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Published: Sunday, 5/12/2013

One never stops needing mom

BY MARY ALICE POWELL
BLADE COLUMNIST

Mother's Day is a day of love, remembrances, gifts, and tears.

The bouquet of artificial red roses in a green plastic vase stuck in the ground behind a stone that is engraved “God’s greatest gift returned to God, my Mother” falls far short of my feelings.

Every day of my life I think of my late mother, but on the second Sunday in May the memories are magnified and the thoughts are more meaningful. I will always need her to talk to, to understand, to laugh, to counsel, to praise, and to criticize.

The person who was buried in 1958 where the red roses are today was Hazel Mae. Don’t spell it May like the month, she would say with a laugh. Hazel Mae grew up with four sisters and one brother and her parents Burton and Mary Perkins on a farm in Rome Township, Lenawee County. Grandma said she was named Hazel after a neighbor remarked that she had beautiful hazel brown eyes.

Hazel Mae was valedictorian at Clayton High School, an eighth grade country school teacher, a graduate of Brown’s Business School in Adrian, Lenawee County Probate Court secretary, typist for books in the Smithsonian Institute, a single parent, energetic landlady, and the best mother in the world.

That, of course, is only skimming the surface of the remarkable woman who supported me most of the time, but stood strong if she thought I was wrong. One of her wishes was that I would become as gentle and kind as her sister Alice, my namesake. Alice, a country schoolteacher, died young of typhoid fever contracted from well water at a farm where she was boarding. It was the greatest tragedy in mother’s life and I often was reminded of Alice’s sweet temperament when I misbehaved.

One of the first cemetery wreaths that I made in my basement floral business during high school was taken to Alice’s grave. The wreath and centerpiece enterprise gave me enough money to buy clothes. It was tedious work that involved soaking moss in tubs of water, squeezing it out, packing it in the wreath ring, wrapping and tying florist paper around it, and then decorating it with ribbons, cones, and berries.

It was a lot of work for something that sold for $2. I am sure I missed a lot of high school parties because of my wreath business. But mother was always with me down in that dreary basement as the wreaths were turned out. During the war when I was making wreaths for the graves of returned veterans she suggested — insisted? — that I paint the pine cones red, white, and blue.

Being an only child raised by a single mother long before divorce was common was a lifestyle far different from that of my school friends with both parents and brothers and sisters. But, with a houseful of tenants, we were never lonely and I never felt deprived. For income mother rented rooms and small apartments to a rare and wonderful cross-section of people who were my friends whether they stayed a week or for several months.

Many choice “back home” memories were at the same oak drop leaf kitchen table I eat on every day.

Even though there were daily work lists, she insisted that we eat supper together. She used her teaching skills to conduct spelling bees and homework help. She also taught me shorthand in case I became a reporter. Often our meal was meat and vegetables that had been cooking all day in kettles on top of soapstones in a galvanized chest. It was the original slow cooker.

A month after I came to Toledo to work for The Blade, mother came to see me in the small hotel on Erie Street where I had a room. I was ready for the visit. My bags were packed and I told her I wanted to go home. I couldn’t do the work and I was homesick.

Her response was an emphatic “No, Mary. You’ll be all right. Give it time.” I always did what mother said.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com



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