April 24 • 06:38 PM

Life the way life happens, all in perspective

January 25, 2017
Sea poop. That's what Mike's cousin Jessie called pea soup once many many years ago, and the little slip of her tongue became part of this family's anecdotal history. On days like today, when the thick fog refuses to dissipate, those are the first words to pop into my brain. A fogged-in day seems like a just-right day to write about this contemplative few weeks. One Tuesday we buried the physical remains of my mom, the next Tuesday we became first-time great-grandparents, and this past Tuesday was that iced-in day, with abundant time to reminisce. Press deadline comes before the next Tuesday, so I don't know yet what it will bring. For today, though, I'm sitting here wondering where all the time has gone because my oldest child turns 50 today! And my, oh my—the posts I'm seeing this morning (especially the one from his younger brother teasingly calling him "an old geezer") are making me feel ancient. Vintage, maybe, as one having gained some wisdom over many years. I like that better.

I'm pensive partly because as we were celebrating our anniversary at Lucky's last evening (because the actual date had been while we were keeping our vigil at Mom's bedside) Mike asked, "So, what was your mom's favorite food?"

I don't think he was asking, "Where did your mom like to go to eat out?" We both kind of knew that Mom and Eating Out hardly belonged in the same sentence. Still, the question caught me up short. I couldn't believe that I really didn't know. It occurred to me that it had been a very long time (maybe forever) since I had even thought of her as having a favorite food. She cooked what she had. I remembered that how we celebrated birthdays back when I was very young was that she would ask what WE wanted for our birthday supper. But I wasn't sure I had ever heard her say what SHE loved to eat. I knew her style of cooking. Simple, fairly predictable and balanced meals featuring whatever we grew, or what she could create from that built-in flour bin in her farmhouse kitchen, shortening of some kind, and a bag of sugar. A little salt, a little seasoning, a little leavening, and there you have it. It was all good, but pretty basic.

Contented. That's what she had been. Loving what she had as opposed to needing to have what she loved.

I guessed, now that the question had been posed to me, that she must have had favorite foods; but it wasn't like I could call anymore to ask her what they were. So I did the next best thing—called my sister Kathy.

"Well," Kathy told me, "We always made a chocolate dump cake for her birthday. She liked that."

"What's that?" I, the kid who had been out of the loop for a very long time, asked.

It's like a chocolate cake with Cool Whip, she told me. And she said it had bits of something on top. Toffee? Heath Bar? I've already forgotten. "And she liked date bread. And angel food cake. And sour cream raisin pie."

When she mentioned the pie, I remembered. That's about the only thing I remember her making because SHE liked it, except the Bear Creek broccoli soup she had made the last little while she had lived in the house yet—after Dad had died. "Because I get my green vegetables that way," she had reasoned. I had chuckled. For a woman who had fed her family green vegetables year-in, year-out, day-in and day-out for as long as I could remember to be calling that half a floweret or so of broccoli (she ate off that pouch of soup at least twice—probably three times) "her vegetables" had cracked me up.

As an afterthought, Kathy continued. "The last few years before Dad died, they DID like to go to McDonald's once in awhile. They would each have a cheeseburger, and split a fries. And they would order two apple pies."

My mind went back to that week in Iowa. In one of many regroupings most of the siblings were gathered at my sister Pearl's, working out some details for Mom's funeral. Pearl's house had become the meeting place that evening, because she had just gotten a Cricket and was trying to craft a tile for in Mom's coffin. Her Children Arise and Call Her Blessed, the tile was going to read—IF the new gadget ever chose to cooperate. Between tries, she handed her laptop over to me. 'You have to read this."

"Aunt Martha was so unassuming," a cousin had posted, "and she gave the best hugs."

None of us had ever really thought about it. She was just...well...just Mom. But we all looked at each other in that moment and agreed that our cousin—the other Kathy—had NAILED it. "That right there is our mom."

Because I was oldest, I had been asked to say a few words at the funeral. There they were—two simple bullet points—about all I could manage for notes anymore and be able to read them. Contented. Unassuming. I could weave my thoughts around just those two simple words.

The reveries by now have all kind of wrapped themselves around and through each other to bring me to a place of peace. My mom had modeled a simple, yet notable unassuming contentment—a legacy worth diffusing into my family and out to the world around me.

So there you have it—births and death, ice and fog, life the way life happens. All in perspective.

Email Willene at

Willene Tanis is a longtime resident of the Imlay City area and an active volunteer in the community. Many readers find her 'Perspectives' column to universal and uplifting.
04 - 24 - 18
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