Me and Mom, Arlington Heights, IL, circa 1967

I miss my mom. I miss her easy going, unassuming nature that had such strength it propped up our family of seven. I miss that goodness emanating out of her through us to those we encountered in the world.  My mom was quiet. She blared no brash voice to coach us or judge us or form us in a way she saw fit. She was gentle in her instruction and aimed only for us to “be happy.” She was the warm, soft, smooth skin of a hand that knows how to hold another’s. Knows how to give a squeeze of excitement, a pull along in encouragement, a nestle between the fingers, joints and pads that enfold perfectly to comfortably and confidently assure love.  My mom was someone who was a beautiful person to witness.  She was comfortable in her own skin and genuinely happy in her lot and happy to share and support others in anyway they needed it with: a smile, a laugh, a listening ear, a ride at any time anywhere, a note always accompanied with a 😊.

I miss my mom as I turn to Thanksgiving and think about the empty chairs around people’s tables —empty from loss or empty from COVID restrictions. I consider what my mom would have thought of it all and I can’t help but laugh knowing she’d make Thanksgiving memorable despite the emptiness. One year when we were all new parents, we gathered at my mom and dad’s house.  All fourteen of us (7 Parichys, 3 husbands and 4 grandchildren) at the time. Mom had graciously offered to do the cooking so we could manage diapers and bottles etc. She put her famous turkey soup on the stove which we could eat for lunch before the big roast at dinnertime. Some time around three when the giant bird should have been well on its way to cooking to perfection, Mom woke up from her nap (my parents always religiously napped each day) and realised the power had gone off on the oven. There must have been a surge in the neighbourhood or something, but although we still had power everywhere else, the oven had turned itself off. Many hostesses would have panicked or begrudged the rest of us (there were 10 other adults in the house after all!) or soured the moment with the stress of the meal falling on her shoulders and guilted us for the emotional, mental, and physical load she’d taken on on our behalf.  But not my mom.  She looked at the oven, turned it back up to the correct temperature and without missing a beat said, “Well, I guess we’ll be eating little later than I thought.” 

Classic Mom. She always took life so gracefully in her stride. I asked my dad after she died almost eighteen years ago if she was always that way or if mothering five children born within ten years of each other had taken its toll on her; simply beaten her down to be easy and balanced. Dad said, “Nope, she was always like that. Even natured and happy.”

I think now how my mom also couldn’t resist fixing things for us.  She was the consummate listener. She’d hear a need, even if you didn’t realise you were voicing it, and suddenly the very thing you required would appear at the end of your bed when you came home from school (a poem, a special set of markers or a new top).  Something simple that let you know you were beloved and it would all be alright.  

The first year I moved to England, my mom was aghast that I couldn’t find pumpkin pies anywhere or even the proper ingredients to make one myself. So after we ‘suffered’ through an apple pie on our first English Thanksgiving, my mom took note and on Christmas Eve a FEDEX package arrived to our flat in Fulham. Inside, was a bubble wrapped Sara Lee pumpkin pie that my mom had bought frozen from the Acme Supermarket in Wayne, PA and whisked to the courier company to ensure it would land on my Christmas table—perfectly defrosted for our first Christmas in England. Who does that, right? How lucky am I?

So I think about the lessons and the character of my mom and I consider what she would think of the world today. All the noise and dissension.  All the meanness and inconsiderate behaviour.  All the pressure cooking of being judged if you say the “wrong” thing. And even though she’s been gone all these years, I find in her way and her words an instruction that worked for her and could work for us now.  She was NEVER a preacher or one to force her way upon you, but to keep our family dynamic, which was(is) full of personalities that can sometimes clash, Mom would say one thing:

“If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.”

It was simple. She wasn’t leading us to think her way or judging us for having our own point of view, instead, in order to help us to conduct ourselves with some civility and to keep the interaction amongst us positive she would ask us to follow her rule. And it worked.  That’s not to say we weren’t allowed to argue, but in approaching a disagreement by expressing our point as “nicely” as we could it encouraged us to think before we possibly struck and hurt each other. It helped us to not just thrash out at each other to score a point with a barb that could be difficult to retract and, worse yet, heal from.  It helped us to take the time to calmly interact with each other, listen, and if we really were in the mood, consider the world from another’s point of view. It allowed us to differentiate our opinions and put the caring for each other first and foremost. I would suggest it even lead to a deeper understanding of the other person and, even when we didn’t agree, we could always use one of Mom’s other favourite sayings, “Agree to disagree.” 

My mom never wanted us to divide with our differences, she encouraged us to look for the common ground in keeping this practice.

I miss my mom. I wish I could talk to her and hear her voice and feel her steady strength, ever loving and always ready for a laugh. I know for sure, today, she would appreciate two things I now share with you. First this reflection my daughter, Megan, sent me which I’m happy to say popped up on her Instagram.  I think it speaks well of the algorithm calculating the feed on her account.  Mine, on the other hand, for example sends me whacky cat toy suggestions and acid reflux remedies!  

I particularly love the thought small kindnesses can be “the true dwelling of the holy”.

And then, of course, YouTube delivered this week, as the Americans in the crowd head towards turkey day.  My close friends know I’ve shared this widely, but I can’t resist ending on a funny video involving a mom, her child and a turkey.  

However you choose to conduct yourself these days, maybe consider the value of a small kindness or good natured laugh. Either way, please take care and know, “I like your hat.” 😊