleum, scrubbed white cabinets tipped with simple, wrought-iron handles, scalloped-wood window treatments; even her numerous mug hooks remained. I grew teary thinking of all the memories in that room. Warm ones of many mornings after Thanksgiving pouring a steamy cup of coffee as she sat on her stool and we chatted; the toddler playgroup traipsing up from Cincinnati, visiting the barns then making animal-shapped cutout cookies with her; introducing each of our babies to the rest of the family there ... the list is long.

Really, the house as changed little. Sturdy, new carpet covers the tiger-stripped floors of which Moo-Maw and her husband, John, were so proud. I was grateful for that change; it made being there easier and the fact she IS gone evident. Though I am pretty certain I felt her spirit; John's, too, but it may have been deep and fond memories surfacing.

She was such a vivid person. Nothing about her was subtle unless you looked only at the surface: a stay-at-home mom who never drove and raised six children. She was feisty and independent and could objectively look at her children. In her 70s, she purchased and learned to use a computer rather well. She loved to talk and voice her strong opinions, but always had time to listen and ask how you were. She adored her grandchildren and said the best part of parenting was getting to know her children as adults: the people they were becoming. The people she helped shape.

She stayed on the farm a along as she could, resourcefully lining up people to mow, check in on her and perform other duties. Of course, her children assisted a great deal. She was so independent that she refused to take the senior-citizen bus into town. She quit giving money to the Salvation Army when the organization disapproved of same-sex relationships (though that policy seems to have softened since) and, even as she grew weaker and closer to death, could rouse herself at the mention of George W. Bush.

Her memorial service was a party, held outside in a tent, with a rendition of Sinatra's "My Way" and a copy of her prized pie-crust recipe printed on the bulletin.

I really miss her and had buried that until I visited her bare kitchen. Thankfully, my girls still remember her sassiness and the time she mooned them as an act of rebellion. I think they inherited her vibrance, so when I get misty, I'll look to them to see her reflection and the gifts she's left with us.

• Who was a presence in my life that I miss?
• What gifts did that person give me?
• Where/how can I reconnect to those gifts and the joy of that relationship?
• How has that person influenced my life?
• What have I taken from them that I can pass on?

permanently perched
on her kitchen stool

studying a recipe,
charting birds or
taking a cigarette break

she was witty and wild
a homebody and grounded

reveling in the six
wonderful adults she
helped raise

warmly welcoming
their spouses and
adoring her grandchildren

Happy 90th Moo-Maw!

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