Memories of Mothers – ‘Recuerdos de Mamas’

Frances and Blair Tolley

The celebration of Mother’s Day holds very much significance for people all over the world. With Mother’s Day having come and gone quite recently, there are many remembrances that come to mind about both my own mother as well as my mother-in-law. Josefina Salmon Salas and Frances Knick Tolley are their names, respectively. My mother-in-law passed away at the august age of 95 in Lexington, Virginia, and my own mother passed away at the age of 88 in 1999 in San Antonio, Texas.

First allow me to begin with my mom since, after all, she is the reason that I’m here today! Here are a few things for you to know about my own mother, Josefina Salas. She was a hard task master, a strict disciplinarian and never would permit us to “get away with anything.” I don’t know how she found out what we did, but it was as if she had “eyes in the back of her head.” It’s hard to believe how a 4’9″ woman could be so direct, keep us four siblings in line and run a household at the same time. Although my mom was not afforded the opportunity to pursue education beyond high school, she and my dad saw to it that all their children receive a much-valued education. Thus, my mom, who didn’t have a formal education beyond high school, had a tremendous amount of knowledge about discipline, motivation, performing everyday tasks to an exacting level and the importance of an education.

Ah, another important memory of mom was her cooking, which was incredible! She could concoct anything our little hearts desired. I recall vividly mom’s stories about how, as a young woman, she used to work for Pat Yarbro, who owned and operated a beauty shop in the tiny town of Marathon, Texas in west Texas. She was the cook for Pat and her husband, Tom, a rancher.

Whatever mother desired to include in her cuisine, she would just order from the adjoining bigger town of Alpine, Texas, and viola, the items would be brought to her for her delicious meal preparation! My sisters and my brother still have remembrances of tantalizing home-cooked meals made from “scratch” and not making use of any boxed prepared food items whatsoever! Now, due to the present situation of the pandemic, guess what many of us are doing? We are cooking from “scratch.” Definitely, mom made sure that we learned cooking skills and emphasized several “quality control” aspects.

Speaking of quality control, that was very much emphasized in our annual tamale-making ritual. This was a yearly event and looking back it was a great life skill that mom taught us. She would prepare the meat, usually a roast beef, cook it and then shred and add chili sauce as well as spices. But before we even began to think about the delicious, she would line us up and ask us several questions such as: “Did you wash your hands? Are your nails clipped and clean? Where is your hairnet? You’re putting on that clean apron, right?”

Josefina and Eugenio Salas

When all the criteria were met, we proceeded with our tamale making task. Mom always insured that we spread the right amount of “masa” prepared corn flour dough on the pliable corn shuck. Of course, another question was asked of us! Are the shucks soft enough and have they been rinsed several times to remove any residue? When the answer was yes, we could go on! Even to this day, our grown-up sons carry on the wonderful tradition!

Not only did mom involve us with the tamale-making process and how to cook, but mom taught us, including our brother, how to sew and mend items, an invaluable skill today. Also, she taught me how to crochet and embroider; two skills that have kept me occupied and “out of trouble” for many years and produced beautiful handmade quilts, numerous crocheted doilies, as well as wall hangings. Maybe that could be the reason why as a young adult I pursued so many arts and crafts projects!

Mom’s love of plants instilled in us an appreciation of anything that could be planted and grown! We recall seeing teacup roses, varieties of rose bushes, crepe myrtle trees and all kinds of fruit trees in our small city yard in San Antonio, Texas. It’s hard to believe how our small city plot contained so many items such as fruit trees, apple, pear, plum, fig, pecan, tangerine and peach as well as strawberry plants. Any tree that mom desired, dad would plant for her, and we reaped the benefit of consuming such delectable fruit! Maybe that’s why to this day, I love plants and make a futile attempt at a summer garden!

While growing up, I occasionally resented the strict discipline imposed by my mother, but later as I reflect, there was much to be gained from having rules and consequences. I applaud my mother for the tenacity in sticking with her job as a mother, working part-time and with the religious as well as moral foundation that she established in her children.

Now permit me to continue with my mother-in-law, Frances Knick Tolley; although she succumbed at the age of 95, she never ceased to amaze me. I remember vividly when I first met her years ago; there she was on a high ladder cleaning the long, farmhouse windows in Virginia. I poked my husband and told him that he should be doing that task, not her! After all he is 6’4″ and she was barely 5 feet!

Frances worked full time as an administrative assistant at a prestigious VMI Foundation Library at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. Not only that, but when the crops came in she could be seen canning green beans and tomatoes, freezing corn or whatever needed to be processed. Yum, I still remember her corn pudding made from fresh Early Girl white corn — what a treat!

Frances also knew how to get any stain out of clothing, “rinse it in cold water first, let it set, be patient, and then wash in cold water and Wisk.” To this day, I also use spatulas quite often to get the last bit of mayonnaise or anything out of jars. Never waste anything and use it all up… how many years did I throw away bottles or jars with plenty in them!

Now fast forward several years and both women had become elderly and unable to care for themselves. We, who were nourished and taken care of by our own mothers, now have a reversal of roles. As my own Mom got feeble, needing a walker and a wheelchair, how life changed!

As siblings we shared the responsibility for her care and hired a wonderful woman, Chela. Mom was made comfortable and well-cared for by several of us. Wow, it’s hard to realize how everything had come “full circle.” She who used to meticulously care for us, now had to be cared for by others. When she passed away at the age of 88, we knew that we had done OK by her!

My mother-in-law Frances was an elderly person and very determined at times in her manner. I still picture her vividly, upon our weekend visits to Virginia, sitting alongside her, putting on the CD “100 Best Loved Hymns” and joining her in some good old Baptist songs.

Way back then, when she was in grade school, she’d say, there was no separation of church and state in schools. Frances would tell us the story about Mr. Cash, a preacher, and how he would visit their school and teach Bible verses as well as songs! Frances had a strong singing voice and, even despite her advanced age, she remembered the words to songs quite well!

As I sat on the floor trimming her nails and washing her feet, I recall when our own sons were little and how she helped me bathe Jeremy and Zach… my boys who are now young men in their 30s. Occasionally, when she allowed me, I washed, trimmed and rolled up her hair with “wave set” that is now called mousse.

She needed my assistance in getting up from chairs but did quite well in feeding herself her daily peanut butter or tuna sandwich along with three fig bars! She reminded me that those delicious fig bars were an integral part of her meal. Now, every time I eat a fig bar, memories of her flood my very soul

It’s not very often that we ponder the realization that we too will one day age. How will we react to others helping us out when we need it? Will we be accepting of the help? Will we be resentful of help as our bodies no longer can do the things that came so easily before? Will our minds fail us as we cannot recall basic information? Will we repeat things over and over again? Well, guess what ladies and gentlemen, we don’t know where life takes us and what path we will follow, but in the meantime, let’s just enjoy the ride.

I wrote this, yes in memory of Mother’s Day, but also to acknowledge the “mother” in all of us! Which one of us has not cared for a sibling or loved one? Not only that, but any person can frankly “mother” an animal. Think of the nurturing that occurs with our own dogs and cats! We also have numerous nieces and nephews; do we not care for them sometimes as if they are our own? As far as I’m concerned, mothers appear in various shapes and forms and gender does not matter! So, to everyone, I hope you had a Blessed and Happy Mother’s Day!

If you are interested in participating in the Elkins Writing Group, please contact Tolley at elkinswritinggroup@yahoo.com. Our group usually meets at the Randolph County Library in Elkins, but due to the pandemic, our writings will be shared via the internet. Once the library reopens our Writers’ Group will resume meeting, usually at 5 p.m. We meet quarterly and would love your participation. Looking forward to reading your shared writings.


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