Cheers to Kay: Blessings My Mother Taught Me

Kathryn Sharp; 1967.
by Shelley Klausen

Some of my earliest full memories about my mom are sitting on our orange velvet sofa and watching Sunny and Cher. My mom loved Cher’s low voice and sassy attitude. She liked Carol Burnett too, and Mary Tyler Moore. My mother was independent when women weren’t expected to be independent. Raised as a country girl in Kansas and Oregon, she worked summers on a ranch and played basketball at school. She had her own bank account and led my Brownie troupe in a bra-burning ritual in the hills outside Salt Lake City.

Tough Love Parenting Style

I grew up doing chores and my mom had high standards. Dishes were washed until squeaky clean, dusting included high and low places, my bed was expected to be made, and my clothes hung up. As I got older, I did my own laundry, raked the lawn, and washed the car. She was fond of saying things like, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” even though she had a plaque on her kitchen wall that read, “Boring Women Have Immaculate Homes.”

Kay Sharp Yellowstone
Me, my mom, my brother Eric, and our dog Amber. Yellowstone, 1971.

My mom was a working woman and hated to cook. And honestly, she was okay in the kitchen, but not great. Dinners at our house were a rotating menu of recipes clipped from Good Housekeeping Magazine: Spaghetti with pepperoni, tuna ‘n’ noodle casserole, ground beef enchiladas, pizza made with a Bisquick crust, chicken ‘n’ dumplings, hamburgers with frozen tater tots, and Rice-a-Roni (the San Francisco treat!) with Shake ‘n’ Bake pork chops. On weekends, she pulled her favorite (and only) cookbook from the drawer, “The I Hate to Cook Cookbook” — easy-to-prepare recipes for modern women.

Enjoying life in Coeur d Alene, ID; 2008.

Perfect on the Outside

My mom was thin and fit and always on the go. She left the house for work at 8am, grocery shopped on the way home, and then ironed and bathed us kids after dinner. She sewed a bit and made moccasins and macrame plant hangers for fun. On winter weekends, we took ski lessons at Park City and sledded. In the summer, we went hiking and four-wheeling in my dad’s Scout — always with her beloved Golden Retriever, Amber, in tow.

My mom was brought up to keep up appearances. She was attractive, fashionable, and fun. But, unlike her mom, she was a tomboy and didn’t wear a lot of makeup or go to the hairdresser. At parties and social gatherings she was the center of attention and louder and more brash than most of her friends. On the inside she was insecure but outwardly defensive about “not being perfect.” She guarded her emotions and hid past traumas in the closet. As I became older, I saw that my mom held onto guilt and pain. I wanted to become her confidant, but she never really trusted me that way.

Me and Kay. Baja, California, 2017.

Learning to Live with Loss

Last October, my mother died of uterine cancer. Always the picture of health, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that she’s gone. She had always made an effort to make family the center of the holidays, so Christmastime was raw and odd. In the days preceding April 3, which would have been her 82nd birthday, I had lucid dreams and waking moments of my mom laughing and comforting me. The realization that this year would be void of the strong life presence that was my mother — a woman who I thought would never die — has finally hit me.

My mom was my harshest critic and my strongest advocate. I didn’t have the best-friend relationship with her that I always craved, but we were fiercely close just the same. She was generous, outspoken, and lived life to its fullest. She was a fighter and believed that we create our own destinies. She didn’t believe in bailing me out, but in “helping me help myself.” She had the strongest fighting spirit that I have known and I can still feel her with me.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom

Sunday, May 12, will be the next emotional hurdle I will need to jump over. My annual ritual was to ship her a potted tomato plant or two for her back deck. She didn’t like receiving expensive presents, so I opted for a colorful reminder of summer she could enjoy into fall. In the last few years of her life, she and I came to have an unspoken pride and support in each other. She was proud of my life journey, her granddaughter, and my marriage. She was ecstatic when Patrick and I moved back to Washington State to take a job in Friday Harbor for the San Juan Island Inn Collection. Last May she visited, I think knowing, it might be her last trip. Happy Mother’s Day this year and every year mom. I miss you every day.

Ten Blessings My Mother Taught Me

  1. Pick yourself up by your bootstraps
  2. You can’t change others, you can only change your own behavior or outlook
  3. Make time for yourself
  4. Sing out loud, even if you don’t have a good voice
  5. The value of good girlfriends
  6. Be an unwavering advocate for those living with mental illness
  7. Life’s too short to not get started on your bucket list
  8. To have a good work ethic
  9. A love of animals, nature, and the outdoors
  10. Look towards the future, not to the past