I got a “B” in Medieval History, I broke up with my boyfriend, I still wasn’t sure about my major, and I didn’t like my job at the local pizza parlor. Life was stressful as a freshman in college! So, I did what I always did. I called Mom. I pulled the telephone cord hard so it would reach my side of the dorm room (yes, we had phone cords), lit a candle, curled up on my new, pink bedspread, dialed (yes, we dialed), and told Mom everything.
Mom did what she always did–listened, asked questions, empathized. She told me to look at the bright side, to take each problem one by one, and to always stay focused on school as the first priority. I did pretty well with the first two (!), and always felt better after talking with her. After our call, I knew a letter or card that reinforced her messages would soon be in the mail to me. Because she knew I liked getting mail, I got both that time–a card with a note, handwritten in her red marker and a separate letter, both emphasizing her advice. In the two-page letter, she also wrote that my sister (Jennifer) had a show coming up, Dad made a lemon dessert for couples club, and that I need to think twice about spending $25 on that dress I said I liked (!).
Neither Mom nor I know why she called me Boos, but it stuck.
My mom passed away from Covid-19 on December 12, 2020. It was a long journey before that, as her dementia got worse each year. It made me cherish and hold every moment, every conversation, every connection even more. And, now, every memory.
I am grateful she did not suffer and that my sister was able to be by her side until the end. As I did after my dad’s passing, I’ve been going through old photos, notes, and letters we wrote to each other throughout the years. I saved most of them. She saved all of them.
I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s everything people think of about the Midwest.
Casseroles, summers on the lake, and nice people. We also drank a lot of pop (not soda), wore four layers of clothing in the winter, and often “swept things under the rug” to avoid confronting anybody about anything. I knew my parents loved me–they told me often. My mom expressed her love through both her hugs and words. But sometimes when we weren’t able to find the right spoken words, or we weren’t quite ready to talk through a disagreement, we would write letters of apology or a note sharing what we meant to say. I would leave notes on the kitchen counter in the morning. And in the evening, there was usually a note back to me on the counter, always ending with XOXOs.
When I went to college, with no shared kitchen counter to be our “mailbox,” we began using actual mailboxes. I loved getting mail from Mom.
A few years back, we cleaned out the house I grew up in. I discovered that my mom had saved every one of my notes and letters. I had clearly learned the art of “love writing,” as I call it, from Mom. I could feel my parents’ love for me all over again as I read each one of them…
…From age 4…
My mom made sure we had a magical Christmas experience every year just like she had growing up in Michigan. On one Christmas Eve, she went outside in 10 degrees Fahrenheit and rang sleigh bells to make it sound like Santa’s sleigh was arriving. And, of course, I would always leave a note and cookies for Santa Claus and carrots for Rudolph. Santa would always write back.
My mom is to blame for the “Santa intervention” that was needed for me around age 11 because I still believed.
The thank you note below highlights my new pierced ears I got for Christmas when I was 10 years old–four years earlier than when my sister got pierced ears. That was a big deal. How did I manage to convince my mom and dad that I had to have pierced ears at a younger age than my sister? Through notes, of course. Every night for two months prior to Christmas, I left a note on my mom and dad’s pillow explaining why I needed pierced ears and how responsible I would be taking care of my ears. My parents always appreciated my tenacity. They rewarded it.
Below is the thank you card I wrote them for not only my pierced ears, but for also taking care of me when I had chickenpox a month before Christmas (!), and taking me on trips to Sweden and Florida, especially since my mom never had the same opportunity to travel internationally when she was growing up.
While I may not know where my nickname “Boos” came from, I do know that my middle name “Jo” came from one of mom’s favorite books, Little Women. She would always get a kick out of the fact that I ended up being so much like Jo-an outspoken tomboy (in my earlier years), a curious writer, and someone who dares to do things just a little bit differently than everyone else. Like Jo, I even moved to NYC in my twenties. Mom gave me the book along with this poem when I was a junior in high school.
My mom loved writing poems. I always admired how she was able to rhyme words that I did not realize could go together. This was a poem she wrote to me when I graduated from college. I try to live by one of her life mottos: “It’s not what life does to you but what you do with life.”
If you have ever received a note, a letter, a card, or even a post-it from me over the years–maybe written with a black or red sharpie and filled with a few stickers and XOs (!)–you now know that it wasn’t just a note from me, but from my mom, too 🙂
As my mom laid in her bed with her breath increasingly strained, I am grateful I was able to say goodbye to her. My sister graciously held up the phone to her ears when her body was starting to shut down and she was growing more tired. Through my tears, I was able to get out, “I love you” one last time. Through her tears, she whispered “I love you” back to me. Those were her last words.