Sunday, May 9, 2010

homage to my foremothers

On this lovely (dare I say spring-like, despite the forecast of snow for later in the week) Mother's Day morning, I'm thinking of my maternal and paternal grandmothers who both were significant influences on my life and both passed away within the last 2 years. 

Madge Gilbert Hallstrom (b. January 15, 1912, d. January 8, 2008) was my father's mother. For most of my lifetime she lived in Mobile, Alabama where my grandfather last worked as a chemical engineer and later retired. She was born and raised in middle Tennessee and had the lucky fortune to go to college for 2 years after high school before her family couldn't afford to send her anymore. She was very proud of this accomplishment – although perhaps disappointed not a finish – and talked about it as a significant and shaping part of her life well into her mid-nineties.

Nanny, as I called her, loved nature and was a skilled gardener and knowledgeable bird watcher. She was a woman who honored convention and liked to know that things were done the right way. She had a lovely, traditional style and always looked her best. She was thrifty, but appreciated quality, and expected things to last. The inheritance I have of hers that I use every day and cherish fondly is a toaster given to her as a wedding gift in 1939. When she was in her late 80's, the toaster broke and she took it to be repaired. The repair guy told her that it would cost too much to repair and she ought to go buy a new one for $30. She scoffed at his insouciance and spendthrift attitude, bought the parts, and fixed it herself. It still works beautifully for my family every day.

Martha Elizabeth "Tommy" Miller (b. February 1, 1916, d. September 5, 2009) was my mother's mother. For my whole lifetime she lived in Montgomery County Maryland, with a couple of her last years in Charles County Maryland. She was an involved woman. She took on all sorts of causes, was an active member of the Democratic party, involved in the leadership of her Unitarian Universalist Church, worked off and on in my grandfather's law office for many many years, and was well known for her generosity of heart and open-door policy for every wayfarer. 

Grandmiller, as I called her, was an artist with an artist's sensibility. She had a bohemian style and loved to get dressed up and you could hardly take her picture without an fresh application of lipstick, but also didn't think twice about going out in hair curlers. She was a modernist in so many ways and her home furnishings reflected that ethic. They had lovely Danish modern furnishings, but the home was always comfortable and open to all ages and all stages, a modern sentiment in home management if ever there were one.

I see so much of the influence of these two amazing, long-lifed women in my life. And so much of their influence in the home I'm building for my family. The mix of modern and traditional. The open-door policy for family and friends. The thrift and appreciation of quality. The incorporation of nature and art. And from both of them the determination and strength of spirit to endure hard work and hardship with grace and good will (well, while I'm being honest, the grace and good will is a work in progress for me, to be sure) for the purpose of making a life full of people, places, and things they love and are proud of. This legacy surrounds me every day as I go to the building site.

Fare thee well, my beloved grandmothers. I miss you and love you both so very much and am so very, very glad for the influences you've had in my life. xoxo


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  2. Love your comments about my Grandmiller, my dear and lovely Mother.
    Thanks, Anna for taking the time to write this post.

  3. How lucky to have had such women in your life Travis, I see some of the qualities you mentioned in them in you as well:)

    Happy mother's day to you! I admire your mothering ways and you've been an inspiration to me as far as mothering my own two boys. Thank you.

  4. This is a beautiful post, Travis. I loved reading about these 2 amazing women. They must be so proud of you!