Mother’s Day

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DSC02486Along with May flowers, Cinco De Mayo, Memorial Day, and a host of other special days, like Hug Your Cat Day on May 3rd, this month also brings us Mother’s Day. Held on the second Sunday of the month, it is a celebration in honor of mothers, grandmothers, and anyone who has mothered another person.

I am the daughter of Josephine Zabski who died on May 21, 2007. It was to her that every year in May, I would present cards, flowers, and/or other gifts. When she lived nearby and after she moved in with us, Bill and I would take her out to dinner. She could be very abusive and we spent some difficult times together, but we got through them, and I can honestly say, I miss her.

Bill’s mother died in 1978. Though neither one of us have mothers to honor in the flesh now, still on that day we always call them to mind and share a few memories. Sometimes sad, sometimes maddening, and sometimes hysterically funny … like the time we were sitting around the dinner table enjoying one of Mom’s absolutely delicious meals that she’d taken hours to prepare. My father was complaining about the number of deer hunters that trespassed on the land where he’d built and ran the Summit Lodge, in Killington, Vermont. Wanting to keep the guests who stayed at the lodge enjoying the fall colors safe, he’d posted the property with No Hunting or Trespassing signs. But still some hunters came, ignoring the signs, wanting to fill their freezers with venison.

Between bites of roast pork and sauerkraut, Mom said, “I don’t think that sign is enough. I think you need to get one that says, ’Trespassers will be violated.”

All of us, including Bill, my father, and my brothers choked on our food, and burst into nonstop laughter. Mom looked around the table wondering what was so funny. She didn’t realize she’d replace the word “prosecuted” with “violated.” Hurt and filled with shame, she ended the conversation with, “Well, you know what I mean!” We went on discussing other things, like the weather and the price of milk until we could get back to an easier conversation. Some of us continued to wipe away tears left over from Mom’s joke. Others made a hasty retreat to the bathroom to empty overly stimulated bladders.

mom1997Now, years later, it is still a very funny story and I still snicker to myself when I think about it. But I wish I could have been more sensitive at the time as to why she was so embarrassed. Though my mother was a very elegant and intelligent woman, she had only gone as far as eight grade in school. I think she often felt left behind by me, her daughter, a collage graduate, and my brothers who were still in the midst of their education. Only family members knew that about Mom’s schooling, but if you didn’t know, you never would have guessed. She could carry on a debate with the best of them.

Adding to her shame and vulnerability was the rise of the feminist movement, which completely confused her, despite the fact that she operated her own antiques business. But it was overseen by my father, who told Bill on his deathbed that, “You’ve got to take care of Jo. She doesn’t know how to write checks.” That was a flat out lie and we soon discovered all of the things that Mom knew how to do, that her husband wouldn’t allow her do, because she was a woman and uneducated.

This year, despite the problems Mom often caused in my life, I’d like to honor her spirit and the way she knew how to survive in a world that was not always a good fit for her. She may not have finished high school but she was someone who knew how to run a business and what to do when the going got tough. As I face my own life challenges, I think of her often and wish I’d told her that day, that what she said was funny, but in no way stupid.

Here’s to Moms all around the world!

You can read more about my mom and our days together in my memoir,
SCATTERING ASHES, A Memoir of Letting Go, to be published in September.
It is available for preorder on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.


  1. Joan, What you say about your mother resonates with me. My mother, too, never went past high school and although my father offered to send her to college, she declined. Dad had a doctorate degree from an Ivy League school. I wrote a lot about my mother, but I now understand more than ever why she often felt anxious and inadequate. It wasn’t just the feminist movement, but that for so long she held to the role of housewife and mother; so much so that I believe Gertrude lost some of her own identity, or, perhaps, never found it outside her husband and children. As I wrote in Morning at Wellington Square, who was my mother to me? Just as interestingly, who was I to my mother . . . Susan, the college educated daughter? I explored those questions in my memoir and always encourage others to do the same as it sheds so much light on that generation of women and on generation, too. Thank you for sharing your memories.

  2. Joan, I just love the way you confess and reflect and grow and love in your ongoing relationship with your amazing mother. Who says death ends relationship? After reading various versions of your story along the way, I can see you constantly expanding your capacity to understand things even she didn’t know about herself.

    Happy Mother’s Day and congrats on getting this close to sharing your story via publication!

    • Shirley,
      Thanks so much for your kind words. I think that confessing, growing, and reflecting are what life is all about. Without them what kind of a life would we have? I was just telling a friend last night that I could write my book all over again today and it would be different because I have learned so much more since I finished this version. I feel very blessed that I have been given a gift that allows me to continue to grow as I age.

      Happy Mother’s day to you, too. And may your travels bring you peace and new learning.

  3. Wonderful reflection. Shirley is so right. We continue to learn and grow from what our parents taught us by word and action long after they are gone. Looking forward to reading your book.

    • Thanks, Dorothy. There was a time when all I wanted to do is hide away in a cave somewhere. Getting myself out into the light of day has brought me the pleasure of growth and reflection. Fear takes a backseat to living every moment to the fullest, whether happy or sad.

  4. This was a lovely post. I like that you and your husband like to remember your mothers with stories about them. The “violated” story WAS very funny, but it’s also interesting how you reflect upon how you wished you had handled the laughter. Your mother does sound like a remarkable woman. (My parents also had an antique business!)

    • Merril, My mother was a remarkable woman and in many ways beyond her time. The older she got, the harder she fought for what she believed in. She was a survivor and I sometimes think that was her biggest gift to me.

  5. Happy Mothers’ Day to you Joan.