Motherhood, apple pie and a cupful of happy memories

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 10, 2006


Katie Pentney, grandmother of Cochrane coffee companion Jocelyn McIntyre, shares her very large cup of happiness with many. Photo by Jocelyn McIntyre

Coffee companion Jocelyn McIntyre is known to many around Cochrane for the genial way in which she cares for customers at High Country Framing and Art Gallery. Recently I discovered she also serves cupfuls of happiness – flowery cupfuls that prompted this week's Mother's Day column.

Her grandmother, Katie Pentney, of Lake of the Woods in northwestern Ontario, is an avid gardener. When an opportunity arose earlier this year, Jocelyn did something that would make the rest of our far-flung coffee companions really proud of her.

"In addition to her love of flowers, Grandma has always enjoyed a good cup of tea or coffee with good conversation," she said, "so for her 89th birthday I gave her a gift that I thought exemplified these qualities."

The gift was a very large teacup in which was set a potted plant – the cup was about a foot across.

"She had never seen anything like it and quickly displayed it, filling half her table with it," Jocelyn said. "This caused quite the sensation when neighbours dropped in for a cuppa. They would joke about the size of teacups Katie was now using to serve her company."

In fact, they marvelled over it so much that it became a cup of love to be shared around.

"For several months this teacup planter roamed from apartment to apartment – a week here, two weeks there – as her friends took turns displaying it with their own plants and flair, causing their family and friends also to marvel over it," Jocelyn said – "certainly a grand way for friends to share a cuppa."

"A grand way for friends to share a cuppa?" Since I had already decided to feature Jocelyn's story in this week's column, I sent a note to our e-mail coffee companions, asking if they had other happy Mother's Day stories they'd like to "plant" in the cup. Here are some of the delightful responses I received:

Since motherhood and apple pie are an unbeatable combination, Cochrane caterer Jan Donovan-Downs wrote:

"Most of my memories of my mother are connected to my sense of smell. My mother is one of those rare and beautiful Maritime women who can cook as well as create amazing pastries.

"Most good cooks hate pastry work and vice versa. Either they can't stand the often-frantic pace of cuisine work or the sticky hands and unforgiving nature of pastries' adherence to formulas.

"My favourite memory is connected to my favourite season, autumn, an awesome experience in its own right in New Brunswick. I remember Sunday dinners in my mother's house and the love I felt growing up in a house that smelled good. My sisters and I would be playing outside all afternoon, raking and scrunching through the huge piles of leaves or picking apples. (When was the last time you bit into a glowing Yellow Transparent apple taken from the tree by your own hand?) And as the shadows grew longer, our bellies would call us home and I recall as though it were five minutes ago, the wave of heat from the oven touching my face like my mother's gentle hand as I opened the kitchen door and the cooking smells washed over me: roast herbed chicken and stuffing and fresh-baked apple pie."

Of course, if we're going to have apple pie with our cuppa, some musical memories would be nice, too. David Forbes, formerly of Cochrane and now living in Medicine Hat, wrote of his late mother's love of music, especially that of Harry Belafonte, whose concert they attended together once in Vancouver.

"Long shall I cherish the memory of that evening when we were able to sing together with the rest of the audience," he said.

Speaking of music, Charlene Pickard, also formerly of Cochrane and now living on Vancouver Island, remembers those washdays she spent with her grandmother. While doing the laundry, "she would be singing about an Old Wooden Cross," Charlene wrote. "That cross became a guidepost for me as I was growing up."

Mothers as selfless, all-knowing providers figure prominently in several responses. Victoria Lenon, writing from an oil work camp in the Ft. McMurray area, said: "The overriding thing I miss the most about my mother is that she always sent me home with home-cooked food. I was 60 this year and I still miss that nurturing."

Edmontonian Colleen Chapman wrote about her grandmother:

"My happiest memories come flooding back whenever I get fresh green beans and need to break off the ends to prepare them to serve. My grandmother and I would sit on the farm porch in Wayne County, Indiana, in the warmth of the setting sun, and talk – mostly me chattering and her listening – and prepare beans for canning. I spent many of my first summers with my grandparents on the farm. My grandmother and grandfather were probably my very first experience of the way God loves. Very gentle and loving people (Grandpa a Quaker and Grandma a Methodist), and I can still see my grandmother's hands in my mind's eye. I'm grateful to have some of the appearance of her hands for myself – veins standing out, thin, long fingers, and liver spots. I loved my grandmother's hands. And I love green beans!"

Then there's this response from Sandy Corenblum, of Calgary, in remembrance of her "Bubby" (grandmother) Lily Aizenman Cohen:

"My Bubby of blessed memory was an extraordinary woman who believed that there was good in all people. She came from wartorn Poland where she saw many of her brothers and sisters exterminated at the hands of the Nazis. This did not daunt her positive belief in life or mankind. She raised five golden children and 13 grandchildren. She baked her own bread twice weekly and saw to it that this bread was delivered to others in the community who had much less than she had.

"My Bubby took people into her home who were war orphans and new immigrants. She taught them to believe in themselves and in life once again. My Bubby always had time for everyone and anyone. I never recall her going to her bed to sleep, but rather she would take a nap here and there on the couch in the den. Her home was always filled with the aromas of Jewish cooking. Visitors and strangers who could not get enough of her cooking. It was not unusual for her to host 60 people at her table. She used her dining room in tandem with her living room to squish as many people as she could around her table.

"My Bubby played 'no-nonsense' poker with her friends once a week and when she once saw a woman stealing money from her home, my Bubby left money out for this lady weekly in strange places around her home so that the woman would never have to steal again.

"My Bubby always had time for me day or night and taught me that the ability to love and be loved was a gift to cherish."

Helen Diemert, of Calgary, wrote of growing up in a North Dakota village where her mother also embodied the kind of happiness that comes from the selfless service of others. "She was the only girl among six children on a farm of Norwegian immigrants," Helen said. "Her work was indispensable for her own family, as well as for neighbours at times of crises."

Lucille Gleddie remembers the times in early spring when she and her sister would help her mother get the chicks started. "We would carefully put them in the brooder house that Mom had spent days preparing," she wrote. "The peeping sounds of the chicks, the howling of the wind, the smell of new straw, combined with peace and companionship was a happy island in my often uncomfortable childhood."

Ontario coffee companion Thelma Rhynas has only a fleeting – but comfortable – memory of her grandmother. "She was a chubby lady," she wrote, "with a lap just perfect for a little girl to snuggle into."

Longtime resident of our beautiful Bow valley who lives now in Ontario, Kathleen Adamson shared a memory from when she was four about her "soft-natured mother" and her "fearsome and loving grandmother who was of the old British school – starch even in her underwear" – but whose "imagination was a ragbag full of wondrous things." Kathleen wrote:

"One dark autumn day, when the leaves were swirling down, Granny and my mother were in the kitchen baking on the old shiny black woodstove. I had looked at books, made my bed, chased the cats and got into enough mischief for three or four boys, when I heard the two of them whispering in the kitchen.

"My mother called me in and told me we were going to make a doll. I had a doll who was dearly loved, but this was something different. What were we going to make it from? When would we start? What would it look like? Soon my Granny emerged from the back room with a bag of old black silk stockings (which she always wore), a bit of black wool, some red cloth, a dangerous pair of huge scissors, clanky white buttons, and needles and thread.

"As the wind whistled and cold rain spattered down, we gathered around the enamel-top kitchen table. A tubular body was cut and stitched after I stuffed fluff into it. Its head was made by adding a tight cord to form the throat. It looked uncomfortable! Then smaller similar tubes were made for the slightly long legs and arms. Granny sewed the white buttons on for eyes, while Mom rolled a tiny tube of red cloth to form a knobby nose. They stitched a red smiley mouth, and for the piece-de-resistance, Granny repeatedly sewed inch-long pieces of black wool around the edge of the head, leaving the pate bald and Friar-like. The wool was bunched and frazzled to make it look woolly in a little fringe. Then, with a huge smile from Mom and a 'there you are!' look from Granny, they handed 'Polly' to me! She was definitely not politically correct!

"I loved Polly, and I still do, for I have her still in my bedroom drawer, smiling vacantly at me whenever I take her out. A week ago, I went to my drawer, took her out, and kissed and hugged her. 'I still love you, Polly!' I said. I think Polly knew that Mother Emmy and Granny got the kiss and hug too."

Our final contribution is from Ottawa journalist Henry Heald. Drawing on his Depression-era childhood memories, he brings us full circle to the gift of flowers. "On Mother's Day my mother wore a white rose because her mother was dead," he wrote. "Dad wore a red rose, because his mother was still alive."

Thank you, coffee companions, for adding your own flowers and stories to Grandma Katie's cup – white flowers, red flowers, and all kinds of colours. And Happy Mother's Day!

© 2006 Warren Harbeck

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