Mom Always Said…

Hope for the best, expect the worst, and try not to be disappointed.   My mother’s life philosophy was actually pretty upbeat for a kid whose family lost everything during The Great Depression, including her father, who died of Brain Fever when she was only eight.  Grandma Rhea supported her children by sewing and taking in wash.  My mom shared a bed with Grandma, so they could rent out her room to make ends meet.  But they didn’t always quite make it.  In the freezing Detroit winters, they nailed blankets over the windows because they couldn’t afford coal to heat the house.

Their only book was the family bible.  But Mom found a copy of Alice in Wonderland in a box of textbooks left by a renter.  She read it cover to cover.  As soon as she finished, she turned back to the first page and started over.  She had discovered her passion and her escape–in books.

Mom was the first in her family to attend college, working her way through by reading to blind students.  A person of quiet, if impractical passions, Mom passed on normal school and secretarial school to study Classical Greek and Latin, French, German, and Russian.  Italian, too, but she said that hardly counted.  “After Latin,” Mom said, “Italian is a snap.”

I remember going home from college to visit one weekend.  There were index cards by Mom’s reading chair, on the kitchen windowsill, on the nightstand by her bed.  They had strange writing on them.

“It’s Greek,” she explained.  “Passages from The Iliad, by Homer.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I’m memorizing it,” she said.

“But why?”

“For fun, dear.  After I’ve memorized The Iliad, I’m going to memorize The Odyssey.”

As a young college grad, she had never shown any interest in men, and was still living at home while working for the War Department.  Grandma planned on having a spinster daughter to keep her company in her old age, unaware that Mom had already promised herself she would move out and find a place of her own by her 25th birthday, if she hadn’t gotten married by then.   Mom just hadn’t met her intellectual equal.  Then Harry Baltuck came along.

He was handsome, funny, brilliant; every woman in the office had her eye on him.  But he had eyes only for Mom.  She was so nervous on their first date that she threw up in his car.  Actually, she threw up every time they went out.  “But he kept coming back,” she said, laughing.

He was intrigued, and not just because she was determined to remain a virgin until her wedding night.  It was a very quick courtship.

His proposal wasn’t exactly story book.  “Well, what if we made it legal?” he asked.

“Would you wear a ring?” she countered.  And the rest is family history.

They traveled many peaks and valleys in their time.  They had seven children and eighteen years together.  She was still young when widowed, and Mom received several proposals from Daddy’s friends and army buddies; some decent and well-intended, others not so much.  But Mom didn’t take anyone up on his offer.  She never remarried, or even dated.  Books, once again, became her passion and her escape.

In 1989, I sat at her bedside as she lay dying of cancer.  It had been a long hard battle.  Mom looked up and caught her breath.  “Harry,” she whispered.

“What did you say, Mom?” I asked.

“Harry!”  She pointed toward the door, but I saw nothing there.

“Mom, do you see someone?”

“It’s Harry,” she said, nodding.  “He’s standing right there.”

Was it the delusion of a dying woman?  Or the love of her life, who had been patiently waiting for twenty-five years to take her home?

Let’s hope for the best.  Just like Mom always said, you have to hope for the best.

All images and words c2012 Naomi Baltuck

144 Comments

  1. What a beautiful love story Naomi! And precious pictures. You are indeed fortunate to have been part of such a loving family! I can see a strong resemblance between your mother and Bea!

  2. Thank you, Madhu. My parents surely had their troubles, but there was much love as well. Oh, my goodness! I just scrolled up to look at her photo, after reading your comment, and there is a huge resemblance between them. I have baby pictures of my mom and Eli in which they could be mistaken for one another; I never thought that Bea and Eli look much alike, so I never looked for Bea in my mother’s face. But the thought that I can see my mother in Bea’s face gives me great comfort. My mom died the year before my first child was born, and she never got to meet them. But the babies were a great comfort to me as I grieved for her, because I felt some part of her lived on through them. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.

  3. Oh my word, this is beautiful. I think every good romance has some trouble. It’s what makes the survival of it do special. You told this in the most touching way. Just lovely.

  4. Thank you, Naomi. It gives me hope. It sounds like she really did have the best life has to offer – love, family, and stories to share.

    1. She had a hard life in many ways, humble beginnings and widowed with seven children, but she always felt thankful and fortunate in all the ways that matter most. Thanks so much for stopping by, and sharing your thoughtful comment.

  5. As I was reading, I was thinking how wonderful you learned your family’s history before your mom died. Then I got to the end, and oh my! An absolutely captivating, charming, heart-warming love story. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Carol. It seems that every generation has one or two members that are interested in family history. I would ask lots of questions, and wrote down a lot of things so I wouldn’t forget. Oh, how I wish I had asked so many more questions!

      My son Eli has actually written and illustrated a graphic comic after interviewing me about family history and my childhood. It is funny and sweet and sad. It gives me comfort and pleasure to know that the family history will be passed on in a brilliant new way.

      Thanks so much for your sweet words.

    2. Dear Nancy,
      I don’t know how this message slipped between the cracks, but I want to thank you for your sweet comment, and for taking the time to visit. I hope you had a good summer. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to.

  6. It’s a good thing I haven’t put on mascara yet (I should probably skip it all together today since it’s graduation day). I think your mom may have inspired me to learn Latin. I loved the photo of your family! As the others said, a lovely post.

    1. Thank you so much. She actually talked me into taking Latin, so I had three years of it in high school. It has, as she promised, helped with vocabulary, figuring out the meaning of unfamiliar words, by knowing what the Latin root word is.

      Oh, this is a happy day for you! Congratulations on the successful launch of your daughter. I will be thinking of you both, and wishing her all the very best as she begins a new journey.

  7. this is such a beautiful post. I can easily identify with your mother, and some of the choices she made… and I am sure it was inspiring to be raised by a woman like that; to have her as an example as you were growing up. It’s a shame you didn’t have more time with her; a loss for those who loved her… but the 18 years she lived with the partner of her choice were certainly a quality life for her.

    1. Thank you, Shimon. My mother was an amazing woman in many ways. She always said, “The best friends you’ll ever have are the ones you raise yourself.” I often see women my age out shopping or playing or walking with their moms, and I am happy for them, and hope they know how fortunate they are. Thank goodness I have some good sisters! When we need to, we take turns mothering each other. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments.

  8. Naomi ~ what a wonderful and touching story. Tears filled my eyes as I continued to read your words. You are gifted in so many ways. It must be your mom living on in you~ I have no doubt that your father was there to take your mom’s hand so that they could catch up on lost time. Beautiful…. Happy Mother’s Day to you, friend ♥ paula

  9. Good to see such a wonderful story down in writing and captured for the whole family. Your mother sounds like an extraordinary woman. A wonderful post Naomi.

  10. This is so beautiful. It gave me goosebumps (in a good way), Naomi.

    And that picture with their friend show that they REALLY had eyes only for each other! That’s a priceless photo right there.

    Oh, I need to tweet this out. It’s Mother’s Day here now in my country and this is a perfect story to start the day. 🙂

    Have a happy Mother’s Day, Naomi! I’m sure wonderful surprises await you this Sunday. 🙂

    1. Hi Tita! Thank you. I love that picture, too, with everyone else focusing on the camera, and their eyes locked on each other’s across the room. Feel free to share this with anyone you like. Happy Mothers’ Day to you too.

  11. Lee shared your beautiful tribute with some of her friends (I am one of them)…Thank you for telling such a touching and interesting story, a window into your lives and your wonderful mother’s.

  12. Such a warm & candid post Naomi…it’s always amazing that after every valley-like experience, God does lead his flock gently on…

  13. Not only did I get chills, and cry…I was mesmerized. What a wonderful story. I would love to have known your Mom. Thank you so much for writing this beautiful post! Terri

  14. What an awesome way to celebrate your family’s history! Thank you for sharing it with us!!!

  15. Wow. You tell your parents’ story so beautifully! I think he did come back for her when it was her time to pass on. 🙂 So lovely. Their courtship made me laugh, their reunion in death brought tears to my eyes.

    1. Hi Kourtney. It was eerie to see the recognition in my mom’s face as she stared so intently at the doorway. It was so natural, like she looked up and saw him there, and she seemed so lucid at the time.

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments!

    1. Thank you, John. I’m a professional storyteller, but I love photography. The photographs that catch my eye are the ones that also tug at me, that capture a whole story or the hint of one, with a single image. I appreciate your visit, and look forward to visiting your blog.

  16. Naomi, I followed your link back here to your blog to find this beautifully poignant story. I’m so glad I did.

    And I love those photos– expecially that wonderful one of your Dad. I have one just like it — except that it is of my dad!

    I’m looking forward to reading more.

  17. * In the freezing Detroit winters, they nailed blankets over the windows because they couldn’t afford coal to heat the house.

    * Mom was the first in her family to attend college, working her way through by reading to blind students.

    * “For fun, dear. After I’ve memorized The Iliad, I’m going to memorize The Odyssey.” (P.S.: I read Homer too)

    * In 1989, I sat at her bedside as she lay dying of cancer. It had been a long hard battle…

    a great tribute to your Mom, Naomi!

  18. Thank you for sharing such a personal and poignant story, Naomi. I echo what the comments here have noted, lovely tribute to the woman that is your mother. 🙂

  19. It’s so reassuring and life affirming to me that when someone we love boils down our lives to what? 350 words? that the overwhelming essence that’s left is love and joy. You did that masterfully. Your mother sounds like a very special lady. Thank you for letting us know her. – Nikki

    1. Thank you. I’m sitting here thinking that it’s rather remarkable that those most memorable women in our lives are still helping us to make connections with other women in our lives today. 🙂 That we live on in the stories of others for as long as our story is shared?

      1. Nikki, you are so eloquent! There is an African story called The Cowtail Switch, retold by Harold Courlander, that says exactly that. I have a feeling both our litters will have stories to tell!

  20. I remember a long ago memory of what my mother said about your Mom. She said “I’ve never known anyone who loved someone as much as Elinor loves Harry” She said she just lit up when she she would see him. I remember he was such a passionate strong personality. My memory of her was she was very dear sweet woman. Honestly, you could feel her intelligence! Your pics are wonderful.

    1. Karen, thank you so much for sharing that story! It is very unusual to find someone who was there, and who has actual memories of those times and the people who lived them. I would love to hear more of your stories, to know more about you, and where you are now.

  21. Reblogged this on Writing Between the Lines and commented:

    Hi friends,
    Best wishes to you all for a Happy Mother’s Day. If your mom is still here, may you share hugs and laughter. If not, may you share stories and love to keep her close. In West Africa they say no one is truly gone, so long as they are remembered. For those of you who have not met her, I’d like to introduce you to my mom.

    1. Dear Tess,
      Thank you so much for your visit AGAIN! It is wonderful to think that we have known each other more than a year now! I hope your Mother’s Day was a happy one.

    1. I am really a very down to earth person, but when that happened, it took my breath away. Thank you so much for your visit, and for sharing your kind response.

  22. It was definitely Harry! A beautiful story Naomi – thank you so much for sharing your mom (and dad) with us! Happy Mother’s Day 🙂
    Blessings,
    Terri

    1. Dear Terri,
      I hope it was. It was so clear in her mind! Thank you so much for your visit. It is always a pleasure to see your beautiful path of purple and red and white flowers appear in my mailbox!

  23. Oh, Naomi – this made me cry tears of happiness and sadness. So sad that your mother is no longer with you and so happy that Harry was there for her in the end. This is such a beautiful story and the fact that your mother threw up on the first date (and a few after that) had me in fits! What a beautiful tribute to an amazing woman. *hugs*

    1. Dear Dianne,
      Your comment just made me cry too! She died in 1989, and I still miss her every day. The year after she died my first child was born, and I cannot tell you what a comfort and joy my kids have been to me. I see her in them in so many ways. Thanks so much for your visit, and for your very thoughtful comment. I hope your Mother’s Day was a happy one.

  24. Wow! There is more to genes than just facial resemblances in your family. What an incredible legacy you come from!

    1. Dear Cathryn,
      Thank you so much. I loved the beautiful piece that your wrote in tribute to your mother. Perhaps because we were both raised by single moms, we can appreciate all the more what amazing women our moms were under very difficult circumstances. I remember many touching stories that you told about her, and your brother. Thank you for your visit, and for your very kind and thoughtful comments.

  25. Reading poetry to blind kids – acting out stories – like mother like daughter – what wonderful stories of love and loss, Naomi – can still hardly see for the tears. 🙂

  26. Your story hit me from out of the blue, Naomi. Saw your mother again standing there, in the dining room, when I met her. She had such a strong presence. Still has … in you and your kids. What a lovely, loving tribute to her.

    1. Dear Meg,
      I forgot that you had met my mother! I don’t know why, but that means so much to me. It also makes me realize how very long I have known you, dear friend! I am deeply moved by your words, and so looking forward to our visit!

  27. She must be so proud of you Naomi as you are of her – a beautiful bio but the images speak volumes

    1. Dear Laura,
      Thank you for your thoughtful response. Mom took a vicarious pleasure in all the adventures her kids had, ones that often took them off the beaten path. I do think she would have been proud, but she was easy to please. She used to say, “Seven children, and not one of them in jail!”

  28. Thanks for the great Mother story. It makes me miss my Mom. Wouldn’t it be fun to have them back for just a day or two? The photo’s are touching to say the least.

    1. Dear Jo,
      I am so sorry for your loss. Sometimes I can hardly believe that my mom has been gone for almost twenty-four years. There isnt a day that goes by that I don’t think of her, and miss her. But I guess that means we must have had pretty special moms, doesn’t it? Thank you so much for your visit, and for sharing your story.

  29. Naomi –
    Absolutely beautifully written. I love the pictures that you used, especially the one of your mom and dad with all their friends around the table – the way that they were looking at each other – what a priceless picture. And the picture at the end is pretty amazing too – a lot like your amazing mom! Thank you for sharing your family with us – I hope your Mother’s day was a special one for you!
    Becky

    1. Dear Becky,
      I do think that photo says so much about their relationship. Thanks so much for your visit, and your really thoughtful response. It was a good day, and I hope yours was too.

  30. succinct, complete, well-‘illustrated’ (topical photos). if i didn’t wallow in LILDOAAD (late in life delayed onset adult attention disorder) i’d sit up and take notice. i might, anyway

  31. Such a lovely piece of writing and a wonderful woman. Thanks for stopping by my blog, really appreciate it and looking forward to reading more from you 🙂

  32. It makes me happy to see your family. So much love, joy and blessings. You have an amazing mom and her light shines beautifully to everyone around her. Happy Mother’s day.

  33. I can’t believe I am crying as I write this. I wish I had known your mom. Thanks a lot for posting this!
    And I am sure that she did see your dad.

  34. Naomi. This one was a real grabber for me. You got me. Simply beautiful memories. Special family pictures. Your love for your mom and her ‘intellectual equivalent’ is touching, honest. Never stop writing, sharing your feelings, telling your stories. So much love.

  35. As I’ve told you, my dear mother said she never knew someone who was so in love. Your dad had such a larger than life personality, and your mom loved every minute. She was one of life’s wonderful flowers!

    1. Dear Karen,
      Thank you for the kind words. Our acquaintance goes so very far back, almost to the beginning, and it is rare to meet someone now who actually knew them. Best wishes to you and your family!

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