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More on Mom


It’s been a little over a year since my mom died.  I hesitate trying to write more about my mom other than what I wrote in the text I posted before.  She was such an amazing woman in lots of areas.  But what follows are some facts, scenarios and things I remember about her from my perspective.

She started painting in her 60’s and it was like a flood.  She painted probably several hundred paintings, most of which she gave away.  My parents’ mobile-home walls were covered with them. And these weren’t small paintings.  They were probably 16″ x 22″ average.  One was about 4 feet long.  They would go to a lake in the Sierras and Dad would fish and Mom would paint.  For weeks!

She was a legal secretary when she married Dad and then was secretary for the church for years, typing out miles of stencils for bulletins and hand outs to run off on the mimeograph machine, which at one time was a hand crank model.  I remember her coming home with ink all over her hands.  I gave her some automotive grease remover and she was a happy camper.  Before the days of recording dictation, she had to use shorthand and used to take sermon notes with it.  All those squiggles were interesting to me as a kid but were totally a foreign language.

As a secretary, typing was one of her main duties, and all the erasing with the little round eraser with the brush attached was a constant irritation.  I set her up with a computer  sometime in the 1990s so she could do  internet and email with grand-kids, and she took to it completely.  In her early 80s, she turned into the email queen, and was now able to chat with folks she would usually only contact by occasional letter.  She just loved the backspace key!  No more erasing!  She loved the computer so much, in 1998 she  wrote her memoirs  on the computer, which printed out to 267 – 8.5 x 11 pages, which is about 500 pages paperback size.  There came a time when she couldn’t remember how to turn on the computer anymore, which was sad for one who loved to be in contact with friends and family, and read the latest news.

She was an organizer’s organizer, something I inherited from her.  In going through her things I found lots of small notebooks filled with organized information of all kinds.  She put together a LARGE library at the church and also a 1000 plus cassette tape library. There were catalog cards for all the books and printed catalog for all the tapes, sorted by topic, author/speaker, all done on a typewriter.  This represents hundreds of hours and hours of sorting, cataloging, writing, rewriting, adding, subtracting, and all this done in addition to her duties as church secretary.

She took LOTS of pictures and she had a master album and then had an album for each of us kids.  She started out with a Brownie (wish I still had that, but if the truth were told, I probably took it apart to see how it worked) and then 35mm.  These pictures were mounted with the little black corners on black album paper and she would write captions with an old fountain pen dipped in white ink.  I lived in those photo albums as a kid and now have a hard time knowing if a memory I have is real or from those pictures.  All the digital pics in the world would not replace those actual black and white pictures in those old photo albums of my life growing up.

Somehow I became the family archivist and I inherited over 25  thick photo albums of my parents life together.  I couldn’t keep them because of the real estate they took up, so I stripped them of all the family pics and left the pics of hundreds of people I have no idea who they are and the hundreds of pictures of mountains and trees and rivers and lakes and beaches and campsites and….I hated to toss the rejects; I felt like I was abandoning my childhood.  Mom would use these pictures for inspiration for her paintings.

In ALL these albums, the pictures of her showed her with a beaming smile.   It wasn’t a put-on, for-show smile but a smile that bubbled up from who she was.  I asked my sister about it and it’s who she remembered Mom being like.   I have no memory of this. Maybe it’s because I stressed her to the limit and she only smiled when I wasn’t around!  Somehow I missed this part of who she was.

She sewed almost all my shirts and knitted my sweaters.  She repaired torn jeans and scrubbed and washed and darned and cleaned and repaired some more.  She made wedding dresses, and bride’s maids dresses.  She actually replaced the collars  on my dad’s white shirts when she couldn’t get them clean anymore.  She cooked and cooked and cooked. She was an expert cookie maker and we had a lot of pastries until my dad ended up with high cholesterol in the early 1960s and that ended that;  I think the family went through withdrawals for months after that.  She would put cookies in a container in the freezer with the number of cookies on a piece of paper on top.  I would take some frozen cookies, scratch out the number and put the new lower number in its place.  She never said anything about it; grace and mercy in action.

I used to steal Jello packets from the cabinet and climb a huge walnut tree by our house, and my buddy and I would eat the Jello raw.  She never found out, which is amazing because of the color mouth I would come home with.  I asked her about it years later and she said she saw the supply was going down but thought she was just using it up!

She had her frustrations in raising 3 boys and a daughter.  We didn’t know it but later she told me she would open the window in the bathroom and sob and cry out to God for help.  Probably over Larry and then me.  What gray hairs Larry didn’t give her, I finished the job.  Good thing we were 10 years apart.

She counseled a lot of women over her 80 years in the church.  When she was church secretary, when a woman would call for counsel, the pastor trusted her judgment and wisdom so much he would pass the call on to her, woman to woman.  I remember in grammar school, I would come home to the smell of vinegar in the house, and I knew that a certain woman who smoked would have come over for counseling and mom would allow her to smoke in the house.  Smoking in those days was a cardinal sin, and it showed how much my mom loved this woman enough to allow her to smoke in her smoke-free home.  The vinegar was to kill the smoke smell.

She, along with Dad, taught a young married Sunday School class at the church.  I found a thick folder in her things which was a handout she had made for each member of misc. info on marriage and Christian living, all mimeographed on different colors of paper.  It must have taken hours of love and dedication to assemble all that for them.  I have been told by many in that class that she saved their marriage.  She was on the phone a lot with the wives and I am sure Dad talked to the men, counseling them on particular issues that had come up.  It was not only her wisdom but also her life that made her words have impact.

She loved her husband.  He was a stubborn Dutchman, a strict godly man, and she by default took a back seat to his larger-than-life personality.  Later in life, I think she found her voice and many times I heard her speak up to him and he would get this sheepish grin on his face, and back off, knowing she was right.
I can still hear Dad announce, “OK, honey, it’s time to go.”  And in later years she would often reply, “I’m not ready to leave yet,” and continue to sit there enjoying company!

There must have been many very frustrating times living with a maxed out type A authoritative personality, one where being on time was 15 minutes early (it was the LAW)  but she loved him with all her being.  She NEVER said a cross word to him (at least we never heard it, unless it was in private) or about him to us.  After he died, she would often say, “He was such a good man.  He was such a good husband. He took such care of me.”  That’s grace and mercy covering a multitude of sins.

They did a LOT of entertaining, including having the whole church for a potluck at our home.  Her kitchen wasn’t very big but somehow, a lot of food was prepared on time.  On Sunday, Dad would often invite new people at church home for lunch, with most of the time Mom not knowing about it ahead of time.  So she would add this and that and extend this and that to make up for another 2-4 mouths to feed.  All without complaining.

She had a  playful side to her, something I totally missed out on in my narcissistic youth.  But one time I remember at their mobile home, she was sitting in a chair that squeaked, and she would slowly rock it back and forth, back and forth, squeeeeak, squeeeeak, back and forth, trying to get a rise out of my dad.  That was so uncharacteristic of who I knew her to be, but my sister remembers her like that…I wish I had been more attentive.  I guess being the rebellious last-born, I was doomed to miss a lot of the most important stuff.

As I wrote in my Memorial text, my mom was a woman of prayer.  One memory I can still see:  I had just had a high school girlfriend breakup with me and the “LAW” said I had to be home at a certain time.  I called my dad and told him I wasn’t coming home then, but only when I felt like it.  He told me in no uncertain terms that I was to be home and I said no and hung up.  I came home probably at 1:00am and there was a light on in the kitchen.  I came in the door expecting to get the Dutch version of discipline, and it was my mom, sitting at the kitchen table with her Bible open in front of her.  I’m sure she and Dad had discussed what to do with my attitude and tardiness, and she was the one with the grace and mercy to do what she did.   She had been praying for me and meditating on the Scriptures.

My mom was always there for me.  I remember being angry if she wasn’t there when I got home from high school.  I guess it’s that mother/son attachment thing. We talked about everything, even when I kinda pushed the limits of propriety of what one should to talk to one’s mom about.  She went with the flow, even though, thinking about it now, she was probably uncomfortable with some of it.

She prayed for me, often and with great fervor (I have tears in my eyes now thinking about that).  I was lost and by her prayers, I was found.  One thing I regret is that I didn’t have her lay her hands on me and pray for me before she died.  I had thought about it a lot, but the opportunity just didn’t present itself and then she fell, was in pain until she died.  Lesson: do what your heart tells you before it’s too late.

Because she read her Bible daily, and taught it weekly, she knew her Bible completely and I would call her with theological issues and questions which she answered with chapter and verse.  When her eyesight failed her, her biggest complaint was she couldn’t read her Bible any more.  But she had so much memorized that she could meditate on them without needing the visual stimulus of the words on a page.

When I moved out of the house, she became my go-to for cooking questions, and I would call her and ask, “Is this dial-a-cook?”  She always bailed me out from some kitchen disaster.

As far back as I can remember, she did the daily crossword puzzle in the newspaper.  It got to the point in the later years she couldn’t see the small print anymore and so my brother bought her large print versions which she continued to do.  The last 2 years, my wife and I played a game of Scrabble with her (not keeping score…Poelstra rules!) weekly.  She would ask almost every turn how many tiles she was supposed to have because she couldn’t remember from the 5 minutes before when we had told her, but she could come up with some amazing words, I’m sure from all the puzzles she had done.

She had a great sense of humor that would pop up out of nowhere, making light of a pain, or problem she was having.  And it wasn’t funky humor either; it was belly-laugh humor, things that were really funny, a phrase that, if you weren’t paying attention, you would have missed it.  Again, I don’t remember any of that when I was young and self-absorbed.  Sad indeed.

Towards the end, all she wanted to do was talk about heaven.  She wanted to know what it would be like and she was so excited to finally see her Savior, the one who loved her enough to save her.  She would often say, “What if we had never heard [the Gospel]?”  Her yearning to see Jesus filled her days and her intimacy with Him was precious.  She said the song she woke up with every day was:

“I come to the garden alone
while the dew is still on the roses,
and the voice I hear falling on my ear
the Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
and He tells me I am His own;
and the joy we share as we tarry there,
none other has ever known.”

With all I have shared here about what she did outside the home, she did not shirk her duties as a wife or mother.  She was dedicated to her Lord but she lived that out by being selfless with her family.  We rise up and call her blessed.

Thank you, Mom, for the Godly foundation, the prayer, and the memories.


  1. carol poelstra permalink

    Jim – thanks for sharing that about your mom. My mom is 95 and resides in a nursing home. We are thankful that she knows us kids, but has difficulty with speaking. I go to church with her 2 times a week and she enjoys the music. She was my prayer warrior and many others and her connection with her Savior is still evident.

    I also shared your writings with Annette, Richard and John since they don’t get the blog. I do enjoy reading your writings. You have a gift!

    • Thanks for your kind comments. We are now going through the same process with my wife’s parents and dementia is taking it’s tole. Very hard indeed.
      Glad you still have time with your mom. What precious times and memories, even though it’s hard watching age slowly advance like the tide coming in; can’t do anything about it and our tracks in the sand will eventually be erased. But Jesus makes it all worthwhile, seeing our Savior some day. Then all this won’t even be a memory as we all worship at His feet for the next 10,000 years.

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