Sunday, May 14, 2017

'jullie looks like her mother very much'

 By Julie Tollefson

The other day, while organizing boxes of junk in our storage room, I rediscovered a true treasure: an autograph book I got in fourth grade, in all its mid-1970s groovy hippie glory. I remember carrying it around, begging people to sign it. It’s filled with notes from my cousins (“To a cute little gal who really is a neat cous!”), teachers (“Best wishes in the future”), and friends—many decorated with peace signs, natch. My favorite entry is a three-page almost poetic ramble from my friend Holly (my second-best friend, she clarifies in her note), who ended with this assessment of me (reproduced exactly as she wrote it):
she sits by me.
she reads books.
she gets 100s in spelling.
jullie gets as in math.
and works good.
jullie looks like her mother very much.
Groovy times call for groovy Christmas gifts for Mom.
Those few short lines set loose a flood of memories, and the timing was perfect for this Mother’s Day weekend. All of those things Holly wrote about me were true because of my mom, especially the bits related to reading. I read books because she read books, and she instilled that love of the written word in me from an early age. I aced my spelling tests not because I studied like a fiend, but because I read all the time. I absorbed words.

And yes, I do look like her, though maybe not quite as much now as I did when I was nine.

My mom volunteered—a lot—at my schools from elementary through high school. My friends probably knew her almost as well as they knew their own moms. She typed the elementary school newsletter, attended endless PTA meetings, and had some sort of monopoly on the room mother gig for holiday parties and field trips.

Four generations: My son, my mom, me, 
and my grandmother.
I remember our kitchen full of my classmates as we made popcorn balls or maybe caramel apples for some fundraiser or other. I don’t remember the occasion, but I bet she does and I bet she can tell us the name of every kid who helped.

We had a sign in our front window to let kids know that our house was a safe place to get help if they felt threatened or freaked out (part of an official block parent program, I think—do those even exist any more in the age of stranger danger?). Only one classmate ever came knocking in fear, and even though she was kind of a bully and I was convinced she hated me, my mom gave her a safe space in our home.

As a mom, and an all-around decent person, she set the bar high.

In lieu of the card I didn’t get around to sending: Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thanks for setting a stellar example and for fostering the love of reading that’s made me the reader and writer I am today.

On this Mother’s Day, what are some of your favorite memories?


  1. I have to admit that I consider Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and their ilk to be driven by commercial interests, and so I don’t choose to participate other than to give my mother a call since I don’t live nearby. Which isn’t to say, I don’t have lots of memories of my mother, and they continue to grow as she is in pretty good shape for someone in their nineties.

    So here’s the one that popped into mind: It’s Christmas Eve and I’m in Jr. High and finally of the age where I am called upon to assist in constructing Santa’s gifts for my sisters. Does anyone remember those cardboard appliances (Tab A into Slot B?). I digress. My father and I build a “Whirligig” for one of my sisters. We work outside on the covered patio. In the middle of the construction, that is not going all that smoothly, a storm blows up, absconding with the instructions. In pouring rain, I search with a flashlight and find them tangled in a bush. I change clothes, the storm ends. We finish the construction and decided to test it out.

    It’s well past midnight. Merry Christmas. My mother and I are about the same weight. She takes one seat; I take the other. She pushes her side in; I pull mine out. She pulls, I push. We begin to spin. Faster and faster we go, giggles turn into laughter—-and can still generate laughter if either of us bring it up, or the fact that neighbors happened to be looking out the window and caught us in the act.

    ~ Jim

  2. That's a great memory, Jim. I'm giggling a little myself imagining it.

  3. I am so fortunate that at age 94 my mother is still alive and I am continuing to have memorable times with her.

  4. What a great post, Julie! And what a great photo to accompany it, too!

  5. great story, Jim!

    Before I left for college, Mom made sure I was a seasoned pro: house painting, furniture refinishing, weeding and dressmaking, followed by construction of pinch-pleated draperies when we bought our first house.

    But never pruning Mom's treasured roses, not until the year she died, when she stood next to an open window telling me how to cut each cane.


  6. Lovely blog and pictures, too. Julie. My mother has been dead for 27 years, and I still miss her. I was the oldest of five kids growing up, and then after I was married Mom had another. She had her hands full caring for all of us, but was a good mother, who loved to read and had a bit of a sense of humor, too, when she wasn't ill. When she was sixteen, she came down with rheumatic fever and missed half a year of school which damaged her heart. Several times over the years she developed rheumatoid arthritis and my father had to carry her up and down stairs and to the bathroom. The only complaint I heard was when she felt terrible about not being able to care for her family. The things she loved were flowers, reading, and going on picnics with our family almost every Sunday from spring through fall with her sister, brother-in-law and our cousins. We went a different place almost every Sunday.

    A year after I got married, we started going on camping trips with my parents, whatever
    siblings were at home, and later that included my children, too. She so looked forward
    to those two week camping trips to different states and different campgrounds. She loved
    to travel and one winter my dad and her drove to Florida for a vacation. Oh how she loved
    that trip. When dad had trouble driving in later years, one of my sisters took over and
    drove them on vacation where they stayed in moteels then.

    My mom was fascinated by the possibility of space aliens and read every article or book that referred to the fact that there might be some. This was back in the 1950s and 60s.
    She and my father were both avid readers.

    Once as a teenager when I was moaning about something or other pertaining to school and the popular girls, she told me I was just as pretty or prettier than the popular girls, it's
    just they had more money to spend on clothes. She overlooked the fact that I had acne. I
    never forgot that. She did buy us nice clothes always looking for bargains and her taste
    in clothes was good. Mom had two open heart surgeries replacing a bad valve ten years apart. She didn't make it through the 2nd surgery which was a year after my father died.

  7. I am very fortunate to still have my mother with me--going on 90 and still clear-minded and well read. She was always ready for an adventure. I once took her across Europe, and she even agreed to spend nights in a tent to save on travel expenses. If I've been a good mother at all, it has been because of the wonderful example my mother gave my sisters and me.

  8. Thanks for your comments. Warren and Grace - you both are lucky indeed. My grandmother just turned 98, and I've always looked up to her, too. Strong women in our family!

  9. Thanks, Kait!

    Margaret, I'm delighted by the idea of your mother directing as you trimmed her roses. What a terrific story!

  10. Gloria, how wonderful that you have such lovely memories of your mother! And her fascination with aliens is fantastic!