Tag Archives: mother

In Memoriam: Stories My Mother Told Me

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.”
― Antonio Porchia

The photo above is one of my Mother that I love at least in part because of the story she told me about it. She was 8 or 9 years old and her mother had her wearing “sausage” curls, meaning her hair must have been very long but it was curled into long “tube” like curls. I have seen pictures of her hair like that but I couldn’t find now any in the photos I have. Anyway, her mother sent her alone to the hairdresser to then go on alone to the photographer on her bike (??!!!). She told me that she hated those long curls and she told the hairdresser when she got there that her mother wanted her hair to be cut short. Then she went on to the photographer with her new hairdo. I love that mischievous look on her face. Apparently, my grandmother was not pleased and there was some heavy punishment for her fun but that picture tells a great story.

My mother went to college to be a pharmacist in the big city and went back home after only one semester. She got a “D” in a class, I think it was Chemistry but she told me that she was mostly lonely and used her grades as an excuse. I have an absolute picture in my mind of her telling me this story – me standing in the doorway to her room and her sitting on her bed with her head hanging down. She did finish a degree later when we were still small. I remember the summer we had an au pair – even though we didn’t call her that at the time – while my mother finished her degree and became a teacher.

I don’t think she ever told me how she met my Dad. He was four years older so it probably wasn’t at school. She did tell me about the night they got engaged. They were going to the winter dance and went out to dinner together first where he popped the question and then went back to tell her parents who were going to be chaperones at the dance. Her parents pitched a fit. My grandmother went upstairs to her room. Her parents ended up not going to the dance. My father was apparently not at the social level her parents thought she should marry into. That never changed. A month after my Dad died – my parents had been married for something like 33 years, my mother’s mother told her daughter that “now she can marry someone of her own social standing”. Funny enough, my grandmother always insisted that my Dad had liked her. He was a quiet man. He didn’t talk much but I don’t believe her ever really liked her.

This picture I found really hits me. My Mother is the dark-haired “girl” with the white headband. She looks so young, so pretty. Who was she? What were her dreams? My impression of her is wrapped up in our fights and my prejudices about how she “was”. Probably none of it is true. I will always remember the smell of cookies baking. The trouble she went to make currant jelly that none of us could stand to eat. The efforts she made to cook nice meals (never much of a success in my opinion but what do I know). The image of her stitching in a corner of the sofa watching TV with one leg tucked up under and her whisky-voice laugh. She died six years ago and sometimes it feels like yesterday. I miss you Mom.

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Sunrise over the mountain


“You know that you have really grown-up when you see your parents as
people instead of providers.”
– Wolfgang Michel

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Old GiftsChristmas gift that my mother knit for her cousin

Old Gifts

A trusted friend is the best relative. – Buddha

My cousin was just here with a friend of hers and I showed her around Germany. Actually, she was my mother’s cousin but we always called her cousin. She was an only child and her mother and father died pretty early so she was always included in the family holidays, especially at my uncle’s, my mother’s brother, because they were nearer the same age. At any rate, she was always part of “the family” for us.
During the course of her visit, she gave me a “gift”, she called it. It turned out to be a hat, mittens and scarf set that my mother had knit for her and given her for Christmas. It must have been ages ago. It was still in the box my mother wrapped it in and the store the box was from hasn’t existed in years. And it all smells of mold and moth balls. It is clear to me that she never opened the box again after unwrapping it that Christmas. She just put it away in the attic or the basement or wherever.

I know she meant to do something nice for me but this has all made me very sad. My mother really liked her cousin and I believe she felt a close connection with her. But from the conversations that we had on the trip and from this “gift”, it is clear to me that the feelings weren’t reciprocated. It comes up for me now that my mother’s cousin actually didn’t “like” my mother, which actually explains a few things. When my mother got interested in cruises and travelling, she asked her cousin many times to join her on a trip and was refused or just kind of ignored (it is a family trait). And when my mother died, there wasn’t much sympathy that came from that direction. At the time I hardly noticed because of my own grief. It comes up for me now that it was so.

The thing is, my mother was choleric, she was erratic, she could be vicious and mean. She learned all those things at her mother’s knee (who was also all those things) and I certainly learned them from her. But she was also fun, loved to have a good time and laughed with a deep belly laugh that made everyone laugh with her. And she didn’t spend her time making knitting projects for just anyone. My mother was a really fine knitter but she never made me hat, gloves and scarf. She was reaching out in the only way she knew how. And it fell on deaf ears.

I don’t mean to make my cousin wrong for not liking my mother, her cousin. You can’t choose your relatives like you can your friends. But I feel a communion with my mother that I have never felt before. I know so well the biting sorrow of loving someone who doesn’t love back. Of trying to “court” someone to like you even if it is hopeless. I so wish my mother were alive right now, so I could share that with her. Another way we are/were so alike.

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The Counted Crossstitch my mother made the year my Dad died.

Stitching with Mom

“Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.”
― 14th Dalai Lama

My mother was a very creative person. When she was younger she would paint decorative designs on cupboards and trunks with designs and she did a lot of handwork. When she died, there were several boxes of fabric and several unfinished needlework projects left over, some of which I am planning to finish for her.

When I was young, she tried to teach me everything she knew but I wasn’t an especially good student. I still remember the first sewing “lesson”. We bought a beautiful glazed cotton and cut out the dress together. Being the impatient person I was and still am, it was all going way too slow for me and so I tried to finish it on my own, ending up sewing together pieces that weren’t intended to be together and generally making a mess of it. My mother lost patience with me at that point and sent me to my fraternal grandmother – who worked as a seamstress out of her home – to help me repair the damage and get the thing done. She complained bitterly that I was frantically trying to finish the outfit I planned to wear for my wedding just the day before. Definitely not her style of doing things.

My mother was a master at embroidery and would always sigh very loudly over my French Knots (still can’t do them and so I avoid them altogether). For knitting, we started a sweater together when I was 13 or 14 but again it all went way too slow for me and I gave up somewhere in the middle of the front piece. There were still the arms to go. I don’t know whatever happened to that yarn or the pieces. I did finally get the hang of knitting when a co-worker in New York who used to hide behind her cubicle wall knitting with needles about the size of pins explained to me that knitting is something you do with your hands to pass the time and at some point you end up with a garment. That seemed to make sense and I have happily knit quite a few things since then.

Needlepoint and crochet I learned from friends. My mother knew how to do those things too but maybe she was just too frustrated to try and teach my after the other experiences. But when I was older and was doing my own handwork, she loved showing me her newest projects and the kits she was thinking about buying from the stacks of catalogues that she received. These are memories I cherish. The needlepoint pillow I made for her a few years ago with her colors of moss green and rust and covered myself with cotton velvet came back with me to Germany when we emptied her house.

Back when I was young, doing handwork was still something to be proud of, at least I never thought of it any other way. I’m not so sure that anyone really appreciates it anymore. At least that is how it seems to me. But maybe that is just the crabby old lady talking.

Ann Johannsen died on June 5, 2011. Love you Mom.

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Our Wedding Picture

Fourth Wedding Anniversary

Drum prüfe, wer sich ewig bindet, Ob sich das Herz zum Herzen findet! Der Wahn ist kurz, die Reu ist lang / Therefore consider, those who would marry, whether a heart finds a heart. Illusion is short, remorse is long – Schiller

On December 27, 2009, Wolfgang Michel and I got married in a small ceremony in the my mother’s church in Austin, Minnesota. We had actually been living together for 13 years at that point but like the quote says…
I had always dreamed what my wedding would be like and had very specific ideas what I would like to have but I didn’t get what I wanted. Trying to make the arrangements from 4500 miles away and the fact that my mother was already sick didn’t help matters. And I seem generally to have a problem communicating what I want to people. My husband complains about it all the time. But somehow the series of minor disasters makes it a story worth telling.

We planned the wedding at Christmas time to combine the visit with my mother’s favorite time of year, so I imagined lots of velvet and green and red. My sister-in-law – now ex – who was going to be my bridesmaid went out and bought a dress and planned what my brother should wear as the best man without asking me anything about what I wanted. It was announced to me by my mother. I didn’t feel like I could ask her to buy something else because of the cost and so I caved and we all wore black because that is what she had planned. Even though I wear a lot of black, it seemed to me to be more like a funeral than a wedding.

I found a picture of exactly the bouquet I wanted in the internet and sent it to my mother to give to the florist. When the flowers were delivered to the church, it was nothing like what I had asked for. The florist had apparently insisted on making it with full stems so that it could be used as an arrangement in a vase after the wedding. That I could hardly hold this log of flower stems and that I was getting on a plane the next day and couldn’t possibly take the “bouquet” that way on the plane was something nobody seemed to think about.

The man my mother chose to conduct the ceremony she chose because she had a crush on him. He was a nice man, a “free” minister not associated with any church but he also seemed to have problems understanding me. He kept saying, “It’s your wedding, you can have things how you want” and then refused to listen to either me or Wolfgang about how we envisioned the ceremony. It went so far that in the courthouse getting the license, we were so involved in trying to convince him not to do some silly things that I didn’t notice that my name was spelled incorrectly on the license – one “n” instead of two. When I tried later to change it back, they said it was now official and to change it I would have to pay $600 for an official name change.

At the rehearsal, even though my mother was ill, the minister kept insisting that she walk down the 50 foot aisle alone. Against my protests she also insisted on doing it in the rehearsal. At the wedding itself, she admitted it was too much for her and did as I had suggested, standing at the last pew and joining me when I got there. A lot of aggravation for nothing.

A good friend was supposed to sing at the wedding and several people, friends of mine, had talked about coming. Unfortunately, that was a Minnesota Christmas with a terrible snow storm. Planes were delayed, driving was terrible, nearly everybody had to cancelled. One of my mother’s best friends had already said she wouldn’t come which made my mother very upset and then the next door neighbor, who was very close to my mother, announced casually to Wolfgang while they were both shoveling snow that he wasn’t going to come either. I called him and begged and cried till he gave in and agreed to come. I knew it would mean a lot to her that he was there and the way things were going, we weren’t sure if maybe he would be the only guest.

In the end, it was a small ceremony, just my mother, my younger brother and his family, a couple relatives and a few of my mother’s friends. The organist played the songs that were supposed to have been sung on an out-of-tune piano, my sister-in-law strode down the aisle so fast I could hardly keep up. The minister jumbled the vows – cracking us up when Wolfgang repeated him saying, “in sickness and in hell.” He also almost forgot to let us read the vows we had written and pretty much made a mess of the thing. In the end, we survived and it was legal.

The only thing that was even remotely like what I had in mind was the dinner after the ceremony at a nice place in town. That had also been a big discussion. My mother had originally wanted fried chicken from the local supermarket served on paper plates in her living room. With the help of my sister-in-law, I got her to make a reservation at a nice place. Unfortunately the caterers had no clue really of what I had in mind and had certainly never heard of green beans almondine and so they served canned green beans with whole almonds with the skins still on. It all looked kind of like a church supper from my youth without the jello salad. The cake was good though. I had insisted on real butter frosting and this time I got what I asked for.

The few people that were there made the thing worthwhile, allowing my mother – who had pretty much given up hope that I would ever marry – to celebrate the day and be the “mother of the bride”. A year later when they found the tumors in her brain she said, “Maybe it would have been better if I had died with the heart attack in July (2009).” And I reminded her that then she wouldn’t have been at my wedding, which was already in the planning when she got sick. She kind of silently agreed that in that case it was ok.

Six months later we had a big party in our yard in Germany, nearly 100 guest, a small orchestra that my husband conducted including a piece he composed, I sang, we danced, an entertainer gave a show, and there were 6 grills cooking not to mention all the potato salad and drinks. In a way that was really my “wedding”. But I still feel like something is missing because there is a bad feeling about that first experience that I will never be able to change. I even argued with my mother about my disappointment just months before she died. Something I am not proud of and very sorry about but I just couldn’t let it go. Lesson to be learned – don’t compromise, go for what you want. Although I really believe in the power of second chances or third or even fourth chances with some things, even if you get a second chance, it isn’t quite the same.

For our anniversary, here are our vows:

The possibility I create for me and my life
is to be an opening for a fulfilled relationship
in which I create a space for
love, inspiration, personal power and freedom.
I am a stand for loving you how you are
and for being there so you can live your life in full self expression.
It is my commitment to inspire you
to bring every possibility you want to create into existence,
and to inspire you that you can have and be everything
you want to have and want to be.
This is our love.

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