My mom passed away gently this past weekend at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. She was only 25 days from turning 91. It was a life well lived because it was lived by her rules. All of her children were present over a very long 52 hours of closing the door on 90 years of life. Nothing came easy with mom.
My mother was a child of the Great Depression. She was born at home in a house just 100 feet from the edge of Quechee Gorge in 1922. Her mother was a Perkins from South Woodstock, and her father from the Richardson family of Hartland. In the end she had two older brothers, one older sister, and one younger sister. She rode in a horse-drawn funeral wagon converted into a bus to school each day, on loan from the cemetery association to the Town of Quechee School District. She played dolls on the rocky edge of Quechee Gorge, and a walk to the store always involved two treks across the railroad bridge that spanned the gorge. She didn’t like looking down between the railroad ties.
When my mom turned 10 the family moved to Andover, N.H., where it acquired a home and some tourist cabins on the corner of Routes 4 and 11. This purchase was the result of a tip from my grandfather’s cousin, who was also the grandfather of Donald Hall, former N.H. and U.S. Poet Laureate. Donald Hall now lives in his grandfather’s home nearby, and the family plots in the Andover cemetery are adjacent, so Hall’s wife, poet Jane Kenyon, is buried next to my grandmother.
My mom did not like moving to Andover at age 10. She loved Quechee, and vowed to return to Vermont someday, which she did in 1941 when she married my dad in Rutland. She lived in Vermont for the remainder of her life.
After 10 years of trying to have children, my parents adopted a girl from the Elizabeth Lund home in Burlington. Three years later they adopted a boy from the same place, and that’s how I acquired my parents. Five years later my mother found herself pregnant, and gave birth to a boy, my younger brother. Needless to say my parents were thrilled. Mom was a tough disciplinarian. Fortunately, adulthood gave me the eyes to see where my mother was coming from, and the events and culture that shaped the way that she was brought up. However, none of it was ever easy.
Over the years my mother would detect needs and act to fulfill them. Sometimes it was money, and other times it was material goods, all of which I refused. It frustrated her until she realized that all I wanted was a mom to talk to, and to support me in my struggles. She became my friend, and she did the same with my brother and sister. While each of us may have thought that we had a unique and exclusive friendship with our mother, we ultimately learned that it was not exclusive, but each friendship was unique, tailored to the child and completely honest and supportive. My mother loved children and was a superlative grandmother ... the quintessential sweet little old lady. Although she never spoke of it, she was a consistent supporter of the Kurn Hattin home for most of her life, and that makes me proud. However, that pride pales in comparison to one simple stand that my mother took about a decade ago.
The church that my mom faithfully attended had a minister that railed against gays and gay marriage. One Sunday the sermon was especially vitriolic. My mom stood up, walked out, and never returned to that church the rest of her life. I cannot begin to tell you how proud this made me and my children. It is a family story and legacy that I hope is passed down for generations, a gift far greater than any inheritance could match. It was an act of bravery and a blow against small mindedness and ignorance.
In 2012 my mom moved to the Valley View Home in Fairlee, a homey, loving facility with a maximum of seven residents. She absolutely loved it there, and they loved her. By the way, they have about three openings right now, and I could not recommend a finer facility. My mom was a tough old Vermonter, independent as all get out, and the best friend anyone could ask for. Rest in peace, Barb, you earned it.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.