Saturday, May 12, 2007

When I Was Just a Kid...Lillian Arlene

When I Was Just a Kid...
(My Mother) Lillian

This post is meant for tomorrow (Mother's Day) but I'm the mother of four boys, and expect to have things to do tomorrow. So, I'm posting a day early.

My mother died in 1997. She had lived for 39 years with only one lobe of one lung and raised two children. (She lived 65 years total.) She had 6 grandchildren when she died and she is missed greatly. She lived five years beyond what her doctor predicted, but hey, she lived beyond what anyone expected her to live back in 1958 when she was first diagnosed with TB. For someone who could barely draw a breath, she was very active, had a great sense of humor, was well read, and seemed to know everything.

She was tough and survived many heartaches and illnesses, but yet, almost always seemed to have a smile on her face. I can't ever remember seeing her cry. I think I heard her crying in her room once, but when she came out, she smiled sweetly at me.

The "work of art" above was framed and hung on her wall. I made it for her in school when I was about 9 years old. We had these tubes of paint with a point and roller ball in the tip that we painted onto this fabric. I drew a rose and filled it in. I then signed it. She ooohed and awed over it and I was very proud.

I remember another time getting her a yellow gold head scarf with my own money for one Mother's Day. I loved that color(one of my favorites,) but my mother was more at home in blues,pinks and pastels and it wasn't a flattering color for her (I don't think I ever saw her wear yellow.) I was thinking of MY favorite color instead of hers (blue.) She still said she loved it and put it in her special drawer with the jewelry she kept but didn't wear. She'd get it out and admire it in front of me and I'd be satisfied.

I'm taking a few liberties here (and there's no one to dispute my answers) but here's what Lillian might say if she were the featured kid today (and I heard these stories many times):

Childhood Ambition: To be a librarian or a teacher and to also get married and have many children. I love children and really wanted to be a mother. I lost five children before I was able to have Crystal, right before I turned 30.

Fondest Memory: When my sister Mayme, who was 13 months older than I was, and I were little girls someone gave us a doll for Christmas. We had to share her, but it was so nice having something like that for Christmas. Mayme was my closest friend.

I also loved it when someone in the house had a birthday. My mother would make a huge deal about it by making a crown for the birthday child, singing to him or her, and making special treats to eat all day--allowing the child to pick whatever they wanted. That person was King or Queen of the Day. It was so much fun.

I also loved it when she made lefse.

Proudest Moment: When I had my daughter, Crystal, and my son, Ricky.

Biggest Challenge as a child or teen: When I was 5 years old, my mother died from TB. I was scared, but was told not to cry by my older sisters. I was afraid to go in where my mother was laid out on the bed and wouldn't go in there after the funeral. I was the youngest girl of five children that my mother had (I had five older half-siblings who were either living on their own, or getting ready to leave home.) My little brother was a baby of two and he went to live with one of the older sisters, so was taken from us. My father had a farm to run and all of these little kids. He was in much grief--it was the second time a wife had died and left him with children to raise alone. He was 22 years older than she was.

She died in January, and my birthday was in September. When my birthday came, I went to the table and sat down. My older sister who was staying with us (she was a teen) looked harshly at me and said, "And just what do you think you're doing?"

I replied, "It's my birthday. I want oatmeal for breakfast." I fully expected my mother's tradition on birthdays to be carried on.

She glared at me, grabbed my arm and yanked me up to my feet. "Well, you might as well get used to being a big girl now on your birthday. You get your own breakfast. There will be no more birthdays. Today you grow up."

So, I grew up when I was 6 years old. It was a cruel reality of what was to be for the next 12 years, and really, for the rest of my life. I really never remember being a child. I worked as hard as a man on the farm, and also had to keep house. I was the last child to leave home, though I did go four years to a private Christian academy for high school.

My First Job: Working on the farm. My favorite time of the year was lambing season. Almost always there would be a lamb or two who didn't have a mother, and I'd take care of them. We worked from sun up to sun down in the harsh elements of Minnesota, but always took Sabbath off (though we took care of the animals--sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.) We lived so far out in the sticks, as kids, whenever someone came up to the house, we'd run and hide because we were so shy! But we had lots of fun playing and making up games while we did our chores and work.

My second job was when I went to the academy at 14. I worked in the library. Loved the library. I also was a secretary who wrote in my boss' ledgers, as she wouldn't allow anyone else to do it. She was extremely demanding, and I couldn't even leave an i undotted. She was a woman and an attorney, and I didn't realize how unusual that was at the time. She taught me quite a lot.

I also was a nurse's assistant in the nursery at the hospital. I loved that job, bathing the babies and wrapping them tight, holding them. Nothing was more satisfying, except for being a mother myself, than that job.

Childhood indulgence: We didn't really get many "indulgences." Since we were in a family which worshipped on Saturday (Sabbath) and were strict about our diet, too, plus were living on a farm, our indulgences came in the form of reading. I spent a lot of my spare time reading.

I loved to spend time outdoors, too, and watched all of the wildlife that thrived around the Lake of the Woods. One thing I do remember is making games out of daily life. We laughed a lot.

One of the things I remember was sneaking into Papa's room while he slept to play tricks and listen to him talk in his sleep.

He would talk in his sleep and his language was Swedish in his sleep. We were not allowed to speak Swedish at home, only English, so unless we were visiting a relative, I didn't speak it, just understood it. We would giggle and laugh, and once we brought in a bucket of cold water to stick his hand in. I'm sure he was awake, now that I am older and realize it, but back then I thought we were playing a good trick on him. He didn't even move when we plunged his hand in that water! And doggone it, he didn't do what we were told would happen if you put a sleeping person's hand in cold water. (Do you know what that was?? ha!) We were pretty pesky kids. And he was rather indulgent of us, considering how cruel his father had been. He broke that cycle of abuse--and was a good man who loved the Lord--and he was our Papa. And he had a sense of humor. He was always giving us riddles or telling us stories.

Favorite Childhood Movie: Our religion forbade us to go to movies. I had never seen a movie until I was 19 years old when I left home and came to Indiana. I enjoyed seeing movies so much, I watched many, many movies after that. I particularly loved historical movies, like Gone with the Wind.

Favorite Childhood Book: A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter. I imagined I WAS Elnora and thought the Limberlost must be a wonderful place. When I grew up, I lived with a few miles of the real Limberlost that Gene Porter wrote about. I loved Indiana and continued to spend a lot of time outdoors, fishing, gardening, observing nature and going to state parks.

The illustration to the right is from that book, and was done by
Wladyslaw T. Benda. (now that's a name!)

All the Pierson children gathered at Papa's funeral in 1953
(Lillian) I am fourth from the left and Merlin is in the center of the brothers
The sister who told me "grow up" on my 6th birthday is to my right(your left)
Mayme is the last one on the right of the second row
One sister is missing from this photo because her husband made her leave immediately

Childhood hero: My older half-brother, Merlin, who was a pastor. He was in the first family and his mother died when he was a boy. He was married by the time I came along, but was kind and loving. I was my father's 10th child and the fourth child of my father's second wife. She and her mother had taken care of the children from his first marriage when his first wife died. My mother allowed the older children from that marriage to name me. They had a baby sister who was the youngest of their family(the first family) and her name was Lillian Arlene Pierson--and that's exactly the name they gave me. She had died as a baby. It was really weird seeing my name on a tombstone next to their mother.

So, anyway, Merlin, was always kind to us, and particularly to me, or so I thought. He'd sit with me and draw pictures with me. I would do anything to please to him. One time I decided to draw a picture of the barnyard, so I was watching the chickens peck and cluck and drew them. I noticed that they were also making droppings as they went along, so I drew that into my picture, as well. I thought I was being particularly clever to include so much detail, and my, wouldn't my brother, Merlin, think I was great? He asked me about my picture, and I'm explaining in minute details about those chickens. He got this frown on his face, and told me I mustn't draw things like that--it wasn't a good thing to do. I was just crushed, as he was never displeased with me. It was a heartbreaking moment for me, but I loved him fiercely all the same.

When I was grown up and had children of my own, I saw him and his family less and less. He had two sons, one of whom died as a child, and a daughter named Gwen, who was just a little older than my own daughter. He and his wife had a busy ministry in Minnesota. Where my brother lived there was a river and in the spring of 1965, it flooded. He, his wife and daughter got into a canoe, even though it was quite cold, and went downstream to see what damage there was to properties along the river and if there was any way to help others.

When they got to a bridge, the water was flowing over the bridge. The water was going so rapidly, even though he was quite strong, he couldn't stop the boat. The boat overturned and witnesses say he grabbed onto the bridge, but his wife, Hulda, and daughter Gwen went under. He was a very strong swimmer, but he could not pull them up to safety and he could not overcome the undercurrent, not to mention the frigid temperatures. They all drowned and that was one of the hardest funerals I've ever been to--to lose my hero, my brother, Merlin, and his family.

They had one son who wasn't with them that day--he was away at school. That son grew up to be a dentist and was a missionary in Africa for many years (Kenya.) I was very proud of him.

Crystal here: It is a great privilege for me to have had such a wonderful mother. I hope that I am even half the mother to my boys, that she was to me.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers in the world. Stay strong!


Delia said...

This is such a wonderful tribute to your mother. And while all of the "When I Was Just A Kid..." posts have been wonderful, this is my favorite.

Happy Mother's Day, Crystal!

Judy said...

What a touching, beautiful tribute to your mom, Crystal! The perfect Mother's Day post. I agree with Delia, this one's my favorite, too.

LeAnne Benfield Martin said...


I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I feel like I know your mother now. You did a beautiful job. She would be so proud of you. This is the perfect Mother's Day present to her!


Crystal Laine said...

Thank you all for the kind comments! I miss my mom a lot and she was a very good mother to me. And she was very strong!(and funny, and pretty.)

I wish I had gotten her coloring, her height (she was very tall,) but she taught me things I can still carry from her (like reading books!)

Sabrina L. Fox said...

Man, makes me wish I'd have known your mom. You have such a gift with your writing. I could just sit and listen to you all day. ;)

Anonymous said...

Crystal, I always knew we were kindred spirits, but I believe our moms were kindred spirits as well. So much in common, I can't even begin to enumerate, from Girl of the Limberlost to Lefse.

Thank you for this. What a tribute.