A Tale of Two Floors 

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My childhood home from a painting by Lois Hall Black, my aunt

My mom raised seven children in a house built by her pioneer ancestors on the shores of Utah Lake. My parents worked hard to make the old house as up-to-date and comfortable as they could within a limited budget. Two floors in this work-in-progress home illustrate my mother’s character.

The living room had the most welcoming floor in the house, thanks to Mom’s industriousness and ingenuity. When she decided to beautify this central room with a rug, she searched thrift stores for items made of sturdy fabric and accumulated family clothing no longer deemed worthy of hand-me-down status.

From these cast-offs, she cut narrow lengths of fabric to sew together and braid into fat plaits of multi-colored fabric. Next, using a curved needle and twine, she sewed these thick braids into an oval rug where one color faded into another in perfect harmony. It was a grand, attention-grabbing rug, fifteen-feet long and nine-feet wide, the only carpet we ever had.

We wrestled, played Parcheesi, and spilled popcorn on this work of art; Mom’s projects were intended for use rather than protected with rules or saved for special occasions. We smiled as though we helped create the rug when visitors praised its magnificence — but fought viciously over whose turn it was to vacuum our source of pride.

The floor in the remodeled kitchen didn’t have the same allure.

Between working swing shifts at Ironton Steel and farming, Dad accomplished a kitchen remodel with minimal missteps and profanity — until he and mom covered the floor with asphalt tile.

When they finished, the confetti-patterned floor looked grand. Then we walked on it. With each step, the black adhesive Mom and Dad applied too liberally as bonding material oozed between the squares, belching and befouling the new surface. It glopped here and there and dried in swirling, 3-d patterns, intriguing to children but a disappointment to Mom. She had wanted an attractive, easy-to-clean floor and instead walked on the creature from the black lagoon.

Unhappy as Mom was, however, she brooked no nonsense from her children about either the unsightly floor or the effort involved in fixing it.

It became my job to use SOS Pads to scrub the tarry protrusions until they gradually disappeared, a slow, tedious battle. The scope of work exceeded normal chores, so I was given a dime for each hour I toiled. I thought the pay generous because candy bars only cost a nickel; but I still whined.

One morning, scrubbing and complaining, I muttered, “Why couldn’t Dad have done it right in the first place so I wouldn’t have to do this yucky job.”

Mom usually ignored her children’s petty grumblings, but not this time. With ice in her voice and fire in her eyes, she responded: “Janet, you should give thanks every day for a father with the strength and determination to work a full-time, exhausting job and a farm. And then, when he has a few hours off, he remodels this house for his family. I did the tile with him. We made a mistake. You sound like a selfish, unappreciative person this morning, and I’m not sure I like you.”

My mother molded me and filled our home with beauty: I both liked and loved her.

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

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61 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Floors 

    • Thanks, Martha. I was grateful for my dad deep in my core, and I learned that day that my mom wasn’t interested in hearing my unthinking complaints about her husband. It was a lesson for me in many ways.

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  1. Thanks for sharing that story. My father always worked two jobs, and I didn’t fully appreciate how hard that was until I was in graduate school and working full time.

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  2. “Mom’s projects were intended for use….,” what a great description of Grandma! She made beautiful things but they were also very practical. Many of the gifts she have me as a child I still use in my home today: recipe boxes, a painted headboard, a braided rug, and many more. They are a part of my everyday life so her memory stays fresh for me. Thank you for the reminder of her ways.

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  3. I love this. For one of my birthdays (8? 9?) I was allowed to go to the store in Lander that sold Grandma’s art and pick anything of hers that I wanted. I remember agonizing over my choice, and after nearly choosing a giant milk-jug that was nearly as tall as I was (my mom, with a slightly panicked tone, tried to divert me from that choice), I settled on a braided rag rug in the shape of a heart. That rug was in my bedroom for my entire childhood, in my college dorm room, and is now on the floor of our kitchen where my daughter was happily playing this morning. I love that her work still lives in my house.

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    • Oh, Lori, thank you for sharing this comment with me and telling me that you, too, even when young, valued Mom’s work. It’s wonderful that Ava plays today on her great-grandmother’s heart-shaped rug.

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  4. My mother made those same rugs. I’d forgotten about them. We had the opposite problem with the linoleum: not enough sticky, so the stuff bubbled up and crinkled when you walked on it. Another great story,Janet. We played Parcheesi, too. I worked a couple of projects at that steel mill before they tore it down and sent it to China. Great job again. Your book arrives today; I’m looking forward to reading it. 🙂

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  5. What a charming story Janet. Your mother’s braided rug was a real family heirloom. I once knew a woman who made a large on too. Very impressive. As to the asphalt tile—we used it a few times years ago and it isn’t easy to judge the amount needed. Your mother was a wise woman to remind you of what is important. With a daughter such as you I know your mother will have a happy Mother’s Day.

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    • It amazes me how our parents shape us in big ways and small. Things I didn’t notice much at the time obviously stayed with me. Thank you for thinking I brought my mother happiness on Mothers Day as her daughter. I hope so. Though I addressed her at the end of the blog as though she were still living, she died several years ago; however she’s always especially alive for me as Mothers Day approaches.

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  6. This is a great post that takes me back to a time when we used our homemade items. I was thinking the other day about the quilts my grandmother made, and how I have them saved back, choosing instead to use manufactured blankets. My mom also used to tell me, “I always love you, but right now I don’t like you very much.” The message is an important one that more children need to hear.

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    • I, too, have some quilts I’m reluctant to use, but I suppose we should do so. It used to hurt me more than a spanking ever could have when my mother told me she didn’t like me. I agree it was an important message.

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  7. It is always preferable to like someone you love. I’m a bit judgemental with my mother, I’m afraid, as are my children with me.

    I once considered making one of those wonderful braided rugs. I started cutting the strips, but bowed to my limitations for a change. Else it would be just another unfinished project in my cupboard – along with my quilted cushion covers and the embroidered painting.

    I have the greatest admiration for your mother for finishing a rug of such dimensions. A precious keepsake. I like the painting of your home, that’s priceless.

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  8. Love the sniplets of your childhood, Janet. We to had a rag rug, and parents that grew up in the Great Depression, to see friends and brothers go off to war, all my dad knew was hard work. When Ma had me, our great Aunt took care of my brother, Ma drooled all week for the beefsteak waiting at home, and when I was dragged into the world, she got us home to find the steak boiled and fed to the dogs, the broth waiting for Ma, and her pride n joy tiled kitchen floor scrubbed a bald, grey mess by lye. She blamed me for years, and the fact my brother was pigeon-toed. Took me ages to realize you could love someone, and not like them all the time. My turn for a laugh and a tear-up.

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    • I’m glad you enjoy my childhood memories because I love reading yours as well. The love and like thing is a reality in most lives, but I guess we don’t always want to admit it. And how did you cause your brother to be pigeon-toed?

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    • Your house looks British-ish, I will have to study up on Utah Homes- Pigeon toed brother? He was learning to walk, and Great Aunt Bud thought it perfectly normal as it was how our cousin Donald, whom she called “Sugarbun” walked, and precious Andrew who was flattened by a tree. She called us “The Little Weeds” My Ma’s last words were, “No more Damn Blackberries”, Her second to last words were probably about her floor..Thanks Janet.

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  9. My my, you paint such a vivid picture. Of the rug in it’s mass and detail, of your understanding of handmade things, of your parents work ethic and your young heart tired of scrubbing and wishing someone would listen and say that was enough.
    Well, I guess you got your answer! Mother’s have a way of getting under our skin and saying for life. I am sure those words come to life each time you think of them.
    Happy Mother’s day, Janet. I am sure you have many celebrating your mothering efforts and admiring so much about you as well. Beautiful post!

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    • Happy Mother’s Day to you as well, Carrie. From reading your blog, I’m certain you are a good mother, who, on occasion, has to get under her children’s skin and will stay there as you so aptly wrote. I’m glad the mass and detail of the rug came through; I was afraid I’d bore everyone with the description of its creation, but I also wanted to emphasize the work that went into it.

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  10. Can’t help think how much more resourceful people were back in the day. Recently we visited our son and when we were looking fro extra bedding I found the quilts I had made them in the cupboard, unused. It made me sad to think they’re hidden away rather than being used. Great post Janet 👀 (Linda)

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    • Why am I not surprised that you are a quilt person, the best sort of person to be in my opinion. I think my parents were resourceful out of necessity, and in the day of credit cards, I’m not sure younger people feel the necessity as much.

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    • What a lovely comment, Shelley; I appreciate it. I was thinking about you the other day and wondering when and where your next travel adventure would be. I’ll keep checking your blog to find out.

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    • I did, Troy. I learned that lesson and many others my mother taught me over the years. My dad taught me as well, but more by his examples of hard work, honesty, and love of family than by his words.

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    • Oh, Don, they get to us big time. I know I’m revealing my ignorance here, but your comment made me wonder about Shakespeare’s treatment of mothers. In which plays did he delve into their relationships with their children in depth? I was thinking it might be interesting for me to revisit such passages.

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      • Except for “All’s Well That Ends Well”, “Hamlet” and “Romeo and Juliet”, there isn’t much relationship between mother and child. It is mostly father and child. Even in “Romeo and Juliet” and “All’s Well That Ends Well”, the relationship between mother and child is limited. “Hamlet” may be the only one of his plays that has a fuller relationship between mother and child, Gertrude and Hamlet.

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      • I was thinking Hamlet was unique in the mother/child relationship, but didn’t trust my knowledge and memory enough to go on record as saying so. I’ll have to take a look at “All’s Well That Ends Well.” I’m not as familiar with it as I am “Romeo and Juliet.” Thanks, Don.

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  11. Thank you for bringing Grandma back to me today!! I cherish the braided rugs, the painted recipe holder, the little trinkets and dear memories of the woman I hope to mirror. What a blessing in my life, and the lives of others, to know her and love her like we do. Happy Mothers Day, Aunt Janet!!

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  12. Great post Janet. I really liked seeing what the house looked like in Lois’ painting. I had no idea what it looked like. I always admired those types of houses in Utah, pretty unique I think as I haven’t seen them anywhere else.
    What a wonderful woman Mom was.
    I wish you and all of our Mothers past and present a Happy Mother’s Day!

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    • The rug wore out after many, many years of hard use, and, unfortunately, nobody thought to take a picture of it in its glory days. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and took enough time to tell me.

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  13. Janet, so many times I’ve wished I’d met your parents. Through your lovingly shared memories of them, and comments from the younger generations, I’m sure many readers can feel how fortunate you were to grow up in their home.

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    • I know my siblings and I think growing up with our parents was a good thing,and I’m always pleased, as you mentioned, Mary, by the happy memories and warm feelings my nieces and nephews express toward Mom and Dad when I write about them. Thanks for your comment and I’ll see you soon!

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    • She didn’t hesitate to talk to us about our behavior when she thought it mattered, Rita. Something I noticed and appreciated about her was the way she geared the wording and delivery of her reprimands according to the individual child she was addressing. How’s the shoulder?

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