Sunday, January 27, 2013


Mother's swim diploma, age 12

This week, in honor of my mother, I have been favoring the breast stroke, which I learned is the "international stroke."  My mother always did the breast stroke and so did every other Dutch person I've ever seen swimming.

I googled the breast stroke, because I wanted to make sure I was doing it correctly.  I was, more or less, but it takes me a few seconds to get into the rhythm.  It's the head going up and down and that frog kick--it feels unnatural.  I'm better at it when I keep my head down, but unfortunately I have no gills.  I'll get it down this week.

Mother was strong and athletic.  She was the only girl the boys would allow to play soccer with them.  She played softball as well.  She had more upper-body strength than any woman I've ever met.  You never wanted to get into a "play" punching fight with her, because her play punch could knock you off your feet.  She could hold a five pound weight straight out in front of her longer than anyone else in a room, including all the teenage boys (she was in her sixties at the time).

She never played basketball, so she didn't have to go through the humiliation of playing girls' rules--half court.  I played, and you were either a forward or a guard and were not allowed to cross the center line.  Stupid.

Watch me have three babies without pain medication. Grrrr.

Mother's strength showed itself in other ways like when she kneaded bread as if it were a bowl of marshmallows, or snapped a sheet before hanging it on the line.  When she washed my hair, I knew I'd been made clean.  She painted furniture, bikes, walls, ceilings and could change a bike tire as fast as a diaper.   Could she beat my father at arm wrestling?  I can see them at the kitchen table, laughing at the struggle, but who won?

I call my sister.  "When Mother and Dad arm wrestled, who do you remember winning?"

Janie pauses.  "I think Mother."

"Me too," I say, and we both howl.

Mother, that's the way it's going down for posterity.  You beat our father at arm wrestling.  You, Mother.  That's the way we remember it.  Go, Mother, go!


  1. I love this line so much: "When she washed my hair, I knew I'd been made clean." There is so much in those 11 words! :)

    I love your memoirs so far.

    (I know you from when you lived in Oak Hills. Specifically, I am Sam's age. I was Marilyn Nelson (not Nielson) then. I have always loved your writing.)

    1. I agree with Marilyn here. That statement conjured up my own memories!

  2. These stories about your mother are beautiful. The one about her selling her china and silver made me cry.

  3. I'm not sure why, but I've always loved that your parents are "Mother and Dad."

    I was the arm wrestling champion of my 5th grade class.

  4. I'm happy to have her strength and self-reliance confirmed more. Luckily I get hard working strong women from both sides.

  5. Reading your memories makes me miss her so. Also makes me want to be more like her. A strong and beautiful woman.

  6. It was the swim stroke of Rotterdam too as I remember that was my mom's preferred method, but with head up displaying fabulously decorated swim camp which was attempting to protect the weekly created hairdo. Thanks for sharing your memories of my Tante Geertje! I'm going to print these off and mail them to TT.

  7. Louise you are conjuring up so many beautiful ideas and feelings with these memoirs. I especially loved this picture of your mother's energy directed on your hair.