How do we remember the women whose touch helped shape us from the moment of our birth?
We may not always completely trust our own memories of our mothers—for time applies a rosy tint to parts of our past, smudges others in tones of gray, and obscures some altogether.
Still, certain moments we shared with our mothers stand out in vivid relief. Although the brightest of these memories are not usually of events we would now call significant, even the most commonplace can illuminate the influence of the unique women we call “Mother.”
Susan Hainsworth, an editor, spent much of her childhood in Murray, Kentucky, where her mother, Norma Parrish Hainsworth, still lives with her husband and the two youngest of eight children.
“My mother liked to dance, and her children still watch with wide-eyed delight when she and Dad can be coaxed into turning the family room into a makeshift ballroom. But it was another kind of dancing that was a more important part of my childhood. As a young mother, she would put on a phonograph record of melodic love songs, get a faraway look in her eye, and pick up whichever baby was handy for a turn around the living room.
“Later, as a mother of teenagers, she would take the casserole off the stove and shuffle-ball-change her way to the table and back again, occasionally sidestepping to deliberately collide with an unsuspecting son. No matter that the food didn’t arrive in record time. It was one of the joys of dinnertime to watch her swaying around the kitchen, never completely grown up, never a separate generation.
“We all tried to learn the step, and she tried to teach us. But we could never exactly copy the sound of her bedroom slippers on the linoleum floor, the inviting look in her eye (she was always trying to get someone to play with her), or the particular sway of her body or lilt of her hand. The impromptu dancing will always be uniquely hers, but the spirit of optimism and unconditional cheerfulness that characterize her life are the permanent heritage of her children.”
Margaret Hamstead, mother of three is matron of the London Temple. She recalls her mother, Margaret Derrick-Ball.
“I often remember sitting in the sunlight as a child and my mother telling me how beautiful my hair looked in the sunshine. I remember her getting down on the carpet and rolling the ball to us. And I remember how we always loved to be in the kitchen with all the warm smells of cooking while she made chutneys and jams and told us about her grandparents.
“Whenever we would go by train to visit my grandfather, he would come to the station to pick us up in a trap [a one-horse carriage]. My mother would always wrap me up in her arms and hold me as we trotted along. I remember the tremendous feeling of security I had.
“My mother was Baptist, and my father belonged to the Church of England. They were goodly people and very caring parents. There was a great, deep love between us.”
Lee Provancha Day, mother of one, is a principal dancer with Ballet West in Salt Lake City. Her mother is Elaine Thalman Provancha.
“Throughout my childhood, my mother spent countless hours driving me back and forth to ballet classes and sitting and waiting for me. Then, during my last three years of high school, I attended an arts school about three hours from my home. Every couple of weeks, she would pick me up, and as we drove home together we would talk. We got especially close during that time. She was very dedicated to helping her children accomplish good goals.
“I think of a Christmas tradition my mother always kept with us. First we would kneel and have a family prayer. Then each of us would light a pencil-thin candle. Finally, we would put all the candles together to see how much stronger and brighter the flame was. Especially now that I have a child of my own, I appreciate the time my mother gave to her family.”
Sylvia Andersen is an instructor in the Department of Nursing at Arizona State University. Her mother, Erma Farnsworth Andersen—the mother of eight and grandmother of twenty-one—grew up in Colonia Dublan and now lives in Mesa, Arizona.
“Company would come over and over at our house—sometimes even weekly. They would come in all times of the day and night. And Mom welcomed them so warmly that they didn’t hesitate to come unannounced. ‘Quick,’ she would say, ‘go take the sheets off your bed and clean up your room.’ Sometimes this would happen in the middle of the night. Then I would go sleep on the couch.
“Mom had a way of making work really enjoyable. When she would make bread, she would always give us a little piece of dough and let us try to copy her. We would sing together or just share, and that made working a positive experience. As I was growing up, my friends would sometimes say, ‘Your mom sure asks you to do a lot.’ But I grew up with a natural desire to help other people.
“Mom gave to us just as freely as she expected us to give to others. I remember often when I would come home from an activity feeling bad about something, she would take me into her room and kneel down and pray with me. She would express her love and concern for me and pray for help for me in solving my problem. Hearing her pray just for me, and nobody else, gave me a special love for her.
“Whenever Mom would have to scold me, I would usually go to my room. After a few minutes she would always come in, put her arms around me, tell me how much she loved me, and talk with me about how I could have handled the situation better. When she would come out of my room with me, happy and cheerful, it helped me immediately feel part of the family again. I didn’t have to come out sheepishly, wondering how the family would accept me.”
Catherine Eyring Edwards comes from a family of accomplished children which includes Sister Camilla Eyring Kimball and scientist Henry Eyring. Her mother, Caroline Romney Eyring, was a teacher, as four of her daughters have been.
“Mother lived in a world of ideas. Material things were just a means to an end. I remember well when we were very young, we would all sit around the large, oval dining room table to study, and Mother would sort of superintend. Then we would have spelling matches together. Always at the end it would be Henry and Mother. It was a great thing when Henry finally won.”
“We were all very competitive, but of course we didn’t always win. I remember that Mother was very perceptive of our feelings. She would very commonly pick a time when we were alone and tell us all the nice things she could think of about us—even some things we felt weren’t really true. But the important thing was that we knew she loved us.”
Ann Moeai of Porterville, California, is the mother of five. She lives about thirty miles from her very active eighty-year-old mother, Varuah Hooper, whose first name is the Tahitian word for spirit. Sister Hooper’s father served a mission to Tahiti.
“One night when I was a teenager I came home late to find both my worried parents waiting up for me. My father expressed his concern over my whereabouts, and I knew his concern was justified. But I still felt resentful as I closed the hall door behind me and climbed the stairs to my bedroom.
“Suddenly I stopped, overhearing words my mother had not intended for me to hear: ‘We must trust her. She has to know we have faith in her.’ That expression touched me with such force that I felt from that moment that I could never bear to disappoint my parents. Each time I thought of her words, I wanted with all my heart to merit her trust.”
Elizabeth Ann Shaw, an attorney in Los Angeles, California, is Gospel Doctrine teacher in her singles ward. Her mother, Bessie Partridge Shaw, lives in Salt Lake City.
“I had a feeling of worth from the time I was a little girl because my mother treated me as an equal—not that I knew everything she did, but in the basic constitutional sense that I had rights and responsibilities. When I was four or five, she would write a list of my duties on the chalkboard. I knew that after I mopped the steps, I would have the right to do certain things. It was a very adult kind of thing.
“Mother always treated me as a friend. We’d go on shopping trips together to the big city—Billings, Montana. I remember going into a fancy hotel and sitting at this table, just the two of us. I was just a little girl, yet she was never ashamed of me.
“My parents were divorced when I was young, and Mother always supported us on her schoolteacher’s salary. She didn’t mind going without new clothes so my sister and I could have stretch pants or whatever was ‘in’—just a few things that would make us feel part of the group.
“As I have grown older, she has continued to support and respect me. She has never pushed me in any career direction. Only after I was almost finished with law school did she confide that she had worried that I gave up a good job to go back to school. And she has never once nagged, criticized, or even expressed worry about my not being married—not even obliquely. I can always count on her to be totally accepting and loving.
“As I prepared to take the difficult California Bar exam, I felt I just couldn’t get everything memorized, even though I was studying eight or nine hours a day. Six weeks before the exam, my mother began fasting for me once a week. Fasting is particularly difficult for her because of a surgery she has had; in fact, she would be sick every week for several days during those weeks.
“On the second day of the three-day-exam, I was really depressed. I arrived home certain I had failed, only to receive a call from my mother, who said, ‘The Lord has told me you have passed.’ I knew that He had. Even though I had one more day to go, I relaxed. Everyone else had to wait until December to find out whether they had passed, but I already knew. The Lord blessed Alma the Younger because of the faith of his father. The Lord has often blessed me in a similar way.”
Sandy Misinchuk, of Toronto, Canada, has two children. Her mother, Shirley Morrison, was married shortly after she and her husband-to-be were baptized into the Church. Sister Morrison has eight children.
“My mother would sometimes play for us the soundtrack of one of her favorite musicals, Fiddler on the Roof. We loved the song ‘Tradition,’ and my mother always told us how important family traditions were to give a sense of togetherness and purpose.
“I suppose our Christmas traditions are the ones I remember best. The tree was trimmed with handmade ornaments and decorations collected from over the years. We always had a special family home evening when we would trim the tree under Mother’s guidance. The star my parents had saved from their first Christmas together would always go on last.
“Come Christmas morning, after my father would lead the pack tippytoeing down the stairs to make sure Santa had come, we would open our gifts. But I remember Mother would always sit back watching us all, completely immersing herself in our delight. She was always last to open her gifts, afraid she would miss a single reaction to our gifts—many of which she had lovingly made.
“Now that I am raising children of my own, my mother’s Christmas example remains an influence. And her love of family traditions reminds me to weave strong the family ties in my own home.”
Orpha Boyden, mother of four and grandmother of twenty, grew up in a small town in northern Utah which consisted of a railroad station, a lumber yard, a blacksmith’s shop, and her father’s general store. She calls her mother, Sara Evans Sweeten, “someone who was always there.”
“My mother was a working mother. My father had a big country store where they sold groceries and lace and machinery and ran the post office. Mother was the business head of the family, and my father was the front-office man. I think my mother could do anything. She was a marvelous cook. And she was a very fine dressmaker. As I think of my mother in terms of today’s descriptions of the ideal mother, I believe she did everything right. She didn’t learn how from a magazine; it was instinctive. As a child, whenever I was upset, I always knew that if I could find my mother she would make everything all right. Whether it was my spirit or my body that was bruised, she was there.
“As a young mother, I was once asked to give a radio interview to advertise a charity project I was working on. I had never seen a microphone in my life, and I was so self-conscious that I stammered all over the place. When it was over, I just wanted to go visit my mother because I knew in my heart of hearts that she would make me feel better about it. Sure enough, I got the reception I was hoping for. ‘Oh, you did just fine,’ she said. ‘You mustn’t worry about it.’ And that was all it took.
“I always had the impression from both my mother and my father that I could do whatever I had set my hand to. Whenever I was hesitating to undertake anything, mother would say, ‘Oh, you can do that. Sure you can.’ As I have grown older and been given different responsibilities, I have sometimes thought, ‘This is bigger than I am. I just don’t think I can handle it.’ And from somewhere I hear, ‘You can do it. You really can. You’ll do just fine.’ Although I have never been particularly bold, that consistent encouragement has always given me confidence to face new challenges, and it continues to do so today.”
Almost every mother is acutely aware of her own shortcomings—times when she is too tired to read just one more story, times when her patience wears thin in the dailiness of motherly responsibilities. But for the child there is magic in the midst of the mundane—watching Mother dance around the kitchen, taking a buggy ride wrapped up in her arms, trying to knead the bread dough just as she does, sharing a prayer, hearing her word of praise or encouragement. Such precious memories can be every mother’s most enduring gift.