Mothers and Daughters

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“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot… a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend.”~Ecclesiastes  3:1-7

I have spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone with my daughter over the last few weeks. I speak with her almost daily  about anything under the sun.  My conversations with her remind me of conversations I had with my own mother when I was younger, and had moved away from home.  Whenever I was missing her , or wanted to share my day, or ask about a recipe, she was only a phone call away, and always willing to spend a few minutes with me. Now my conversations with my daughter are very similar.  They can consist of only a few words, or they can be quite lengthy.

I have had much time over the last few months to think and contemplate in a way that I have not had time to do in the past, and for this I am grateful.  It has been a rare gift for me, and one that I have treasured. This time has allowed me to settle in to our new home,  to rest, to reflect, and to grieve.

I have always been busy studying, working, or being a wife and mother.  Not since the carefree days of my youth, have I had this much time at my disposal. After my husband and I moved to the state of Georgia, and after I finished unpacking our boxes, I would have loved to dive in and look for a job, but I couldn’t. I was not licensed  to work as a dental hygienist in this state, until last week.  I was waiting for the board of dentistry to grant me my state licensure, and I’m relieved to say that finally, they did.  Now I have started applying for jobs, so although I have enjoyed this time , I need to get back to work.

In the last three and a half months, I have joined a book club, attended church, become friendly with our neighbors, and socialized with my husband’s coworkers, all with the intent to establish roots and nurture new relationships.  People in the South are welcoming and friendly. It’s impossible to walk our dogs without having someone walk by, or drive by without a neighborly “stop-and-chat”.  I love that about our new neighborhood. I wish I could pick up the phone and call my mom to tell her all about it.

Just a couple of weeks ago I had one of those moments; I was baking some Finnish coffee bread because  I wanted to send a care package to my kids.  The  yeast-based dough grew exponentially, and spilled over onto my counter top.  I vaguely remember having a conversation with my mom about baking bread in warmer climates, and how the humidity and warmth can make the yeast work double time.  How I wished I could call her up and tell her she had been right about that.  Why is it that these simple things cause me to tear up on such a regular basis?  My daughter loves to cook and bake and  she will often call me for quick cooking advice, or to discuss recipes.  It reminds me of how my mom and I used to be. I loved being able to call her at the drop of a hat, and tell her the most mundane things; it didn’t matter that we rarely saw each other or that so many miles separated us. 

Our move to from Minnesota didn’t go swimmingly; the moving company was terrible.  So many things were broken , furniture was scratched or dented, my husband’s  dumbbells and toolbox are missing; lost forever.  These things are insured and replaceable, but the whole ordeal is annoying, and I would have loved to call my mom and complain to her about it, but fortunately for me, my daughter is willing to listen to my woes, and for that I am grateful. 

I was unpacking a crate of my mother’s China, which she had gifted to me several years ago.  She had been downsizing her things; she had no use for it and wanted me to have it.  My mother passed away just one short month prior to our move, and with that wound still fresh, I was unprepared for the onslaught of emotion that I was hit with when I unraveled her China from amongst the brown paper packing.  So many memories of my mother’s Sunday roast dinners and Christmas turkeys with all of us gathered around the dining room table sharing a meal.    Unwrapping her China was a grim reminder of how unavailable she was to me now; how I could not call her to share my experiences in this new land that I find myself navigating.  I couldn’t handle it anymore; I had to wrap up her China again and put it away where I couldn’t see it, where I could deal with it another day. Procrastination, in the guise of another project, was in order.

I had some decorative wall hangings that needed a coat of paint, and as little effort as I could muster.  Painting is not my forte, and I remembered a friend telling me about  a product called chalk paint, which sounded wonderful.  No primer was necessary; just a coat or two, and a light sanding, and you’re done.  Exactly what I was after.  I googled where I could buy this wonderful product, and it turns out, a retailer was very close to me, so off I went.  An antique dealer sold this paint, and google maps pointed the way.  I walked into the store, and on the display case right near the front door, what did I see?  Chalk paint? Certainly not.  It was an entire set of “The Friendly Village ” by Johnson Brothers, my mother’s  China pattern! As soon as I recognized it on the display case, I walked up to it and started bawling my eyes out. As I was standing there, wiping the tears and mascara out of my eyes,  a very worried looking antiques proprietor came scurrying over to me asking, “Ma’am, ya’ll doin’ ok?”  I responded, “Yes, I’m fine.  I’m just here to buy chalk paint!’ My goodness gracious…..I am not one to usually cause such a scene….

My daughter called me that day and I was able to tell her all about it.  I love that I can talk to her about these things. I love my baby girl. I can’t be sure but I suspect that she was crying too, on her end of the phone, as I told her my story.

In the end, when my mom got very sick, I felt very guilty for being so very far away from her, because I was unable to help her in the way that I wanted to. When I called her, I would apologize profusely. She would tell me, over and over again, that she understood, and not to worry, but that did not alleviate how I was feeling. After I moved from Minnesota to Georgia, I also felt guilty for leaving my children behind. The fact that they are young adults should have assuaged my guilt, but at the time it didn’t.  Now I see that they are thriving and doing well; perhaps they are doing even better than they would have if we had stayed and helicoptered them their entire young adult lives.

It wasn’t until recently, after my  mom passed, that I realized- life circumstances happen and sometimes we cannot control them, no matter how much we would like to.  This is just the way it is, and my mom  understood. I am sure she would not have wanted me to suffer the guilt I felt inside my own head. I was the one who felt guilty for  reasons that were out of my control, and I needed to let it go.  My  mom immigrated from Finland to Canada and was far from her own mother; of course she of all people understood how things were. I know she may have liked it if we lived close by, but we didn’t. She enjoyed our telephone visits, and she loved it when we had a chance to visit in person even more.  I now get it that she understood me in more ways than I ever gave her credit for. I wish I could have shared this epiphany with her before she passed. Our conversations would have been that much more peaceful, at least for me.

“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”~Jeremiah 31:25

Tilma Annikki

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Tilma Annikki Halonen

March 25, 1937-August 5, 2015

My mother immigrated to Canada from Finland as a young girl, and landed in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.  She worked as a chambermaid in a small independently motel business, and eager to meet other Finnish speaking young people, she started attending the Finnish Pentecostal church in that same city. It was here where she met Jesus as her Saviour, and where she also met my father, her future husband.

My father always told the story of their courtship with a sparkle in his eye, and as young children growing up at home, we heard this story often, and never grew tired of hearing it.  He had written down his version of this whirlwind courtship with my mother, and had me read it aloud at her funeral just a few days ago, and of course I did.  It was my honor to do so.  Her health had been declining over the last couple of years; she had had multiple surgeries and had suffered a couple of strokes.  This last one she could not recover from, and she died peacefully in the hospital with my father and my sister at her bedside.

My dad remembers how, more than 55 years ago, he and a couple of his buddies had been away in Toronto, and upon their return to the Soo, they had heard that a new girl from Finland had begun attending church.  They, of course, being normal boys, decided to go to the very next service in order to check her out.  He maintains that as soon as their eyes met, it was love at first sight, and the other fellows didn’t stand a chance.  He and my mom were inseparable after that.  As a matter of fact, he made sure of it, because the very next Friday, he bought her a ring, and she accepted it.  The only thing was, he had neglected to actually ask her to marry him; it was just simply clear to him that she would be the mother of his children.

When we were growing up at home and heard this very romantic story, my mom always interjected in this part of the storytelling. When she accepted the ring, for some reason, she didn’t understand it was an engagement ring.  I suppose because she was new to the country, she thought it was a friendship ring of some sort, and it wasn’t until their friends and acquaintances started congratulating them on their engagement, that she realized what had happened.  By the time she had gathered her nerve to give the ring back, she realized she was smitten by my father’s good looks and charm, and decided to go through with the wedding, which took place on September 17, 1960.

My father  went on to say that the Lord had blessed them for 55 years with 5 children and 9 grandchildren. He added that despite some hardship, he had an abundance of wonderful memories with my mother; he loved her with all of his heart, and he would miss her. He relinquished her into the arms of her Savior where He was waiting for her with open arms. Dad was at peace with her passing. He knew she was finished with her pain and suffering.

When my brother called to tell me of my mother’s passing, I thought of many things I would have liked to have told her, or done with her one last time, and then I realized how futile those thoughts were.  One of my husband’s and my favorite Bible verses is found in Isaiah:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

He  often reminds our children of this valuable lesson: there are only two things to take away from the past: lessons learned, and good memories.

With this in mind, I was reminiscing about my childhood, and the memories I had of my parents.  The years of my adolescence and the years I spent in college, before I moved away from home for the final time, seemed to be the most significant years for me, as I remembered conversations with friends and neighbors. These years were financially difficult, but I remember often we had someone, usually a friend of my older brother’s staying on our couch for one reason or another. The door in my parent’s house was always open; there was always an extra pillow or blanket; a cup of coffee, or a bowl of chili to share with anyone who needed it. We lived on the shores of a lake; my parents ran a small business with a convenience store , coffee and snack bar and dock rental for boats.  I think we gave away more cinnamon buns and coffee than we actually sold; our profit margin could not have been very large.

My father also sold firewood on the side. He cut down the trees, dragged them out of the bush, cut the logs and split them, and delivered whole cords of wood to whoever would buy them. We also heated our own home this way. It goes without saying that my mom and all of the kids helped him with this hard work.

I remember a conversation with a neighbor who marveled at how hard my mom worked alongside my dad splitting and preparing the firewood.  He told me he admired her grit and strength.  He said he did not know of another woman who could work as hard as a man, and be as devoted to her husband.  Another neighbor told me once, that as hard as he tried, he could not entice my dad to have a sip of beer or to utter a cuss word.  He had seen my dad get frustrated and lose his temper, but he had never heard him swear, and he had admired him because of it.  Hearing the admiration of my parents’ neighbors at a young age made me realize they were also worthy of my respect and admiration.  They preached love and acceptance in the community they lived in, and they did it without words.

Last weekend, my mom was in the hospital after she suffered her stroke, and it seemed as if she would recover.  I was at her bedside with my sister and brothers, and my father urged us all to go home and be with our own families, but my sister refused.  She adamantly decided to stay until the end of the week; nothing could make her go home.  It was a good thing she decided to stay because she was a wonderful support for my father when my mother passed.  I realized then, that she possessed the same resilience and determination that my mother did.  Some would say she was stubborn, I suppose, but she saw what needed to be done and she did it.

My mom was never one to raise her voice and lose her temper.  I see that quality in my brother Tim.  He is very patient and even- keeled most of the time.  I have never seen him lose his temper either.  My other brother Ray is now a dad to young children, and I love to watch him with his family; the doors of his home are always open to his neighbors and friends; and I see my parents’ gift of hospitality in him as he shares what he has with those around him.

I have spent many hours in conversation with my mother, in phone and in person.  She was never too tired to talk with me or to listen to what was on my heart.  She was kind and empathetic, and when my brother Brian calls me up on the phone, it doesn’t matter what he is going through himself, he is always quick to ask me first how I am doing.  He is very selfless that way, and I believe that is also a gift he has received from my mom.

It so true that we can’t choose our families, and no one family  is flawless, but I am so blessed to have mine.  As we laid my mom to rest this weekend, the time we had together was a sad time, but it was also a time of celebration.  We celebrated the blessing of having Tilma as our mother, and we celebrated as we knew she was at peace.

When my friend Carri found out my mom had passed, she gave me an incredible verse from the Psalms to read.  It comforted me at the time, and it comforted me again, when my dad so lovingly stated that Jesus was awaiting her at the gates of heaven, with open arms.

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“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” – Psalm 116:15