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Appreciating a Mother's Legacy

We can always find ways to appreciate a mother's gifts after her death.

Key points

  • Inevitably, a parent leaves a legacy, consciously or unconsciously.
  • Discoveries of a parent's influence can emerge decades after their death.
  • Gratitude reliably evokes positive feelings.
/Roni Beth Tower, from her archives
My mother.
Source: /Roni Beth Tower, from her archives

My mother died two months before the annual July clearance sales. I found myself walking through Saks Fifth Avenue, and there, on the sale shoe rack and in size 7, were the shoes.

Shoes my mother would have loved.

Ones I never would have stopped to ogle. Impractical. High heels, for one thing. And spectator style, the white leather inevitably requiring periodic restoration. But they were beautiful. At least I thought so in 1992. And sexy. And unusual. These were shoes my mother would have bought.

I owned and wore those shoes for 27 summers. Even as my body began to resist the height of the heels, the smile they put on my face made the discomfort worthwhile. Besides, they were perfect with the black-and-white summer dress I bought in Paris. I loved my unusual shoes and the radiance that glowed in me as I remembered the best that my mother had brought to me.

There were many things that my mother was not. At her graveside service, the rabbi looked at my brother, my grown daughter, and me — we were his sole audience — and read “A Woman of Valor” from the Reform Jewish prayer book. We all struggled not to burst out laughing. My mother did not cook or sew or support others in their ventures. The reading was not a description of my mother.

But she did brighten. With her eye for what was beautiful, her insistence on creating visually pleasing combinations, and her commitment to appearances, she could enliven people, places, and situations with beauty wherever she went.

Roni Beth Tower
Painting by my mother in my living room
Source: Roni Beth Tower

When she was 60, she began to paint, transferring her eye for fashion, interiors, and style into color and balance as she mixed and managed her oils. She transformed the brightness into a form that people could bring into their lives and into their homes. To this day, her landscapes bring light and smiles into my own rooms.

She found transcendence through her creations and, in doing so, inspired me to do the same, regardless of my age and the learning curve. She inspired me to stretch beyond culturally imposed limitations and, incidentally, share my own story in a memoir published when I was 72. Like the woman in purple, she modeled the courage to be and express who I am. I continue to work on claiming that legacy. And I think of her on Mother's Day.