Hot Cereal On A Cold Morning

As I was on this morning’s walk, inwardly grumbling about the 10 degree temperature with face stiff from the brutal chill, I heard my mother’s voice.  “On a cold morning, nothing is better for you than hot cereal,” she said.

It’s true.  Mom was right up there with the Quaker Oats guy in advocating for hot cereal as a crucial part of the cold weather diet.  Every year, at some point around Halloween and responding to some innate motherly weather instinct that was beyond the ken of little kids, she would declare that the hot cereal season had begun.  In explaining why, she would use phrases like “fortified against the cold” and “stick to your ribs” — but in any case her declaration had the force of law.  From then on the Webner kids ate nothing but oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, Maypo, Malt o’ Meal, and Coco Wheats until, months later, the winter weather finally broke and Frosted Flakes would once again appear on the kitchen countertop.

They say a boy should always listen to his Mom, and I’d hate to be a disobedient son, so today I’m making some oatmeal with blueberries, brown sugar, and pecans for breakfast.  And because I’m now a grown up, a cup of steaming hot coffee and some orange juice sound good, too.

Mom’s Birthday

Today is Mom’s birthday, the first one since she left us almost a year ago.  She would have been 86 today.

00019463It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a year since Mom’s death, but time has a way of moving on.  We’ve all moved on, too, which is how Mom would have wanted it.  I think of her when one of her sayings or deliberate word choices suddenly pops into my head, or when I remember an incident from when the five little Webners were growing up.  It just demonstrates the many ways in which a mother can touch one of her children and leave a lasting imprint, and the memories are all good ones.

I’d rather think of Mom on her birthday than mark the day she died.  Birthdays are days to celebrate.  In the Webner household of days gone by, birthday were always celebrated with a light, airy angel food cake baked by Gramma Webner and ice cream.  The angel food cake never left the baking pan quite level on top, so when Gramma Webner iced the cake with her trademark frosting she would try to use extra frosting in the tilted down area to make the cake look perfectly level.  That meant one or two slices of the cake got more frosting than the rest.  As kids, we always hoped we would get one of the pieces with the extra icing.  Today, I’m hoping that Mom gets that special slice.

My First Momless Christmas

Yesterday I was baking my cookies, thinking about who would be getting their holiday tins and plates, when I suddenly realized that I’m going through my first Christmas without Mom.

IMG_7596It happened when I was cutting out the sugar cookies.  Mom always really liked them — or, in a reflection of the loyal, unflinching support we kids always got from our mother, at least said she did — and this year will be the first time in a long time she won’t be getting to eat an iced Christmas tree cookie that I made or sample one of my new efforts.

Of course, it made me feel sad and wistful, and the feelings caught me off guard.  When a loved one dies, time helps you deal with the everyday sense of loss because life goes on, but then a special memory or event that you shared with them sneaks up on you and you feel their absence all over again.  I remember one of my friends talking about how difficult it was to watch the OSU-Michigan game for the first time after his father’s death, because they had always watched it together.  In my case, baking Christmas cookies is what brought it back.

So I sat there for a few minutes, listening to the holiday music that was playing and thinking about Mom.  I thought about how I was with her the first time I ever helped in making Christmas cookies, when I was a little kid and the Webner family kitchen was a madhouse of flour-covered people with rolling pins and cookie cutouts and icing and bright sprinkles.  That’s one reason I’ve always liked making Christmas cookies.  And then I thought about how most of the Christmas music I listen to during my baking days, from Bing Crosby to the traditional carols to the Nutcracker pieces to the Chipmunks’ Christmas song, and just about everything in between, were songs that Mom loved, too.

IMG_7602And I’m sure I’ll think of her when I watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation at some point over the next few weeks, because Mom was a movie person and it was one of her favorites that always provoked some loud and happy laughter, and when I look at the little Santa mug with “Bobby” painted on it that she gave me years ago and I remember how there were little Santa mugs with names of each of the five Webner kids painted on top that were lined up on the fireplace mantle for Christmas — and then I’ll remember how much Mom loved Christmas all over again.

It made me realize that, although she’s no longer physically with us, her spirit and sense of fun and the little family traditions she created and the memories of those shared holiday events will always be with us.  I may be technically Momless, but there’s still a lot of Mom in my Christmas.

An Agnes Day

  
Since the Webner clan is down in Stuart, Florida to honor Mom and fulfill her fervent wish, we naturally wanted to spend the day together and stoke those memories of our times with her.  

As we talked about how to do so, the answers came naturally, because the memories of Mom, for each of us, are so clear.  We would go to the pool and the beach, of course, for Mom was a sun-worshipper of the first order who could spend hours by the pool or on the beach.  We would go out to eat at least one meal, because that was another favorite activity.  And, if a football game was on, we would watch it, together.

And we would play putt-putt golf.  The grandkids had strong recollections of happy times and sunny days on the miniature golf links with Mom.  So all of us trooped off to play putt-putt — and it was fun.  Then we had lunch at Conchy Joe’s, one of Mom’s favorite places here, then we spent time poolside and on the beach, and we finally ended the day by cheering like crazy and making a ruckus as the Buckeyes pounded Rutgers, 49-7.

We can honestly say it was a day Mom would have loved, and we felt she was with us.

Honoring A Promise To Mom

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Mom and Dad bought a condo on Hutchinson Island in Stuart, Florida in the late ’80s.  It became a special place for them.  When Dad retired a few months after they bought the condo, they began to spend more and more time in this enclave of seagrass, windswept beaches, and crashing surf.  I think Dad would gladly have moved down here full-time, but Mom wanted to keep a place in Columbus to spend time with kids and grandkids.  So they compromised, as successful married couples do, and split the years equally between their condo at Suntide and a condo in Columbus.

They spent many happy years here, and made many friends.  The kids and grandkids enjoyed the condo, too.  It was a great place to take little children, with a sunny pool and a beach and sandcastle building and boogie board riding and shell-gathering only a few steps away.  Kish, Richard, Russell and I came down here regularly, and so did my siblings and their kids.  We all have strong memories of this place.

Dad died in 1997.  He wanted his remains to stay here, and we honored that request.  The kids got older, the visits to the condo became less frequent, and Mom wanted to spend more time in Columbus with her kids and Columbus friends.  Eventually we sold the condo at Suntide, but Mom always said that after her death she wanted her remains to be brought here to be with Dad, always and forever.  We promised we would do so.  And this weekend all of the kids and grandkids are here to honor that promise and think once more of Mom and Dad and their little piece of paradise.

Mom and Dad and the condo are gone, but the sand and surf and sun — and memories — remain.  I got up early this morning to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic, and it was as beautiful as I remembered.  Mom would have liked it.

Remembering Agnes

IMG_5099We had the calling hours for Mom today, and it was a very nice occasion.  My siblings decorated the room with photos of Mom and produced a terrific video as well, and we were surprised and delighted by the people who had journeyed from near and far in a driving rainstorm to pay tribute to a woman who had a life well lived.

One of our friends who did not know Mom, but who stopped by to pay their respects, mentioned that the room really didn’t feel like a mournful occasion — and she was absolutely right.  There was a very positive vibe as old friends reconnected through their recollections of this kind and positive woman.  It was exactly the kind of upbeat event that Mom would have wanted, and appreciated.

The photo above was placed next to the sign-in book.  It is one of my favorites, of a fresh-faced, bright-eyed, dimpled ingenue just back in Akron after two years at the Mount Vernon College for Women in Washington, D.C.  The inscription, made out to Dad in Mom’s careful handwriting, reads:  “To Jim, As Ever, Agnes.”  I think it is a fitting coda.

The Obit Writer (II)

Here’s the latest work of the Webner family obit writer:  Mom’s obituary, which was published today in the Columbus Dispatch and in the Akron Beacon Journal, Mom’s old hometown newspaperMom hasn’t lived in Akron for 40 years, but we know she still has good friends there who would want to know about her passing.

IMG_5049The on-line versions of the obits appear on legacy.com, which must be a kind of national clearinghouse for obituaries.  The website versions of Mom’s obit also include links to an on-line “guest book” where people can give their condolences and share their memories, and directions to the funeral home where we will be having calling hours later this week.

The website also offers a link to ancestry.com and information about how many Webners were recorded in the 1920 census and fought on the Union side in the Civil War.  Other links provide information on funeral etiquette, such as helpful advice that you shouldn’t wear flip flops or glittery clothing to a memorial service.  It all shows how news websites are far more flexible — and provide far more advertising opportunities — than print newspapers.  People die, but the wheels of internet commerce roll ever onward.

Our family would like to thank everyone who has shared words of encouragement and support and kind thoughts about Mom.  They are all much appreciated.