My mother-in-law died on Saturday. She was 92. Helene’s health has been failing and even though we knew death was in the cards, it seems as if she died quite suddenly. “Keep your wits about you” was the sign-off my husband Barry would say every time he talked to his mom. It was a saying he’d grown up with in his family and to me is shorthand for an abundance of meaningful messages all rolled into one short phrase.
Mom embodied the golden rule. She treated everyone as she would like to be treated. She showed me that it was okay to have more than one mom in my life. And I am grateful. I learned lots of Yiddish terminology from Helene. Some words have an actual English translation. I think she may have made some up on her own. Ungavuffen – all messed up; Shpilkes – ants in your pants; Schmeerzix – lotions, especially sunscreen, are a few that come to mind.
She adored her family and counted each new member as one of her tribe. She subtly (or not so subtly) bragged on each of us to her friends, aides, and other family members.
Of course, she influenced some of the pots I create. On my first visit to meet my (now) husband’s parents, I was struck by the lazy susan on the kitchen table. More than 20 years passed before I came up with an idea of how to make one out of clay. I would never have thought of the idea if it hadn’t been for that first encounter I had back in the 1970’s. The Paul McCobb set of little drawers (pictured lower left corner) on my worktable once held Helene's collection of jewelry on her dresser. Now it holds an abundance of my clay tools.
Keep your wits about you. Hold it together. When the world around you seems filled with chaos, pull your circle of friends and family closer. Stay strong. Find some joy in the days you have. Set an example. Treat people the way you’d like to be treated. Keep your wits about you.