My mother, Alberta Martin, was one of six children. She was born in Maine, but her family moved to Canada, where she lived until she was fifteen. By then her mother had passed away, and she, her father and her siblings moved back to Maine. It was not an easy life; a large family being raised by their father, and none of them spoke English, French being her family’s language. She went to work in the Wayandotte Worsted Mill in Waterville. There were no OSHA laws back then regulating the hiring of minors to work in factories.
Eventually, she met my Dad, Chester Plourde and they were married. But the hard life wasn’t over. No, she gave birth to seven children and raised us with love and a firm hand. This was in a time before automatic washers, dishwashers, and when vacuum cleaners were a luxury item found only in the homes of the wealthy.
Bertha (which became her nickname) and Chester purchased a farm. Gardens were planted and Mom canned everything from strawberries, raspberries, green beans, to beets. I remember she made green tomato pickles, too. She would work all summer to stock the basement with foods that would carry us through the winter. Crab apple jelly! I remember how delicious that was on little rounds of homemade pie crust.
We had cows, pigs, and a few chickens now and then. Dad couldn’t stand the sight of blood, so once a cow or pig was butchered, it was Mom who would wrap the cuts of beef and hamburger, or pork roasts, chops and bacon for freezing. There was probably an icehouse before there was a freezer, but that was before my time.
Then there was laundry; tons of it with seven children. By the time I arrived, the youngest, Mom did have a ringer washer, but all those clothes were hung on the clothesline; there wasn’t a clothes dryer. I remember going outside and handing her the clothespins as she hung the laundry on the line, when I was too little to do any hanging myself.
One of the things I remember most about my mother was that every day at 3:00 p.m., no matter what she was doing, or what kind of a day she’d been having, she always stopped, would “freshen up” by washing her hands and face, combing here hair (removing any bobby pins she might have used to make “pin curls”), and change her clothes. She would don a clean house dress and apron, and check her appearance in the mirror. She always wanted to look nice when my father got home from working in the paper mill. He would walk in the door at 4:15, and she was always there to greet him with a kiss. Maybe that’s why their marriage lasted so long!
One of the things I am most grateful for is the fact that I told her I loved her the night before she died. I had always loved her, but had not put it into words until that night. I don't know why I said it that particular night, but I'm so glad I did. If you still have your mother, make sure to tell her you love her; you never know when you will lose her. And it would be tragic to lose her without letting her know how much she means to you.
You've been gone for 29 years, but you are always in our hearts. Happy Mothers Day, Mom.
And Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers and grandmothers out there reading this!