inherited: my mother things

maybe mike devenish pottery

My mother would have turned 79 today. As some of you know, she passed away at the end of December on the night of my son’s first birthday. Since then, we’ve sold her house in Wilmington, DE, which was of course an emotional and difficult process. But there was also some solace in going through her beautiful belongings and incorporating many of them into our home. In honor of her birthday, I thought I would share some of these tangibles here: they make us feel her presence and remind us of the importance of enjoying your home.

This jug, pictured above, is now on our dining room table. I have always admired this – there are no markings but with the help of her dear friend Linda, I believe she bought it in the 70’s directly from the potter Mike Devinish. This was in the small town of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, where we lived until I was 14.

The crazy thing is that this philadendron cutting came straight from her house: the jug and cutting traveled to New York with me on the passenger side floor of my very packed station wagon one dark and melancholy night this past winter. The point is that my mother cut this tendril herself, probably several years ago – it is very special to still have a living thing that she nurtured. She displayed these cuttings in unique receptacles in just about every room of her house, and she kept them going forever…I haven’t had quite as much luck with this practice as her, but I hope I can keep this one going.

hippo stool 2

This crazy hippo stool sat in our family room for a long time.  Though it currently sits in our library, I can imagine putting it in Ian’s room some day. I can attest that the top spins around infinitely in the most delightful way.

vintage hippo

This is the only photo I could find of the hippo in its original habitat, i.e. wading in a shallow pool of shag carpet circa 1974 or 1975. I am probably about 2 or 3 years old.


This quilt was given to my parents for their wedding, so it is over 55 years old. I love how intricate yet informal the pattern is. The best part is that two of the squares have tiny mice posing with cheese.

quilt mouse

I fondly remember searching for the mice with my mom and plan to do the same with Ian. Some of the squares were a bit frayed or ripped so I took it to a local quilt shop, The Happy Quilter, to get it repaired.  The women in the shop treated this quilt as if I’d brought them a sheet of pure, folded gold. In fact, when I told them my mother had passed only a few weeks before, they wouldn’t let me purchase fabric in the store in order to replace a few squares. “Go in her closet,” they told me, “Get a shirt, a pair of pants, perhaps an apron,”and we’ll go from there.” And that’s exactly what I did. They gave me great advice and did a wonderful job on the repairs.

miss elliette polka dot dress

This dress was the biggest surprise – I’d never seen it before, not in photos or in any of my many forays into her closet to play dress-up. I was able to find out through the Vintage Fashion Guild that this label is from the 1960’s.

Miss Elliette Label

I didn’t expect that any of my mother’s clothes would fit me because she was always either thinner or heavier than I, but this fits me like a glove. The dress was full length so I had it hemmed to my knees. Several people have told me that after you lose someone, you start to see unexpected signs from them. Indeed, it almost felt as if my mom sent me this dress.

I donned it at at my birthday party in May and loved every second of wearing it.

ian and polka dot dress

Happy Birthday Mom. I miss hearing your laughter so much, but your love surrounds us everyday in so many tangible and intangible ways.

mom laughing

31 replies

  1. You took my breath away Jocelyn. What a tribute to your mom and the woman that she was, especially for you and your brother. This is also a memorial for all of our mothers who not only live through us but those special little things tucked into our homes that they have made or treasured in times gone by. Hugs to all of you.

    • Thank you Elaine. I know my mother would be pleased to see how we are enjoying the things she enjoyed. Of course “things” are only “things” but they do tell a larger story and help connect us to previous generations in a more visceral way.

    • Thank you Richard. As you know, these few pieces represent only a fraction of the items we were so lucky to have inherited. And the tangible items are only the tip of the iceberg as far as the legacy she left. This is true of all parents. Thank you for being by our side for many many years.

    • Thank you Dorothy. I cried a lot when I wrote it, esp the end, but it felt like the right thing to do and I am very thankful that people like you took the time out of your day to read it.

  2. So beautiful! I got choked up at the quilt section…so cool that the little store here in VC was able to help restore it! And that hippo stool!!! Whaaat??!!! Xo

    Sent from my iPhone


    • That store is awesome. The fabrics in there are so enticing, I can see starting up this hobby. Let’s take a class there when we are empty nesters (only a few decades)

      I know, that hippo stool – not much to say about it – it really does speak for itself.

  3. So many memories brought back. Tears in my eyes. I remember that dress Jocelyn, probably worn when we all lived in Davenport, Iowa when our husbands taught at Palmer College.

    • Wow, Linda, wow. I amazed and thrilled that you remember my mother in that dress. After all, you “knew her when…” Something about that dress represents the magic of life to me – I feel lucky to have found it and I know she would be so happy that its getting a second go-round. Thanks for your comment and your friendship. All my best.

  4. What a wonderful story. I’m hoping my daughter, Kim
    Mueller VanOfferen, (a friend of yours from Mt Horeb) feels the same way you did about my things. I remember your mom as a very sweet lady.

  5. Such a nice tribute to your Mom on the day of her birthday, Joc. So nice that you are enjoying some of the things that she used to cherish. Think of all the happy memories, today!

  6. Oh, Jocelyn, what a beautiful tribute to your Mom! The deep love you have for her is there in every word and it moved me to tears. I know you miss her so much and you always will, but the special days that are uniquely hers, like her birthdays, are especially poignant and bittersweet, a longing for the past and an appreciation of the sweet and enduring gifts she left you. I love you.

  7. Jocelyn, just like you, I miss talking to her. She made me feel like everything else stopped as she listened, although I know she was always thinking of you and your brother first. Her warmth and caring live on in my memory.

    • Thank you Nancy. She did adore you.

      Not only did she demonstrate the power of really listening but she also told me point blank, “I always loved listening to what you had to say. Listen to your children.”

  8. This is really lovely. My mum died three years ago at the age of 78. I don’t really have any of her things because my dad has them, but I have photos and letters. I love the story of the philodendron. Long may it thrive!

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