Most years while growing up, I sat through Mother’s Day sermons based on Proverbs 31. In my Baptist world, the impossibly virtuous model was the Proverbs 31 woman, who seemed to me surely headed for a nervous breakdown or physical collapse. After reading her list of activities, I have to go lie down.
The Proverbs 31 woman spun wool and flax, rose before dawn to fix breakfast, bought and planted a vineyard, worked late by candlelight, made clothes for herself and her family—tapestry yet—sold her fine linen, did charitable work, and was trusted and blessed by her husband and children. The chapter concludes “Give her of the fruit of her hands: and let her own works praise her in the gates.”
I was reminded of this verse while smiling at the line of stuffed animals lining the top of my closet. My mother did a lot of the items in the Proverbs 31 list above and then some (there’s nothing in the list about glueing on airplane wings during World War II). In her retirement, she also made me a collection of fabric creatures: Victorian muslin rabbits, bears, a squirrel, cats, a swan and reindeer for Christmas. Some of them are clothed; the squirrel, for example, has a lovely plaid dress and tam. Others show off their print material bodies. Some days I want to pack them away, but I can’t bear the thought of closing their eyes to the world.
Let her own works praise her. I still have some clothes my mother made me and a box of her recipes. I was telling my teenage helper about some of the things my handy mother could do, and was startled to hear her say, “She sounds like a neat person.”
“Neat” was not a word I had ever applied to my mother. A friend once called her remarkable, and she was, though it took me a long time to know it. “Daughters are always hard on their mothers,” says a friend who is both a daughter and a mother to a daughter. I was hard on mine.
My mother has been dead more than twelve years now, gone before my cancer diagnosis. She makes comments on occasion and may show up in dreams, though less frequently as time passes. I apologize to her sometimes; as I’m aging, I understand more of what her life was like at this age, when I was impatient as she sometimes slowed down, sometimes pushed herself harder. I wish we’d had more time together, wish I could replay some scenes and improve my relationship with her. Of one thing I am confident, though—she still thinks I’m the best daughter ever.