For Mom

                                                                        FOR MOM

Those of you who knew Barbara, or as her Kobe relatives called her, “Jean”, know she was a fastidious woman, always dressed to the nines, always ready for the next big party or event. But there was another side to Barb, one that only her family was privileged to view.

I know it’s hard to imagine but I was a handful as a child. When I started kindergarten, Miss Ness, a beloved Piedmont teacher, told Mom, at my first school conference, “Keep that boy busy or he’ll end up in jail.” Maybe that’s why Mom doled out chores to me, and later Dave and Anne, by affixing long lists of things that needed doing to the kitchen refrigerator. Or maybe it was Mom’s OCD, which, as she aged, became more and more prevalent, culminating with, when her health required her to move to assisted living, no less than a dozen bottles of Ranch salad dressing and ten jars of peanut butter in her fridge and on her shelves. But whether it was a shopping list or a chore list, Barbara Jean always craved organization.

How else do you explain the note she left for Anne one day? Our house on N 22nd Ave W in Piedmont was surrounded by forest. Apparently, at least to Mom’s keen eye, a very messy forest. So, Barbara’s note, tacked to the Munger refrigerator was succinct: “Anne: Pick up all the sticks in the woods.” Only Mom would think to tidy up nature.

Despite the lists, we three children loved Mom. But we weren’t always the most obedient. When we strayed, there was Barbara, ready with a bar of Ivory soap to wash out our mouths if we used vocabulary inappropriate for the Munger home. Or if our conduct needed more immediate, serious attention, Mom, would unleash the wooden yardstick she kept in the kitchen closet to whack us on our bare bottoms. Once, when I was about ten or so and Mom took exception to my sassing, a fevered chase ensued around our Chambersburg home, with Mom running after me with the yardstick, her intentions clear. I ducked behind the fridge, and without thinking things through, stuck out my foot and tripped Mom. My actions resulted in a broken big toe and a trip to the ER for Mom, but she didn’t blame me for her injury, a circumstance which has always puzzled me.

A couple of other stories come to mind. When I was twelve or thirteen, Harry, our Dad, got the bright idea to take his 18’ fishing boat from Grand Portage to Isle Royale across Lake Superior’s open water. We were to spend a week on the island, staying in the three-sided cabins the park provides. Grandma Munger, who was in her late 70’s at the time, came with but stayed in the hotel at Washington Harbor. When Mom saw Dad’s run-a-bout loaded to the gunwales with food, clothing, fishing equipment, and supplies for a week-long stay, a boat that had no radio, no radar, and only a single inboard/outboard engine with no back-up for power, she drew the line. She, Grandma, and Dave all booked passage on the Wenonah, a commercial ferry to the island, leaving me to motor across the inland sea with Dad in a very overloaded boat. I’ve always wondered what she was thinking by sending me along with Harry in a boat that had no life raft and no radio.

On another occasion, Duke Tourville, our stepdad, and Mom invited my wife, René, our son Matt (who was five or six), and me on another trip to Isle Royale in Duke’s twin screw, blue-water boat. Unlike Harry, Duke really knew boats and big water. But when the Ransom II came around the northern tip of the island and hit a brisk wind, the lake turned ugly. The little boat bobbed and surged ahead, crashing through whitecaps. Duke and I were having a great time bouncing around on the fly bridge. Mom, René, and Matt were all safely tucked inside the boat’s little cabin. The seas were so large, when the boat dipped into a trough of wave, you couldn’t see anything but blue-green water. It was a pretty cool ride, though, when we docked on the west side of the island, I learned the truth of what had transpired inside the boat’s cabin. As the waves grew larger, René had become very alarmed, especially since Matt was along for the ride, and started panicking. Mom’s elegant solution? Mix my wife the strongest Brandy-Seven she could concoct and keep refilling René’s glass until my wife’s frayed nerves were calmed by booze.

When Anne was ten or eleven, Mom left her written instructions (yes, yet another list) asking Anne to bake potatoes for dinner. The directions said to place the potatoes on a paper plate, insert the plate into our brand-new microwave, and set the timer for a half-hour. Before the timer “dinged”, the paper plate caught fire and flames melted the plastic lining of the microwave. Burning plastic oozed onto the kitchen’s linoleum floor. The result? The floor and the microwave were toast. The plus side of all this was that Barbara Jean was able to replace the kitchen floor, something she’d been asking Harry to do, with new linoleum purchased with insurance money. Coincidence? I think the truth of that resides with Mom in eternity.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a word about Barbara Jean’s faith. As Episcopalian kids growing up surrounded by Lutherans and Catholics, my siblings and I often felt estranged from our friends due to our religious affiliation. I tried, early on, to sneak into the Lutheran fold. I went to Vacation Bible School at Christ Lutheran in Piedmont. I was invited to join the youth choir at the church, something I found enticing since the majority of pretty girls in Piedmont were either Lutheran or Catholic. There wasn’t a single Episcopalian kid in our neighborhood outside the Munger clan. But Mom, who married our dad, Harry, in this very church, made me toe the line: there was no way I was going to join a Lutheran choir, no matter how many cute girls may have been members! Mom’s love of the Episcopal/Anglican faith was as strong as her steely, Slovenian resolve. So strong that my Roman Catholic fiancé René and I were also married in this church by an Episcopal priest and a Catholic priest. My sister too, said her nuptials before the St. Paul’s altar. Over a decade ago, both René and I became ELCA Lutherans, joining Grace Lutheran in Hermantown. I figured Mom would be upset. But she wasn’t. I think she was happy that my family sought solace in the Christian faith. After our stepfather Duke passed away (his funeral was also held here), Mom spent Christmases at the Munger home and attended Christmas Eve candle light services with my family at Grace. She always, up until Easter of this year, refused to come forward for communion. Her belief, her faith, that the Anglican way was the only way, was that strong. Even when I urged, “But Mom, there’s an agreement in place that allows Episcopal and ELCA clergy to serve both faiths,” she remained unmoved. This Easter, Mom finally relented. She took communion at Grace without a word of encouragement from me. Something in Mom had changed. What it was, I can’t say. But I’m happy she decided to take communion with her family one last time regardless of the setting.

On behalf of Barbara’s family, I want to thank all of you for being here to celebrate the life of a beautiful, smart, loving, woman of faith  who made our lives better and, on occasion, made us smile. Rest, Mom. You earned it.

About Mark

I'm a reformed lawyer and author.
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