By Marian Brennan Pratt
This virus leaves me searching nightly on Xfinity and Netflix for something I can stand to watch. I see I Remember Mamma flash on the screen and I know I’m good for the evening.
The show is about a family that is held together by a strong, loving woman. She is gentle and patient in all things. It’s at the top of the list for feel-good movies. After watching, it gets me thinking about the strong women who raised me.
I have to say that I don’t remember much about my own mother. She died in childbirth when I was thirteen years old. She had just turned forty and I was still mad at her for leaving me. As time passed, I developed a kinder attitude – right around the time I became a mother myself.
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I recently wrote a book called Dancin’ on Your Knees. In it, I tell the story of one ominous day when Momma threw me off the top of a load of hay and thought she had killed me. Nobody ever suffered more than she did that day. She had already buried six of her own babies due to Rh-negative Blood and I’m sure the thought of her only daughter being lost by her own hand was devastating.
We lived with my Grandma (Grama) so she became my other mother. It was she who would actually dress up in a gown and hat and throw a tea party with me on the back porch. Both she and my mother were excellent cooks. When my dad would come in from milking the cows, the kitchen was warm and cozy on winter days. It smelled so good and we would have wonderful meals together. I had my nose stuck in a book most of the time so I never learned to cook, among many other household things a girl is meant to learn. On a particularly unhappy day with my own kids, I remember telling them that they were being raised by a 13-year-old. I came to believe that I was unaware of certain things that other women knew and that I, myself was just beginning to learn. In some ways, I stopped maturing at thirteen. My dad did his best but he wasn’t Momma.
Most days my family all listened to Lawrence Welk and recited the family rosary before bed. We knelt, of course, and dad and I leaned on the couch. One night during rosary he slid the comics over to us pointed to a picture of “Major Hoople.” The Major was an extraordinarily big man and the comic showed him hitting a patch of ice and flipping upside down. The look on his face sent us all into the worst kind of giggles. The kind you get in church and can’t fight off. That is until we turned around and there sat Grama and Momma, off their knees, in their chairs, with their arms folded, just waiting. Oh Boy!
Later I overheard Momma’s lecture to my dad about being a good example for me. Soon she was laughing herself, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Tom, you are already the best example I know of, you’re just incorrigible sometimes.” He laughed out loud. I always meant to ask him if he knew what incorrigible meant but then again I didn’t know myself so it seemed better left alone.
I do recall that my Momma was The Regent of the Daughters of Isabella, an International Catholic woman’s group. She had a deep connection to Mary, the Mother of Jesus and she raised the funds for a shrine in Mary’s honor on the parish grounds at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Emmett, MI. She wrote a short story about a wedding they had attended and the unexpectedly good time they had. I must have gotten my notion to write from her. She loved the piano and she had me take lessons. I also wanted to learn to sing so she got me singing lessons too. I started to play the big pipe organ for mass when I was twelve years old. She was proud of that. Not that I heard it from her, but I would hear it from her friends. It was a time when people did not do a lot of hugging or praising. “Don’t get a big head.” “Get over yourself.” Both common phrases back then. Many of our parents were Irish Immigrants and they were used to hard work which left little time for hugging.
In the end, I wanted to write about mothers but ended up writing about Grama and dad too. For me and my lifetime, you can’t write about mothers without the family because it’s in the family where We Remember Momma.