My mother, yesterday was her birthday and Sunday is Mother's Day so it seems appropriate to make her the subject of this week's blog. I don't think I can do her justice, of course. I think I will mainly write from my memories of her and of the things she told me about her life.
On May 7, 1920 in Seattle, Washington, my mother, Margaret Edith Kells, was born closely followed by her twin brother, Milton Carlisle Kells. Only one baby was expected! Her parents, Lucas Carlisle Kells and Edith Rosetta Stefani Kells, had no idea they were having twins! So one can imagine the shock and then the running around to get extra clothing, blankets, etc. Not to mention a second name! The twins joined their older brother, Lyman, who was soon rather neglected as his mother was so busy with them. In 1923 their sister, Doris Muriel, joined the family. It was a close knit family. Edith worked hard taking care of the children and the house. Their father was an attorney who loved books and music and his family! My mother had many happy memories of her Dad. He called her "Bunny" and also called Milton that so they were Bunny and Bunny. All four were musically inclined and all sang. Lyman and Doris especially sang opera. Margaret played the piano and sang. She did this all her life until finally she was no longer able to play. That was a sad day.
One of the memories she told us was their cabin in Brownsville. This was on the Olympic Peninsula across the sound from Seattle. They would spend the whole summer there, their father joining them on the weekends. They had a rowboat, swam in the Sound, went hiking, and all the summer activities available there. One year they made a quilt while there. (I believe they made two actually, that's what my mother said, I only ever saw the one). It was a nursery rhyme quilt. Alternating blue and white squares. In the white squares various nursery rhyme characters were embroidered. My mother, her brothers and sister each made one square, their mother did everything else! My mother had this quilt on her bed and my sister and I used to love to pick out the nursery rhymes and read them. She eventually gave it to me and I enjoyed it with my kids. I gave it to my daughter at her baby shower for her first child. I think of my grandmother making the quilt. It might have been kind of lonely out there in the country with just your kids, seeing your husband only on the weekend. I never heard her complain about it, though.
During the year the family went to Edith's parents home in Issaquah every Sunday. Here Margaret would see her Aunts and Uncles and play with her numerous cousins. Her grandparents were Italian immigrants and the family was very important to them. There was no floating bridge yet so they would drive around Lake Washington to get there every week-a long drive!
All of the kids were top students, the boys were whizzes at math and science, my mother felt less adequate in these areas but was very good in English and History. Education was very prized in the family and they were all encouraged to go to College and Graduate School. They all went to the University of Washington and lived at home.My mother told me that when she went to College she put together a wardrobe based on Teal and Aubergine. Would be stylish today, too!
It was while she in College that she met John Peterson. According to her, his father was the new Minister at their Church. She was singing in the choir and he saw her and wondered who that beautiful girl was. He met her and they started dating and fell in love. They got married in Jan 1943. She had a beautiful satin wedding dress with a train. I have her wedding book and she meticulously recorded her shower, wedding and honeymoon with all the wedding gifts and what she spent for everything. From this I discovered the perfume that she wore (A Night in Paris) and found it at a vintage store. I was going to have my daughter wear it at her wedding but we forgot!
It was wartime. She followed him to Boston where he attended Harvard Business School as part of his Quartermaster Corps program. When he went overseas she went back home to Seattle. She got a teaching degree and tried teaching but wasn't very happy with it. After the war, I think, she enrolled at Cornell University in a Master's Program in Dietetics. However, while there she came down with multiple sclerosis. A "mild case" but she would have it the rest of her life. What I think is remarkable is that she had two children despite this, by natural childbirth (which was not that common at the time). My Dad went to Chicago for his PhD
In 1955, the family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. My Dad had gotten his PhD and had a job as head of the Economic Development Research Center. My mother didn't like the South. She didn't do well physically in the heat. She couldn't find women who were interested in ideas, books, etc. She hated it when her daughters came home talking like southerners. She hated the segregation. When I was in the Second grade (so within the year we moved there) she got pneumonia and was in the hospital for a week or so. But mostly I remember our life there as fun. We took family trips, went to Museums, parks, etc. We took a big trip through the West. In the summer, my Dad would come home and take us to the Municipal Pool for a swim and then to the foot long hot dog stand and then for watermelon. It was great! My mother wanted us to have the experience of Girl Scouts. She had been a Campfire Girl in her youth. So she became out leader, first as Brownies and then as Girl Scouts. We did all kinds of activities as Girl Scouts and she worked hard to find things to do, crafts to make, etc. She was very creative in all this. She gave us creative birthday parties, all of which are written up n my baby book. My daughter has read these and has carried on the tradition by putting on creative birthday parties for her children.
My mother was a very talented person, most of which she used in creating crafts and activities for us. She also made a large picture from crayon which expressed how she felt when she had the operation for her breast removal. I remember many art projects as well. And music was a major love. She played the piano and sang and my sister and I would sing with her. We would sing in the car when we drove anywhere, we would sing doing the dishes, etc. She took us to whatever musicals came to Little Rock. We saw My Fair Lady, South Pacific, Oklahoma and Madame Butterfly. She made sure that we had piano lessons, took instruments in school, and had ballet lessons as well. She and my Dad also ran the Unitarian Sunday School program so, again, there were many creative art projects. I particularly remember building a pyramid out of sugar cubes when we were studying the story of Moses.
One of my mother's fortes was letter writing. She wrote excellent letters and people wrote her back. She wrote to family, including distant cousins, and friends. I recall one woman who became a correspondent for life. She was the mother of one of the girls in my Girl Scout troop-Anita Baker was her name, I don't remember her mother's name. They were sort of White Trash, not very educated, sort of crude. My mother helped the woman and Anita loved the Girl Scouts so the lady became my mother's friend for life. She wrote to her for the rest of her life! I, too, regularly received letters but I was not so good at answering.
In my opinion, my mother was the heart of her family. They all loved her and she kept them connected through her letters and her basic niceness. Her brothers and sister all came back to Seattle as they retired. I think she was the draw. She was frequently referred to as a saint. She didn't like that too much because that sort of implies sanctimonious and serious, whereas she was a real, flesh and blood person who loved to laugh and enjoy life. She always kept her childlike wonder at things, was always curious and interested. And growing up we laughed a lot. The reasons for thinking she was a saint are myriad, however. She had multiple sclerosis most of her life which made it harder for her to walk and do things, yet she never complained about it. She never made others feel guilty because they were healthy. She always looked at things from a positive side, always looking for the silver lining or the good news aspect. She loved people and let them be who they were, not trying to make them into something she wanted. I rarely remember seeing her cry. So, okay, maybe she was a saint or as close to it as we'll meet in real like these days.
In 1959 my father fell in love with his secretary and my parents were divorced. This was very hard on her. Her health really went downhill dramatically for the year or two after this. In June of 1960 my sister, mother and I moved back to Seattle. As she felt a good wife should, she had followed my father through all the moves. But she really missed living among her family in Seattle. I remember soon after we moved to Seattle we went through a big barrel in my grandmother's basement. It held my parents' wedding presents. They hadn't had a home where they could have them. So for 17 years they had never been used. She was happy to see the beautiful things but it was bitter to know how her marriage had not turned out the way she had imagined at her wedding.
Then in 1968 she met Arthur "Mac" McDonald. Similar to her first husband, he saw her singing and playing the piano and wondered who that beautiful woman was. He found out and they were married in September 1969. They were very good for each other and had a loving and successful marriage. Her multiple sclerosis however deteriorated and she was eventually in a wheelchair and then in convalescent care. She didn't quite make it to the 21st Century, dying on 5 Dec 1999. She was cremated and wanted her ashes scattered over Puget Sound. When Mac died in 2012 my sister found that he still had her ashes. I think he had not been able to part with them. His family made cairns for them both together on Mac's boyhood farm in Oroville, Washington. I think she would've been happy about that. She was a wonderful woman, a terrific mother, thought by many to be a saint, known by me to be a real person with a positive outlook and a young heart.