Missing Miss: I’m already missing Miss Helen. For those who haven’t heard, my mother passed away a week ago last Friday, six days after her 87th birthday. She left us quietly and seemingly painlessly, at home, in her own bed. This was important to her, and a mixed blessing to us. Of course we’re very sad she’s left us. But she did not want to leave the home in which I grew up–a home into which she moved as a young wife and new mother when the house was new, in 1953. We were increasingly concerned for her living there alone. My sister Colleen and my cousin Cathy had been doing a stellar job taking care of her there (thank you both!), but it was becoming clear that a few stop-ins a day were no longer going to be enough to ensure her safe care. In typical Miss Helen fashion, she took the matter into her own hands, and saw to it that we did not have to worry. Strong-willed and independent to the end.
Quite a few people know I refer to my mom as Miss Helen. But I’m not sure how many know the origin of the moniker. You see, she was a remarkably capable retail manager, for a fashion apparel chain called Gantos. All of Gantos’ female employees wore name tags that identified them as “Miss.” For a brief time, she was my boss there, when I was a teen and became the morning maintenance man. Working in four locations, I stayed with Gantos through my college years, and with thanks to Miss Helen, the Gantos location near the MSU campus is where I met my wife. Hence, calling her “Miss Helen” is a nod to her as a competent, take-charge leader; a role model; a source of discipline, determination, and good taste.
Formative Foundation: I lost a lot when I lost my mom. Because of her I: love the beach, know how to cook and clean and do laundry, understand that the world owes me nothing, and that anything worth having is worth the work required to achieve it. And because this is a writing blog, perhaps most importantly to this aspect of my life, I am grateful to say that through her came my love of reading. And if I hadn’t become a reader, I certainly wouldn’t have aspired to write. When I left the house where I grew up after the funeral services, I only took a few mementos: a dozen or so pictures and an armload of books. These were books of hers that I know were formative to my writing journey. They are dog-eared and worn. But to me they are treasures.
My cousin Jim, a Methodist minister, performed the funeral services, and beforehand he asked my siblings and I for our recollections and impressions. As you will see if you read on, I am no poet, but this tribute to my mom just sort of flowed out of me before I met with Jim. I’m not sure it’ll translate well for those who didn’t know her, but since many who attended the service asked me for a copy, and I’m not sure who all I promised to send it to, I thought I’d share it here.
To Miss Helen
Bright of eye, a smile so wry, from under thumb but ready
A mate to suit, an anchor root; quiet, kind and steady
With rolled up sleeves and dirty knees, they build a sturdy nest
To family life, to mom and wife, Jane Wyatt knows what’s best
Through frugal years no time for fears, the race is with the rat
But apt our dress, no more—no less, “Oh, you’re not wearing that!”
The homework’s done before our fun, with sass best left unsaid
We claim done chores to head outdoors, “You swept under the bed?”
When two leave home, go out to roam, a ranch becomes a cage
The fresh-faced beauty hits midlife and comes to fear old age
How Stepford, Steel, and valley’s dolls made Cosmo’s ways seem festive
The Feminine Mystique revealed a prism for the restive
Lest we forget the day’s dictate, a woman’s job was flaunting
But out she strove onto a stage, defying dogma daunting
She swiftly found her suited role, purveyor of high fashion
And even quicker did she rise, with wits and guts and passion
As for me, her lessons stuck; I’m clean, I cook, I strive
I’ve made enough mistakes to claim, it’s good to be alive
To Mom I’m grateful for so much, beyond the rent at State
Beyond my life, her greatest gift: my longing to create
She opened up a doorway to a place where I’m unbound
Where Pillars of the Earth were sought, and Far Pavilions found
It seems she never understood her role inside my work
I pray that now she clearly sees this writing gig’s no quirk
If I could send an ending note to reach her up above
I’d let her know she lives on still, there is no end to love
I’d say to her, “Your task is done; we’re clean and try our best,”
I’d tell Miss Helen, “Job well-done. And now it’s time to rest…”
Thanks, Mom. For everything. Love you, miss you. Be at peace. Till we meet again.