September stories – Tess Tales

Uncle Steve, Stella's husband Joe, Stella, Hilda (Mom's youngest sister) and Mom

Uncle Steve, Stella’s husband Joe, Stella, Hilda (Mom’s youngest sister) and Mom

I think of my mother often during September. It’s her birthday month. In our family, we never celebrated birthdays to the extent that people do today. Yes, there were cards and usually a cake or a favorite meal but there were rarely gifts except for the youngest kids.

My mother died a few months after her 75th birthday. She was already ill and I feared it may be her last so I tried to make it special – the “Tess Way.”

We had not one but three birthday cakes. All were her favorites – banana cake, coconut cake and her famous chocolate cake recipe. We needed three because for her the best gift was family and this family is cake-eating family.

It was nothing formal. No meal was involved just an invitation to stop in to wish her a happy birthday and get a piece of cake. Everyone did. The best part was that the timing was staggered with people stopping by from mid-afternoon to early evening. That gave her a chance to talk to people one-on-one. She loved it.

She just loved catching up on what everyone was doing. The extended family was huge and someone was always doing something interesting. Stella, my oldest cousin would catch her up on her 5 siblings and all their kids. She loved when Stella stopped by.

Stella was my mother’s older sister’s oldest daughter and they were only 10 years apart. They grew up together so when they got together they were thick as thieves. I loved to hear the stories. They giggled like teenagers. They would be appalled at indignities committed and amazed at the changing world.

Their world did not have microwaves or dishwashers. Banks had tellers and no drive-through lanes. Neither did fast food restaurants. Oh wait! There weren’t many fast food restaurants back then. People ate at home.

This was before Al Gore invented the internet. Phones were tethered to the wall and TVs had a big ass end that never fit anywhere.

As with any extended family, there were some characters. My mother always said my Uncle Steve (her brother) was a hoarder. In fact when he died there were over 50 old broken-down TV sets in his barn (among other “treasures”). He was saving them for parts which he never needed.

When my mother died she had twenty pounds of sugar stashed away in the attic along with extra toilet paper. For people who grew up during the depression and then went through the rationing during World War II, what else would you expect?

She had extra nightgowns still in cellophane and unopened underwear. I don’t know why but perhaps she hit a sale.

Can you imagine what people would say about you when cleaning out your things after you die? (Note to self – be sure there is nothing scandalous in the drawers)

My mother was quite a character. She wasn’t June Cleaver although she wore pearls to church. She was outspoken about her opinions and somewhat intolerant as her generation could occasionally be (Archie Bunker?). In some ways she was a renaissance woman.

There was never anyone more kind or loving.

Happy belated birthday Mom!



26 thoughts on “September stories – Tess Tales

  1. What a lovely remembrance! I just love the 20 lbs of sugar and the TB stashed away. My aunt was the same way. Just couldn’t have enough emergency Ponds cold cream. You know how dangerous dry skin can be!


  2. Three cakes? Your family knows how to party. It sounds like you all made her day very special indeed. Your Mom sounds like a lot of fun. This is a lovely tribute, Kate. Happy (belated) Birthday to your Mom. I’m missing mine as well.


  3. I loved this post, and I would have loved to have met your Mom, too.

    I remember one time, about 25 years ago, I bought the cutest entry rug for Mom as a Mother’s Day gift – it had a golden and a black Labrador on it, her favorites, and I could just picture it in her shanty (Canadian for porch). Imagine my surprise when I visited later that summer to find it draped very elegantly over the back of the Chesterfield (Canadian for couch).

    when pressed (delicately), she commented “a rug like that is far too nice to be stepped on.”

    And I’m pretty sure she has a dresser full of brand-new nighties, socks, housecoats and slippers!

    3 cakes = rock on!


    • Love the Canadian lingo. We also called our back porch a shanty. It was an enclosed entry room that was unheated and tended to get full of stuff like boots and buckets and things we didn’t want to leave outside or take inside. For us, Chesterfield was always a coat.


  4. What a beautiful birthday memory, Kate. I love the three cakes and simply holding an “open house” where everyone can come by and just share love with her. That’s a fantastic gift. My grandmother had many nightgowns and such in her drawers, all unopened. We reasoned that what she wore nightly was ‘good enough’ and when given new ones as gifts, she was holding onto them for the day the “old ones” wore out. Never wear the best…save it! Such was that generation, I think. What they would think of our disposable, throwaway tendencies! I love the way you talk about your mother, Kate. I can feel the love. ox


  5. My parents (and us) cared for many ancient relatives (some not actually blood relative, but in farm communities connections are connections) throughout the years. Mom was rabid about cleaning out stuff “so we wouldn’t have to” – careful to leave a prepared story behind. It was faster, but somehow bland and nonemotional. She probably just wanted my sister in law out of the house quickly.
    I love the 3 cake idea and will remember that – having “drop ins” is so much better than one loud crowd in a lump.
    Happy Birthday Kate’s Mom: you did a good job – she turned out well.


  6. I love everything about this post and think that the 75th birthday celebration with 3 cakes sounds PERFECT.

    I don’t think people would find too many surprises sorting through my things . . . because I’ve already shredded my old college journals that were for my eyes only. :mrgreen:


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