What Holds Us Together: Happy Mother's Day

May 6, 2014

With the approach of Mother's Day Sunday many of us are thinking about the woman who raised us -- and the things she taught or shared with us.

Charlottesville author Deborah Prum has been thinking about what gets passed down from the mothers in her family. 

My granddaughter Campbell is 2 and lives about 6,900 miles from Charlottesville. My grandmother, Benedetta, is 105 and lives in Connecticut, about 600 miles from here.

I chat with Campbell by Skype and Facetime. I communicate with Benedetta by snail mail and telephone. Unfortunately, Campbell and Benedetta have no easy way to keep in touch. However, when they met in Connecticut last summer, Benedetta marveled how “straight” Campbell’s legs were.  Maybe Benedetta was expecting rickets?  We don’t know. Regardless, we recorded the momentous, multi-generational meeting with an iPhone then circulated the pictures to family and friends via email, Instagram and Facebook.

Last month, when I visited Campbell, she and I were sick for days and spent lots of time on the couch.  We sang one song after another.  As we sang, I thought about the origin of each song—where I’d heard it first and from whom.

Benedetta sang many songs to her seventeen grandchildren, including this one:

I love you a bushel and a peck....A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.....A hug around the neck and a barrel and a heap.....A barrel and a heap and I'm talking' in my sleep.

I remember this song distinctly because we smart-alecky kids would always change the line “a hug around your neck” to “I’ll break your little neck.” To my horror, I found myself singing the “break your little neck” version to Campbell.  Fortunately, she’s too young to understand and did not run screaming from the room.

Joan, Campbell’s paternal great-grandmother is 88 and lives in Boston.  When my children were little, we visited Joan and learned this ditty:

"Bump, bump to Boston.
Bump, bump to Lynn.
You better watch out,
Cuz you might fall in."

That week, I bump-bumped Campbell all over the place, which she loved.  I was much more gentle than one unnamed person in our family who bump bumped like a Coney Island roller coaster and risked giving the poor child whiplash. However, the poor child did not complain but instead laughed harder and begged for more.

Over the years, I’ve introduced songs to the collection. Our family moved from New England to the South when our children were toddlers. I picked up a couple of rhymes. One required dancing and kicking around the room:

"Salome was a dancer.
She danced before the king.
And when Salome danced,
She wiggled everything.
“Stop!” said the king.
“You can’t do that in here.”
“Baloney,” said Salome,
And she kicked the chandelier.”

Campbell loved the dancing, but at two years old, hasn’t quite mastered the kicking.

On the fifteen-hour plane ride home, I had plenty of time to think. My grandmother, Benedetta, lived close to me.  We ate together, played together and sang together.  Campbell’s grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandmother live in Virginia, Alabama, Florida, Massachusetts and Connecticut.  She is blessed to have so many elderly relatives still alive, yet she’ll not be able to see them often.

So, electrons zooming through time zones keep our family connected.  But, what holds us together?
Words.  Although, not merely words, but words filled with sentiment, passed down through the generations.  And, I’ll do my very best to keep passing them.

Deborah M.Prum  is author of the audio book, First Kiss and Other Cautionary Tales. A longer version of this appeared in Charlottesville Family Magazine.