Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Birthdays Go On, Whether We’re Here or Not

Today would have been my mother’s 91st birthday.   I can hear her now in her unwavering tone… “shhhh…don’t tell anyone my age!”  Ever since her age lumped her into the official “senior” category at age 65 she was entitled to the perks of being a senior.  But take those perks?  Not on your life. 

Regardless of the discount offered, not in a million years would she have pulled out her driver’s license to prove she was a senior…no way.  One day I reminded her that she qualified for the discount at the little restaurant where we were dining.  She gave me “the look” and firmly pronounced, “I’ll pay the full price.”

My mother left a lasting legacy through her family and her work.  It was less than 4 years ago I wrote and read the following eulogy at her funeral:

“Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life.”

Surely this quote by Albert Einstein can be aptly applied to my mother, Jean.  She WILL live on through her 9 children, her 17 grandchildren, and her 17 18 19 20 21 great grandchildren (and in the many more greats still to come). 

You know, my mother not only had her 9 children, 17 grandchildren, and 21 great grandchildren, she had some other “children”, too…she gave life to a dozen books.  An accomplished author, I am so proud to say that her work will live on forever. 

But in a small way, I feel I kept her from writing maybe another dozen more!  When my children, Lori and Michael, were preschool age, rarely a day would pass without me packing up the kids and heading to grandma’s and grandpa’s.

Dad was retired, but worked about 6 hours a day at his eldest son’s business.  The time he was away was mom’s quiet time at home when she would be lost in deep-thought, writing.  But it was at that time, I would come knocking at the door with my two little ones in tow. 

Mom never seemed to mind the intrusion, spending time, sometime hours, talking with me and the kids and always having the time to read them a story.

Always a mother, always a grandmother, and always the business woman.  From the early scratch paper and pencil, to the old manual typewriter, to the electric typewriter and, finally to her proficient use of the computer (which, at first, took some prodding to get her to use), my mom could ALWAYS be found either sitting with pencil in hand, at the keyboard, reading the newspapers from cover to cover, watching every news show on television, or taking a daily time-out watching her favorite TV show…Jeopardy.

Mom was born on December 20th, 1920 (a year I am sure she would normally NOT want me to broadcast) to her parents William Courtney and Gladys Beer Maddern, in the small upper-peninsula mining town of Ishpeming.  Although times were hard, my mom always spoke fondly of her childhood. 

She talked about the good times she had with her 3 best friends…the swimming in the lake, ice skating during the long harsh northern Michigan winters, even playing with dolls until she was 16…..and always spoke so proudly of her alma mater, Ishpeming High School…no other school could compare…not then, not now, not never!!! 

It was there that mom developed an early love of music and writing. After marrying dad in 1940 and moving to the lower-peninsula, mom delved into history and research, writing countless short-stories and articles for numerous publications, and always working on her books.

She was an editorial associate for Writer’s Digest School, director of music at St. Alfred’s Church in Taylor, and an organist for 20 years at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Dearborn Heights where she and dad raised us.

A past president of Detroit Women Writers, mom frequently spoke at writer’s conferences, and, with one of her biographies, Tangled Web: Legacy of the Auto Pioneer John F. Dodge, appeared on Kelly & Company, Unsolved Mysteries, and the Phil Donahue Show.  And I can’t forget to mention the countless music students she taught piano to. 

For years she visited the homes of students to give them their ½ hour music lesson….not to mention her own children’s lessons and, later, her grandchildren’s lessons.  I guess one of the great things about that is even today, many of her grandchildren have pianos in their own homes……such a testament to how her talents and guidance filtered down to other generations…..THAT is what will keep mom alive.

My mom was so very proud of her English heritage, too.  She felt a special closeness to England, so much so, that in 1964 she ventured off, alone, to what she thought of as “her country”.  She felt this closeness through countless stories told to her from her father.  Quite a journey for a mother of 9, (boarding the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth) but it was something she just had to do.

A life not without hardships, I remember when in 1966 my brother, Tony, was sent to Vietnam.  For that year he was gone, I recall my mother pulling up the footstool right in front of the TV and watching every clip that was shot of that awful war, and there was lots of film shot back then that was broadcast daily. 

During that year, I remember that if she was watching the television news, the other kids quickly learned not to interrupt…it was hard on her watching that conflict come alive on TV, knowing that her son was in the middle of it.  When I look back now, I can’t imagine how she did it.

9 children!  Can you envision that?  And she and dad instilled pride in every one of us, and turned us into the hard workers we have become.  Mom ALWAYS had dinner ready…and I mean a big dinner with all the fixings…every day.  Had to be home at 5…no matter what.  Had to be in bed by 11…no matter what.  House rules.

Mom had a long life, but in the past years, experienced terrible pain, but she was never a complainer.   As long as she could read and write, she was content.  Two days ago, mom gave up her fight.  She is at peace now.  The Lord called her home, and one day, we will all be reunited. 
Love you mom. 


  1. Lovely Joyce. Your mother sounds like someone I would have enjoyed knowing. Your tribute is touching.

  2. How sweet of you to write. Hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas season.

  3. That was beautiful, I would have loved to have met your mother.

  4. Very admirable



  5. Thank you for the lovely comments, Marianne and Sue. I wish you both the best during the Christmas season.

  6. Hey Joyce,
    I accidentally came across your blog as I was searching "wrinkles don't hurt" , and am glad I did.
    I have recently lost a very dear family member , and reading this blog about your mother was great a condolence.
    Thank you

  7. Thank you for your sweet comment, Misfit! It's difficult to lose someone, but your memories can keep that person alive in your heart! Take care and I wish you the best.


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