Sunday, May 2, 2010

I Learned Mothering from Them: Part One

This week I'm writing about women in my life who have helped shape me into who I am today. On Friday, I invite you to join me in a little Mother's Day writing challenge. It seems that most women detest Mother's Day because of the guilt it conjures. We are all too hard on ourselves as women. We have faults, but we also have strengths. So:
What is one weakness you have when it comes to mothering (only one)? And now that you've identified it, how are you going to improve?
What is one of your strengths? Feel free to brag yourself up, either seriously or with humor.
On Friday, I will attempt a link post (we'll see if I'm that technically adept or not), so all can be edified thereby. Think about it. You have time. I look forward to Friday!

Thaola Humphrey Tucker
In June 1989, I became Jennifer Tucker Denton.
In January 1990, I stepped into my Grandma Tucker’s life.

I don’t remember when her dementia began, or even when it became noticeable. She couldn’t carry on a conversation for long without repeating herself. She would leave her “Meals on Wheels” on the front step or feed it to stray cats. She lost weight and could no longer care for herself. That’s when her five sons made the hardest decision children make—it was time for a rest home. The complication in this decision was what to do with her home, since its equity would be financing her care. Luckily for all concerned, Brad and I were attending BYU, just down the hill from her home in Orem, and we would willingly take care of the house and yard, pay the utilities and taxes, then we’d see what would happen next.

I was thrilled to be out of apartment living and be in a real house. Not just any house. This was the house that my grandparents had bought when they were first married in 1940. This place housed memories, and I was about to become part of them.

All of Grandma’s stuff had been moved into a basement corner, out of the way. And it would call to me. I didn’t want to cross some sacred privacy boundary, but I wanted to know Grandma, and her things would be able to tell me stories she no longer could. One day when I really had nothing better to do, I opened the lid of her cedar chest, feeling simultaneously voyeur and detective.

I had always known certain facts about Grandma’s life. She had given birth to six children—five sons and a daughter, Karen, who died at nine months of age from pneumonia. My Grandpa was killed in a car accident in June of 1959 when my dad was twelve, and she had never remarried. It was fact to me, but it never seemed real until I lifted that lid. I found treasures immeasurable: Her wedding dress that fitted me perfectly (why couldn’t I have found it eight months earlier? I would have been married in it?). A lone pink baby rattle, split down the seams from the effects age with the beans precariously balanced inside. Beside the rattle were two sweet baby dresses, one white and one pink, tucked safely inside the chest, preserved perhaps for a second daughter that never came. Numerous photos of family times with boys and Dad and Mom. Then, newspaper articles detailing a tragic car accident and a posthumous Eagle Scout award. Suddenly, her life story came alive to me. Suddenly, it was real, not fact--REAL. And I learned so much about her from its contents and living within the walls of her house—Thaola Humphrey Tucker was beautiful. She was talented. But most of all, she was resilient and strong. Strong enough to raise five rowdy, hard boys on her own, with help from stalwart neighbors and devoted uncles. Strong in her faith and in her resolve to play the hand dealt to her with grace.

Grandma T died five days after my own precious Tucker Christian was born--May 22, 1992. Brad had been accepted to law school in Chicago so we were preparing to leave Utah, and the profit from the sale of the family home were now needed to fund the last few years of her care. Coincidental? I’ve never thought so.

The house was sold, later remodeled, then demolished and replaced with condominiums. Gone is the cherry tree that generations of Tuckers raided every July until our stomachs ached. Gone are the white and purple lilac bushes just outside the back door. Gone are the race tracks carved in the dirt under the house, where her boys would play cars for hours. But I won’t ever forget lessons I learned while we lived there.

In 2002 I lost my own precious daughter. I too have a trunk protecting memories of unrealized dreams. But now I look to her as an example of endurance—endurance with a smile. And if she could do it, so could I.

Some of her earthly possessions will stay with me forever—two dressers, a small end table, and a set of china cups and saucers we rescued from the trash.

And I like to think that some of her lives on in me:

Some of her resolve to make the best of what life hands out
Some of her dedication to family and God.
And her knowledge that life is temporary, but families are forever.

Thanks, Grandma.


  1. Absolutely beautiful, Jen. Makes me so thankful my own sweet grandma is living with me.

  2. What a beautiful post about your Grandmother, it's a wonderful idea and was very interesting to read. Thank you for sharing!


  3. Thank you so much for sharing your Grandma's story..and your own too. I'm so sorry for your own loss. Isn't it amazing what we can learn from the women in our lives?

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your Grandma's story..and your own too. I'm so sorry for your own loss. Isn't it amazing what we can learn from the women in our lives?

  5. Oh Jen, this is such a beautiful tribute to your grandma. How awesome it must have been to move into her house, with all those memories, and make your own memories to blend with your childhood. Cherish this, always.

  6. really beautiful

    and I love the notion of you "sneaking" into her wedding dress... adorable

  7. Thanks for the beautiful way to start a week of remembering amazing women. Thanks for the reminder for me to reflect on the women I know and love and who have taught me. Great Monday morning read :)

  8. what a beautiful letter about your grandmother....finding her little 'treasures' and keeping them alive on paper is what it is all about!

    thanks for sharing your story too...i'm sorry for the loss of your little girl...

    can't wait to join in friday's post!

  9. This one made me cry, Jen. As lovely as your writing is, your spirit is even lovelier.

    And this story of your grandmother and how her memory strengthens you reinforces everything I've always believed (known) about women and the legacy they leave.


    PS. I will look forward to joining your link on Friday. What a great idea!

  10. This is so well-written and interesting. Thank you for sharing. :)

  11. Wow, another great post! Thank you for sharing this story it was a very lovely tribute to your grandma...

  12. Aren't we blessed to have such great women to go before us and teach us some of the best lessons we ever learn?

  13. I loved this post about your grandmother. We are all a part of the women who came before us. I'd love to know where in Orem she lived.

  14. She was an amazing woman. I, too, learned a lot from her and appreciated the unconditional love I always felt from her.

  15. Fabulous, as usual. What a great experience to live in her house and get to know her better that way. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

  16. Jen...loved this post. You are a gifted writer my friend...I feel like I know you! And I will be back on Friday also to join in...Loved hearing about your family history. And I've never asked...but wanted to say I'm so sorry about the loss of your daughter. The picture of her name in the sand on your header always takes my breath away...

    (and yes..still deciding!)

  17. Jen, this post brought tears to my eyes as my Mother is in fulltime care with advanced Alzheimers. She was formally diagnosed at age 54 just 9 months after I had my first child, although when she came to Seattle to 'help' during this time it was already obvious things weren't right. It was the hardest time for me - dealing with a new baby, trying to understand and help my Mum and a husband in a medical residency programme with the long hours that that entailed. Mum has not known or responded to anyone for a few years now, not even my Dad who drives 45 mins each way to see her every day. Oh how she would have been a wonderful grandma.

    On the flip side to this is my Mother-in-law who I have met once, years before becoming engaged. I have a mixed race marriage - I am European and my husband is NZ Chinese. No family members from his side attended our wedding and our four children have never met this set of grandparents. It is so hard to see my children closing off their hearts to their grandparents already, even if things changed in the future. I always hold out hope that things may change and pray that this will happen one day.

    How lucky you are to have had the opportunity to know such a special woman in your family history first hand through her precious keepsakes.


  18. what a sweet & poignant post. love that you have a few items from your grandma...thinking of you!

  19. I really loved this post. I have a grandma too, who I love dearly. She is almost 99, and what a life she's led! But through it all, (and there have been many many trials) she truly loves people, and most especially her family. I would love to be like her, and I try very hard to be. But sometimes I forget.