Behind all your Stories is your Mother’s Story

Mother's Day Stories and Poems from our Neighbors and Friends at The Pinehills

May 05, 2022     Behind the Pines

"But behind all your stories is your mother’s story, for hers is where yours begins."- Mitch Albom

Pages of books have been filled with the stories and advice learned from mothers. We treasure the recipes (with a missing ingredient – or two,) the one liners (I don’t want to sleep like a baby, I want to sleep like my husband,) the words of wisdom (you’ll feel better when you get on the school bus,) and the special love she shared with us every day.

This year in honor of Mother’s Day, we’re sharing mom stories from Pinehills resident writers and friends. A special thank you to contributors from The Writers Circle and the Wednesday Writers Group who meet at The Pinehills Stonebridge Club: Jonnie Garstka, Laura Freeman, Steve Anderson, Jon Decker, Peg Ryan, Jewel Gilbert and Tracy Koplove. Your beautiful stories and poems are treasures. And gratitude to our dear Carly Tefft, daughter of our friend, colleague, and supermom, Donna Tefft, for a beautiful remembrance of her mom. (Update 2024: Carly recently released a song she wrote about her mother. You can watch the music video here. 🧡 )

(Photo courtesy of Jonnie Garstka)


Sandie, Mike, Pat, and I were checking out our baby brother Chris’s belly button.
It was an “outie,” whereas all of ours were “innies.” Our mom came into the room to find us lifting up our undershirts to compare ours to his.
She asked me, as I was the oldest of our little quartet, at seven and a half, what were we doing?

“We’re comparing belly buttons, Mom,” I said. ‘Is Chris going to be OK? I mean having an “outie,” belly button, is that bad?”
She assured us he was going to be fine. “OK,” said I. “What does a belly button do? I mean, how did we get belly buttons?”
Mom said, “When He finished making you, God poked each of you in the tummy.” Mom demonstrated. “Then,” she said. “He said, 'You’re done. You’re done. You’re done.”' Made sense to us.

Another time, while we were playing with our latest batch of kittens, Sandie asked Mom,
“How can you tell which ones are boys?” Mom didn’t hesitate a second. She said, “The boys have whiskers.”

Mom’s repertoire of stories and clever explanations might not have been original to her, but she used them with amazing age-appropriate timeliness.
I’m still shaking my head over our easy acceptance of her answers. We believed most of them.

All striped cats got an “M” on their foreheads from the Blessed Mother? Yep. I looked that one up in our encyclopedia and found out even tigers have an “M” on their foreheads. Mom was right! The Blessed Mother was awesome!

God put (Irish) blue eyes in with a “dusty finger” because he didn’t wash his hands after creating the world for six days? Uh Huh. (The dusty finger made eyebrows and eye- lashes especially dark and lush) God was probably tired . . .

Mom’s timing was also legendary. She would lick the knife she had been using to frost a birthday cake and say, “Now children, I only do this to show you what you should never do. Licking knives is dangerous.”

I sometimes feel in this era of telling children “the whole truth,” we forget that imagination and humor can be a good stopgap. At the age of seven, I should have figured out the “belly button truth.” After all, I had four younger siblings, but Mom knew when I got it, I would think her silly answer was funny.

I’ll admit I’ve told my kids some “Mom stories” when the answers to their questions could have been over their pointed-little heads. When Jim asked me if there was a rock in his knee, I said, “You are such a smartie to have figured that out.”

I was nursing baby Stephanie when Gretchen asked, “If there’s milk in one of those, pointing to my chest, is there juice in the other one?” I said, “Yes, yes, there is.”

Reality comes so soon, I wanted for them what my mom wanted for us, a little more time in Childhood Land.

An Ode to Mom | by Laura Freeman

Mom was the quintessential bibliophile, language lover, and word expert. She was the fastest completer of the New York Times crosswords I have ever met and she did them in pen with no erasures evident. I’m very certain the puzzles were done before the paper hit the front stoop.

I close my eyes and see her sitting on her favorite end of the family’s 1970’s gold sofa, absorbed in the New Yorker or one of the hundreds of books she read. To this day I am convinced that she has read all the titles to be found in the Library of Congress and of course she could tell you the plot and central characters for each. Mom frequently sent me an amusing New Yorker cartoon or two typically drawn by our shared favorite artist Roz Chast.

Naturally, she was a librarian and spent her working life surrounded by books and periodicals. She described herself as the Head Searcher while working at the University of Delaware, fully intending the double entendre.

Mom had been a French and Italian major at NYU and often sprinkled her conversations with a French or Italian word or phrase. As Head Searcher, these linguistic skills came in handy when she was asked to locate obscure articles published in foreign professional journals. She loved to translate the title and often giggled at the result.

I am lucky to have inherited her love of books and crosswords, if these traits could indeed be inherited. Maybe someday I’ll complete a crossword in record time, but I’ll still use a pencil and eraser.

Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 | by Steve Anderson

October 1962


Fifth grader.

15 minutes

every night








Sleepless child,

exhausted mother

“You’re worried

about war?”

“I can take

care of it."

She draws

bedroom shades.


no problem.”

Of course,

the Kennedys

took credit.


Dear Barry, Well, I thought about you on your birthday but somehow this card is still here. I won’t be your favorite relative if this keeps up--not that I was--but you’re my favorite relative anyway.

Christina, it was such fun to have you here. The white cat with black tail spent the afternoon you left in the dog carrier, Pepper has been sleeping in one of the boxes, Patches spent the night in the dog carrier, and Little Girl has been coming inside to eat and lets me pet her for a short time. She tells me “when”. (Just a little old lady with her cats!)

Dear Laura, I gave Christina some money for hot dogs. Since you are her dear sister, I didn’t want you to go hungry, so here’s a check for the same. Anyway, we missed you and hope you can come on your Mom and Dad’s next trip. Your mom rearranged the furniture that I was happy with and it looks much better now. She’s a genius! Also made us a big pot of New Orleans chicken and sausage gumbo and an apple pie/tart. We all enjoyed it so much, including Anne and John. They were here too, they put a new battery in my car and cleaned it up.

Dear Rob and Suzanne, I’m now listening to and watching Gustavo Dudamel on his inaugural concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He might be the conductor you saw at the San Francisco Philharmonic. He’s 28, from Venezuela, animated, very much in control, and right at home in front of the orchestra. He’s directing “City Noir” now, a new composition by John Adam--much dissonance and fire, and next Mahler’s Symphony #1 in D major.

The flowers you gave me are still in bloom. Colors--yellow, red, and light green, perfect. Tell Suzanne I still haven’t moved the furniture a bit. It will stay like this. The colors of the trees are so glorious now, reds, oranges, yellows, rust, on the way to brown and on the ground.

I’m expecting John and Anne and Chris and Rachel and Neil and John this afternoon--New Years Eve for the night. We should have a celebration, maybe at 8 PM.

Rachel, I really enjoyed those Droopwafelen. If you by chance go to Belgium, please bring back a case of them.

Dear Nicole, happy birthday sweetie! You don’t look a day over 25, but we know better, don’t we? You’re going “great guns” with all you are doing, and four children to nurture. I don’t even imagine how you do it all. good thing you are so young. I’ll call you someday when I think you aren’t busy. Ha!

Dear Paul, Talk about seventh heaven where I am right now. I’m enjoying my second chocolate and it is so delicious. There were 24 in the box so if I eat one a day they will last 22 more days, so that’s good. I’m really fooling but that’s about the way it will work.

Nicole, congratulations on your new baby arriving safe and sound. I would have liked to see Clare, Michael, and Nora when they saw her for the first time. Enclosed is a check for baby. I don’t know how much more I can afford so go easy for a while.

Dear Laura, happy birthday to you and many more to come. My gosh, 20 years--an old lady. I’m sure you are beginning to feel the years. You’ll need Aleve pretty soon for your arthritis. I’ll let you know how many pills you will need to take, I’m an expert! Remember, you are not 21 yet!

Dear Clare, Wow! Six years old this year! I’m very proud of you for growing into such a nice girl. I hear you are a great help with the younger girls, Nora and Caitlin, and enjoy playing in the park and shopping. I wish you a very happy birthday.

Dear Neil, Hip Hip Hooray! another birthday. 6 years old! Did you ever think you’d be six someday? Well here it is! You must be pretty proud.

Ethel sent over the Gutter Helmet workers who were doing work on her house. She told them I was an 88 year old woman and couldn’t clean the gutters myself. Thanks a lot Ethel!

We had such good times skiing and all that went with it, Mohonk with Betsy and the horse manure to which Julia objected. So many happy memories! Thank you Al and Julia for all that you’ve done. Jack would have been so pleased, I know.

Please drop in and see me when you’re passing by. I have at least four cartons of milk. I get one every day and they are adding up.

With love and appreciation to my great neighbors!

Anyway, you all were so great. I’ll never forget it and I dearly love you all and thank you.

My best to you all. Make lots of happy memories, much love!

Elnora Decker
August 23, 1920 -- March 14, 2018
Rest In Peace

Peg moved to Great Island in 2006. The plaque in her kitchen reads: “Home is Where Your Mom is.”

HOME IS . . . | by Peg Ryan

We spent most of our lives at 834

And now that address we have no more

Never forget the memories there

We had so many special things to share

The backyard, the sandbox, the plastic pool

The day you both left for the first day of school

Bike rides ‘round the pond, haircuts at Al’s

Playing outside with all of your pals

Remember us building with blocks in your room

Remember the day we brought Muffin home

Those years went by quickly, and now you’ve both gone

From our wonderful home, to build lives of your own

I’ve discovered that the memories we share

No matter how distant, will always be there

I’ve cherished each moment since the days you were born

834 is only a house, now that you’re gone

To my sons Jim and Mike, with special love


In Memory of My Mother | by Jewel Gilbert

At 93, my mother, who lived with my partner and me, said she wanted to go to a nursing home. I was shocked. Who goes to a nursing home voluntarily? My mother, my tough, strong, independent mother, told me, “I’m not doing anyone any good. You’re all upset with me. I’m upset with me. And I can’t take care of myself anymore. It’s time. I refuse to be a burden.”

I wanted to argue with her, but we both knew she was right. I was running out of resources to care for her at home, and my partner and I were exhausted. Adjusting to the nursing home took a while, but soon Ma was settled into her natural role of supervising everyone around her—calling the nurses when it was time to put her helpless roommate to bed, doling out her candy and cookie supply to the other patients, keeping an eye on maintenance when a repair was needed.

Ma and I were so different in our tastes, our views, and our attitudes, that our relationship was sometimes contentious. So I wondered what would happen after she died: Would I be racked with guilt? Would I spend the rest of my life grieving that I had not been a better daughter? That she had not been a better mother? Though I never asked her, I suspect she struggled with these feelings as well. But in the nursing home, everything changed, and we began to heal our broken relationship. I no longer focused on her shortcomings or resented her for passing them on to me. Now I could bask in her strength, her courage, her practical acceptance of life and death and change. I could be grateful to her for passing on these gifts to me. I took care of my elderly mother, managing her care, communicating with her doctors and nurses, bringing her little surprises that delighted her, and loving her, always loving her. She spoke loving words, words of thanks, words of appreciation. Somehow, we unpacked all that hard baggage, and found within a devoted, loving relationship that erased all traces of pain and regret. In the end our love for each other was tender and intimate.

At 97, my mother’s body was held together with spit and bubble gum. She was like an old car, whose engine was still running but whose body was rusted out. Sometimes when I was with her, she would say to her heart: Please stop. She was tired. She had had enough. But her heart wouldn’t listen. It kept beating. Other times, she was more patient, she would wait it out, still maybe see 100. She said she was ready to die, but not until she finished the book she was reading.

When death was imminent, Ma transitioned to hospice care. I asked her the question that had begun to haunt me: “Has it been a good life?” When I saw the look on her face, my heart sank. “Well,” she answered. “I wouldn’t do it over again.” I didn’t sleep much that night as I thought about her face, fraught with pain.

She never talked about it openly, but my mother lived a life of pain and struggle. She endured many major surgeries, and suffered with hereditary arthritis for most of her adult life. My father was the product of a very difficult childhood. He was a good man but a troubled man, and his troubles made for a hard life for him and my mother. Ma was intelligent, creative and talented, but found only small outlets for her talents. I think that frustrated her, but she was too busy just getting through the day.

In life, there is only one guarantee: Everyone makes it to the finish line. My mother crossed the finish line on her hands and knees, grateful and exhausted. She suffered terribly in those last weeks. But on her last night, she waited for her favorite aide to sponge bathe her and change her into a fresh johnnie. When the aide was done, Sarah said “Thank you,” and closed her eyes for the last time, finally at peace.

Mothers can be Carpets | by Tracy Koplove

When my son was a young teenager, he went through an unhappy period where he seemed rather glum. There is really nothing usual about an adolescent feeling this way, but it took me by surprise. He was my first born and had been an easy-going delightful child who made me laugh and love being a mother.

To be honest, what alarmed me the most is that almost overnight, he seemed to be the most frustrated with me. I fretted about this change in our relationship and wondered if it was going to continue to be this way. Where had my sweet boy gone, who had taken him and why was I making him so miserable?

Finally, I consulted his doctor who gave me some very good advice that I have never forgotten. Sitting in his office that afternoon, this kind and very experienced pediatrician, patiently listened to me pour out worries, my sadness and my confusion about how I had gone from one of my son’s favorite people to the person he blamed for everything that was wrong in his life.

When I finished speaking with some tears in my eyes, this doctor smiled a bit and said to me, “It is time you realize that mothers are carpets”. I was rather surprised until he went on to explain that what he meant is that a mother’s love makes a child feel very safe and secure. So safe, in fact, that when children experience the woes of adolescence, they know their mom will always be there for them. In other words, “they can walk all over a mom” and still be loved as they always have been. They know that no matter how confusing the outside world appears, their mother will always love them and be in their corner.

Through the stormy adolescent years and even the transitional years of their 20’s, I have experienced some “carpet moments” where I find it hard to remember the sweet children who once lived in my home. There have been times when all the problems of the world, from buying the wrong type of orange juice (again) to climate change, have been my fault. And yet, we always end up apologizing and find our way back to each other. Realizing how much they love me; I have always been comforted knowing that I have allowed my kids to feel safe enough to fall apart with me.

THE JEWELRY BOX | by John Decker

It’s been a year since my mother died

Our old home is sold, and her belongings dispersed.

The house is the same, her smile is gone.

But I still have her old jewelry box,

Unadorned wood, a few plastic sections

With simple jewels, more trinkets really.

Eight pairs of earrings, mostly matching,

A few gold or silver bracelets tangled together

Charms for each grandchild, a pearl necklace,

An antique pin passed down from her mother,

Her wedding band, nothing of real value.

Yet the box stays on my shelf.

Because when I open it

There is a small mirror in the lid

Where I can almost see her reflection.

MOM’S MOODS | by Jonnie Garstka

“The woods are lovely dark and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”

My mother and I loved Robert Frost. Living in rural Connecticut, we recognized our land, our neighbors and ourselves in his poetry. We had a “good fences make good neighbors” neighbor. We had a grove of birch trees whose branches made great swings. And “stopping by woods on a snowy evening” was something we both loved to do.

Maybe it was our shared sense of the absurd, but mom and I often seemed to have the same response to our familial life. When I was fairly young, she explained symbolism to me. With that knowledge in hand, I understood why the words “The woods are lovely, dark and deep” resonated so with her.

My mom had many promises to keep. Whether they were meals to prepare, laundry to be folded, or grappling children to be separated, she always seemed to keep them.

Symbolically, I think her “lovely, dark and deep woods” was her music. The concert grand piano in our living room was her steed, her solace, and for us, her children arriving home from school, a barometer of her every mood.

Different composers’ music signified different kinds of days. If, for example, Rachmaninoff was being played, it had been a tough one; if Bartok, there was a problem she was working on. Schubert or Brahms? There was probably a baby sleeping on the nearby couch. Beethoven? “God was in his heaven and all was right with the world.” Gershwin, specifically his Rhapsody in Blue, also signified that a good day had been had.

I don’t play the piano, but I do have Alexa, a computerized musical device that plays whatever I ask for, whenever I ask. I can listen to my mother’s favorite classics any time I choose, which is often.

It’s interesting, if Paul walks into the house and Rachmaninoff is playing, he turns around and goes back outside for a while.

I have no idea why.

More than a Mom | by Carly Tefft

The one who would wake me up for school with a lunch bag ready as I walked out the door.

The first cheerleader to remind me I can achieve what I want with hard work.

The fashionista from daily career attire to simple on a Saturday.

The shoulder to cry on after heartbreaks from relationships, careers and life.

The easy going, but always up for a weekend adventure in a new city or a beach getaway.

The pancake queen after teenage slumber parties.

The camera geek capturing life’s little moments.

The wife who showed her love and appreciation through devotion and kindness.

The friend who would only be a phone call away to listen to any situation or story.

The creative mind who brought sparks of joy in every field of her work.

The one who would call just to check in.

The kind of hugger who would squeeze tight and hold on a little long, but you never minded.

The warrior who’s defined by her legacy and the people she continues to love and inspire

Donna LaVita, the Lady of Light. 🧡

Update 2024: Carly recently released a song she wrote about her mother. You can watch the music video here.

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