A flood or remembrances crowd my thoughts on this passing Mother’s Day. I am revisiting in my thoughts of our old farm house where my five siblings and I grew up. I remember how we were each scrubbed, pressed and combed and then told “sit on a chair”. So there six of us would be like birds on a branch waiting for the moment to leave for church wiggling and squirming ready to fly out the door when “let’s go” was called.
I remember with great affection our old Methodist Church. Built by the men in the community years before me, it stood on its own corner of the prairie at the crossroads to Vernon, Illinois and Shobonier, Illinois with four miles to either town. It was not a pretty church. There were no trees to soften its profile against the landscape. No plantings to hide the stone blocks it rested upon to raise it above the ground. The wind whistled under it in the winter and generations of rabbits nested under it in the summer. It was never locked for it had no lock. Just lift the latch and walk in stranger and take shelter. Spare and unassuming, forthright as the prairie it stood on.
My mother was the choir leader. Every Sunday she thumped out wonderful spirited music on the old upright piano and the choir would swing into “Bringing in the Sheaves”, “Brighten the Corner Where You Are”, “Old Rugged Cross” with gusto and praise to God. And you can be sure that we six would be in the front row in full view of her sharp watching eyes.
Mother’s Day was a big church observance. At a door wide enough to drive a team of horses through, two women of the congregation stood. One held white carnations and the other held red carnations. As we entered each person or family was asked “is your mother among the living?” – those who said yes were given a red carnation and all others received white carnations.
When I was about nine or ten I began to see Mother’s Day as sad. We children would be given red and Mother was given white. It was about this time of my life that I noticed how a shadow of sadness passed over her face causing her mouth to curve down and the sparkle leave her eyes for a moment and even her body seemed to wilt somewhat. A chill ran through me. Someday I would be the one to receive a white carnation.
I did not know my mother’s mother. She, my grandmother, died long before I was born. I carried her name. My goodness, it registered with me that my mother had been a little girl too with a mother just like she was to me. My curiosity was set off and I began to listen to our family’s stories with a keener understanding. This was family history Mother said and part of our heritage. Oh wow, family history made me feel tall in the saddle.
But wait –the winds of change were brewing. Politics entered my life in 1932 when FDR won the presidency from Herbert Hoover. Father was so indignant he sold a pig and bought a radio to keep track of Mr. Roosevelt. He was a “dyed in the wool” Abraham Lincoln Republican and thought it the only party worth “beans”. The radio opened door after door after door to the world for us of stories way beyond our community life and our church.
Thus it was that my childhood experience of family history to national history and then world history laid down a level path that I would eventually follow and become an American historical artist, an on-site researcher, painter and teller of our American history and what it means to be an American.
Hear this– and remember that we are all part of history—we are all joined together Holding Hands With History. And realize this too—you can’t let go not even when you are physically removed for we all leave our mark on the timeline of history and every individual on that timeline is important to his time and the shadow you cast no matter how small or short, how long or tall it remains an imprint handed down to our next generations.
Kay Smith, Painter of the American Scene