A Tribute To Mom
I don’t believe I have written a blog in special tribute to my mother. It is time I did just that and Mother’s Day is the perfect time. Helen Shaffer Coss was born the daughter of a farm couple, the oldest of the four children who survived infancy. Mom’s elementary school years were spent at a little one-room schoolhouse about a mile from the family farm on Creek Rd. in the Town of Hinsdale, NY. When she reached 7th grade her parents sent her to the nearby town of Cuba, NY to live with her aunt and continue her education. When it was time for her high school years she hired out to a family in Olean, NY, about ten miles from home, where she lived and worked as a maid while attending school. As soon as mom was old enough to get her driver’s license she transferred to Portville High School. She was the chauffeur for a car-load of other local kids who desired to finish their education.
Her Early Years
Mom was very bright. She told the story of getting the measles during her senior year. People with measles were always cautioned to avoid bright light and to not use their eyes to excess. It was exam time and mom ignored those warnings, something she always blamed for her poor eyesight in ensuing years. But the studying was worth the effort. She graduated valedictorian of the class of 1933. Her dream was to go to nursing school as had the aunt with whom she lived earlier. But it was not to be. Her father, in the middle of the worst depression the country had ever known, could not see the value of educating a female who would “just get married and have kids.”
The Working Years
So she went to work at a local restaurant, a job she held until her marriage two years later. I arrived a year later, followed by two other daughters. But mom’s learning never stopped. During the war she took a Red Cross nursing course and spent many hours working with that organization helping with local projects. After the war she went to work as a seamstress for a local clothing store, doing alterations. Alteration work was also done out of her home and she had a reputation for being the finest seamstress in the area. She later attended night school, learning typing and bookkeeping. These skills served her well. By the time I was in high school she was working for a local grocery distributor, first as a secretary and later as a buyer.
Her community service was also remarkable. She served many years as church treasurer, president of the school PTA an Alumni Association, president of the local garden club and of the church women’s organization. Using her skills as a seamstress, she produced many beautiful altar cloths and albs for church use.
The Things She Taught Us
Mom was an excellent cook. People would line up at church suppers to make sure they got a piece of Helen’s pie. She made sure that her daughters learned to cook at an early age. She tried to teach me to sew, but I much preferred keeping my nose in a book or write a story for the school newspaper. Although the basics rubbed off on me by osmosis, I never became as skilled as my sisters at sewing. Her skills were also passed down to my daughters, as she helped them with 4-H projects. She left two generations of us with quilts and/or afghans as a remembrance of her abilities. She dabbled in art as well; her legacy included oil paintings and Tole work for us to enjoy.
Mom was the family disciplinarian. I don’t believe she ever raised her voice, but she did get her message across with a fly swatter across the back our legs on occasion. She was a worry wart. We were never allowed to ride a horse; she was deathly afraid of them after a team ran away with her one day on the farm when she was a young girl. We weren’t allowed to go barefooted; we might cut our foot. Skiing and tobogganing were out of the question; too dangerous. While cerebral pursuits were encouraged, outdoor activities were unfortunately discouraged.
In 1971 mom developed glomerulonephritis, a kidney condition that resulted in the loss of kidney function. She ended up on dialysis and the disease ended her life much too early, May 11, 1984, just two days before Mother’s Day that year. I had a Mother’s Day card for her ready to go and never got to give it to her. Thanks mom, for being a wonderful, compassionate, loving mother and for teaching me the coping skills of life.