My mother, Mary Louise (Ruhl) Mueller, hosted many family dinners during her 50+ years of being a wife, mother of four, homemaker, substitute teacher, proofreader, Den Mother, President of the Parent Teacher Association, Pro-Life volunteer, gardener, grape jelly maker, home canner, dessert-baker and pie maker extraordinaire, head of the Christian Women’s association, parish volunteer, avid reader, and probably a dozen other things that I can’t think of right now.
She also wrote notes.
Lots and lots and lots of notes. Taped to the inside and outside of cabinets, inside drawers, on the kitchen table, the kitchen counters, on the bathroom mirror. She never met a piece of paper she didn’t love. The smaller the better, it seemed. Junk mail was valuable because the one-sided letters could be ripped into thirds and the blank side used for notes. Free notepads that came in charitable donation request mailings were, of course, highly prized.
In her bedroom closet, every good dress had a long strip of paper attached to the hanger (one of those pieces of junk mail that had been carefully torn into thirds) with a list of every occasion and the date for which it had been worn, and every trip to the dry cleaner or laundry.
Every good tablecloth, draped over a hanger in the front closet, had a list of every special meal at which it had been used. Somewhere I came across a little notebook where she listed the books she was reading in the early years of raising the children (possibly while rocking the babies, and almost certainly to help save her sanity!)
There was also a fat envelope full of her housekeeping records: when she washed walls, took the draperies for cleaning, painted a hallway or room.
This makes her sound a little eccentric, at least, or OCD, at worst. And maybe there’s some truth to that. But after she was gone, and we had to empty out her apartment, I realized that while my mother never kept an actual diary, she truly had a diary of her life in every closet, desk drawer, and kitchen cupboard, thanks to all those notes.
In the urgency of cleaning out the apartment, those notes were thrown away.
And then, in fall of 2015, my youngest brother handed me an envelope filled with notes he’d saved from Mom’s apartment.
In that envelope was her “diary” of all the holiday meals she’d served. She started keeping track in 1962, and kept it up all the way through the early 2000’s.
I admit, I was overcome with emotion as I read through those notes. I miss her. I miss the people who were on her guest lists, as almost all of them are gone now, too. I miss those meals, her baking, the care she took to always have a nice meal on the table. I miss that mid-century era, the styles and fashions and customs of the time.
And now that I know exactly how much it takes to host meals, especially while taking care of babies and toddlers and the upkeep for an entire house, how I wish I could talk to her again.
But I can’t. So instead, this blog will be a small recognition of the life that she and my Dad shared for 54 years.
It’s mostly a chance to me to revisit these years, to learn more about my Mom and Dad through the trail of parties, menus, and recipes that she left in these notes, and to learn more about the life of an ordinary family in the Midwest, mid-1900s.