My mother has been my threshold to Hestia. She was a real housewife and mother, back in the days when women thought the family was important enough to stay at home and create the atmosphere, the environment for family. Many women did it in those days of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s but many resented it, and the first chance they had they left to work and engage in their own interests.
I remember leaving school each day, happy to be returning home. My mother would be sitting at the table, cup of tea or coffee nearby, waiting to see if I, or my 4 siblings, wanted to talk. Her attention would be on us and our concerns. We did not have to fight for her attention with the TV, or her on the phone or her not home. She would listen if we wanted to talk or just give us a smile, a kiss, a “How was your day?” if we thundered past on our way to change clothes to play outside. Each day was the same: we were welcomed home. Many times my friends would come home with me to spend time with my mother since their mothers worked; there was no welcome at home for them.
Late afternoon saw Mom at the stove, preparing food that was nutritious according to what she knew at the time, attractive and generally low cost. Five children and one salary did not allow for extras, but it was a choice my parents made that would be best for the family and was what they wanted. She knew many ways to make inexpensive cuts of meat into meals, veggies preferably from the garden, spaghetti and meatballs, macaroni and cheese, etc. I had no problem with most of the meals but later enjoyed more diversity when I left home. But her example of taking simple, plain, inexpensive items and creating a meal worth eating stood me well in my early years of marriage and, then again, when we were trying to be self sufficient. As I’ve explored many types of food: low cost traditional, low cost vegetarian, raw food, foraging in the woods and even more involved gourmet meals, I’ve used her example as a guideline. Be creative, use palates of color and taste and texture, see preparing food for loved ones a true service to them and a pleasure for yourself. Whether it was baking bread and cookies, canning peach jelly and watermelon rind pickles, making and decorating tiered wedding cakes and birthday cakes or setting a tone for holidays by baking tons of hand decorated cookies, she used the flame of the hearth-stove in delicious ways.
At various times my mother would pull out the sewing machine to make colorful and elaborate dance costumes for me, Halloween costumes for us all, dresses and shirts, high school twirling uniforms. She could hand sew with uniform, minute stitches; could create handkerchiefs and scarves with beautiful, lacy tatted edges (those were the days when a fancy neck scarf over a cardigan set was popular); could make beautifully designed hooked rugs out of worn material; make beaded flower arrangements – the list goes on and on.
Summers found my mother making pickles, canning fruit and jellies, and garden relish. All year long the bed sheets were dried outside on a clothes line where they picked up the fragrance that only comes (no matter how hard dryer sheet companies try to duplicate it) from being out in the fresh air and the flame of the sun. Clothes smelled good from the outdoors and from being ironed, which seemed to release the fragrances even more.
She worshipped quietly, within herself even as she attended church each week. She did not harangue or argue her beliefs. They were so strong within her that there was no need. Even with an argumentative husband with very different beliefs, she went about her devotions quietly, a steady constant right up to her moment of death. Her children went on to find what was right for them but did so in that same quiet manner. In that area, too, I find I have that same sense of deep devotion although with a very different focus. She provided the steady, reliable comfort, a calm influence in the normal chaos of 5 kids and a demanding husband. She showed, she didn’t tell. She was the example. My mother was the hearth around which the family life flowed: the quiet, unassuming flame that provided the warmth and love that all of us carried with us as we left home and then passed on to our families in similar manner with a few changes.
She was Hestia personified, except for being married with 5 children and 2 miscarriages and she was always trying to please my father. And it is mostly her Hestia traits that I had wanted to emulate, and did emulate, as I raised my family. She was the soothing warmth, non-confrontational presence that provided us with the foundation in our lives. My mother was my threshold into Hestia.