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May 13, 2012

Precious Memories

Carla Stewart is the award-winning author of three novels. Her newest one, Stardust, is the story of a young mom in the 1950s who must make a new life for herself and her daughters when her unfaithful husband drowns in the bayou. Carla’s writing reflects her passion for times gone by as she endeavors to take readers to that place in their hearts called “home.” In this post, she shares her favorite memories of her strong, determined mother.Carla Stewart loves to connect with readers at She is also on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

For twelve years I’ve avoided the Mother’s Day card displays at the grocery store, at the Hallmark shop, even the corner drug where I pick up toiletries and quick snacks. The first year was the hardest, the wounds still fresh, and me with a hole in my heart left by my mother’s departure a mere nine months earlier. Cancer is ugly, and it had not only robbed her of the joy she found in life, but it also robbed me of a mother, of the privilege of picking up the phone to catch up on the latest gossip or ask for a recipe or pose a question about something that only she would know.

Seeing those cheerful blossomed cards with sweet endearments were a bitter reminder, so I would quickly push my buggy to another aisle and avert my eyes. I still do.

And even though I can no longer send her a card telling her how she’s shaped my life, the evidence is rooted deep within. A stirring now and then that somehow she knows and is pleased that my writing dream took shape. This isn’t a creepy, ghostly kind of stirring, but just a calm knowing that I turn a phrase a certain way or think the way I do because of her influence in my life.

Mother didn’t write anything except letters and wasn’t even much of a reader, but as I let my memories float back, I see her taking my sisters and me to the library every week during the summer or filling out the Weekly Reader Book Club form to purchase books. And I’m sure she had her fill of me many times when I reclined on my bed with book in hand instead of doing my chores.

But it was the things she did in the shadows of my memory that I gather now and see how over a lifetime they’ve stamped an impression.

Every Easter, my sisters and I had new outfits, complete with bright shiny shoes, white gloves that buttoned at the wrist, and an Easter bonnet. Her dress was from the year before or maybe even the one before that.

When we went to Granny’s house thirty miles away, I spent hours at the piano figuring out the notes that I’d learned the names of in third grade. I ached to take piano lessons, but without a piano for practicing and knowing lessons were expensive, I knew it was impossible. Then Mother began selling Avon in our small community, dashing home at noon to fix Daddy’s lunch and being there to greet us girls when we stepped off the school bus. And the first thing she bought with her earnings? A brand new piano and lessons from the Baptist preacher’s wife in town.

Having a mom who sold Avon did come with special perks. Lipstick samples, Cotillion cologne, and a rainbow of colors to paint on our nails. Fingers and toes. We had Rich Moisturizer for our faces and compacts to powder our noses.

My last year of high school, Mother went to work in town, starting as a teller at the bank and eventually moving up the ladder to Vice-President when she retired. Her job required business suits, but she became an expert seamstress and made them herself because most of her paycheck went to my sisters and me away at college, where we were presumably making something of ourselves. 

The instant she retired, Mother started an antique business. She attended estate auctions. Set up a little shop at home. Sold at consignment stores. Navigated eBay on the computer set up in the spare room. This was her dream, the one she’d set aside but pined for while we had prom dresses and college tuition.

The memory jar has been stirred. I’ll still pass the card aisle without stopping again this year, but if I could, I’d invite my mom over so we could laugh and drink coffee while Eddie Arnold crooned in the background. Later, we’d pop some corn, put Dirty Dancing in the DVD player, and paint bright red polish on our toenails.

I’d thank her for teaching me that dreams are possible. I’d tell her I still get a lump in my throat when I see a child’s Easter bonnet and that I’m sorry I didn’t practice enough on the piano to ever amount to much. But mostly, we would sit and savor the moment, tucking it away with a lifetime of precious memories.