Sarah’s Blog – Writing True Stories to Change Today. Bringing the Past Alive
A Sweet Mother’s Tribute 💕
In thinking of writing a Celebration of Life tribute for my mother, Ann Livingston Tracy Burrows, I asked myself, “Where should I begin?” It dawned on me that the answer to that is simple – with the word ‘beautiful.’
My mother was patient to the core. She was a good listener. Mom never interrupted. You see – to my mother – it was never about her. I believe one of my mother’s highest qualities was her unselfishness and perhaps the most important lesson she taught us. Mom would always ask about you, with cheerfulness, graciousness, and sincerity in her voice, a radiant smile, a twinkle in her beautiful brown, green speckled eyes, and a good sense of humor.
Mom’s patience was visible daily. In the way she spoke, moved, and interacted. If she was ever ‘biting her lip,’ trying to hold something back, she never showed it. Mom also exhibited tolerance. Mom did not judge. She was open and accepting of others – their ideas, differences, and feelings – and in that way, Mom was kind, her heart good. Mom never had a bad word to say about anybody.
Along with being patient and tolerant, Mom was calm. She did not rush. Mom’s relaxed character was a gift. It was special, and it made being around and spending time with Mom easy, and enjoyable. Mom did not get flustered. She didn’t have to work at being gentle. Mom did not need to practice ‘yoga’ to relax – she was naturally peaceful. In fact, her seven grandchildren attest they never saw or heard their Nana lose her cool. Nor did I.
Mom was ‘perfect’ for family. From a baby until the day she died. Mom was the oldest of three children, the only girl. Raised in Sedgwick Farm on Dewitt Street, Mom was big sister to two brothers, Jim, and “Johnny” as the youngest was lovingly called. Mom was, in many ways, a mother figure to them. She was caring. I know this from stories told by family and friends to the black and white photographs that speak color to her sweetness – from the gentle placement of her hand on a back, kneeling to fix a skinned knee, to the careful trimming of fingernails while Johnny fidgeted because he’d rather run outside to play.
Mom’s childhood was happy. She spent time on Skaneateles Lake where her grandfather and uncle had cottages. Mom had many cousins, aunts, and uncles who she enjoyed spending time with and there were many Tracy family reunions where there was always a good tennis match played, great food and laughter.
At home in Sedgwick Farm, Mom’s best friend, Mary Sawyer, and many of her brothers’ friends often gathered at their home because my grandparents, Loretta and John Tracy, were welcoming and as one of Jim and Johnny’s close friend, Peter White, quoted, “such good people to be around.” In general, Mom’s childhood was preparing her for life ahead.
Dad began pursuing Mom when she was about to enter her sophomore year at Nottingham High School and Dad entering his senior year there. He was two years plus older than Mom. During Dad’s college years at Hobart, Mom frequently visited him. Dad recalls that his fraternity brothers, who knew and loved Mom and were well aware of the age difference, liked to kid him about ‘robbing the cradle.’
The fraternity crowned Mom their ‘Winter ‘Dream Girl’ Queen’ and in a newspaper article announcing that is a photograph of Mom in her elegant dress holding a spray of flowers, looking beautiful yet modest. Just one of the many examples of the beautiful part of Mom – she never boasted and was always gracious.
After graduating from Syracuse University with a B.A. in Home Economics, Mom taught school in Syracuse and married Dad in 1955, after Dad graduated Syracuse University Law School. After Dad’s training in the Army, they lived in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina where Dad was stationed during the Korean War. Mom taught school there, too, and they enjoyed their time. Moving back to Syracuse, Mom and Dad settled into a house in DeWitt and were pleased when their first child, Bill Jr., arrived. ‘Life was good.’
As I mentioned, Mom’s childhood had readied her for the future, but as most of us know, life is not always perfect, and nothing could have prepared Mom, her brother, Jim, or their parents, for the shock and heartache when Johnny, a First Lieutenant in the United States Air Force, co-piloting a regular Strategic Air Command mission back from Russia during the Cold War, was killed, along with six other men, when their plane exploded February 9, 1962. Johnny’s daughter, Dawn, named so because it was her father’s favorite time of day to fly, was seven months old. Mom, nine months pregnant and ironing Dad’s shirts in the kitchen, overheard the radio report about the accident. My brother, John, was born four weeks later.
And so, Mom had to be strong, even when it was difficult to be. And she was. Mom and Dad moved to Sedgwick Farm when Dad took a position with the city’s law department. They bought a home on Farmer Street, just around the corner from where Mom grew up, and where her father still lived. Mom was a wonderful mother to us three kids. She held us close, let us go, rocked us on the hall bench when we cried, and wiped our tears. When we were outside playing, Dad whistled for us, letting us know that it was time to get home for dinner. We had nice family meals around the table, and then Mom tucked us in at night so that we could hardly move.
“Sleep tight,” she’d say, and kiss us on the forehead.
Each morning Mom made our school lunches, lining the brown bags up on the counter for us to grab on our way out the door. We had fun as a family. We skied at Toggenburg and Labrador Mountains. While Dad, Bill and John skied, Mom and I rode the chairlift together. As I followed Mom down the hill, I thought she was a beautiful skier, gracefully gliding back and forth, in her aqua colored ski jacket, with the soft fur around the hood.
We visited our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins’, and enjoyed wonderful holiday meals together that Mom, my paternal grandmother, and aunt prepared. Our home life was full of love, and yet of course, at times as in any family, a bit chaotic. That made it fun, too. I recall when I was in first grade Mom was making dinner, I arguing with my brothers, and our Golden Retriever puppy, Taffy, chewing the rungs of our new Stickley kitchen chairs when something started boiling over on the stove. Mom ended up in tears. The scene was one that Mom and I laughed about in recent years.
As a family, we went to ‘camp,’ ever Mom’s favorite place to be. Dad had worked for a lawyer named Ross Paltz, who introduced Mom and Dad to Crag Point on Big Moose Lake, where they built their camp in 1971. At Dad’s urging, they would open camp as soon as possible, closing late in the fall. Mom loved the peacefulness of the woods, sitting with a cup of coffee watching the sunrise over South Bay, the boats going by, hearing the loons sing, family surrounding her, and spending time with the community she loved so dearly. We spent many weekends, holidays, and each summer at Big Moose, and Mom and Dad enjoyed it together the past 47 years. They could often be found together each afternoon on the dock.
Mom loved the Big Moose Community Chapel and its’ Sunday services, helping out at the annual bazaar. She loved the changing seasons, the lake, the ferns, the trees, the ground cover, white daisies along the roads she walked, hummingbirds diving for food at her living room window, the rocks lining the path to the boathouse, red geraniums she planted and watered, squirrels, chipmunks, Black Bears – but from a distance – a frequent trip around the lake in their party barge, admiring the mountains and waving to those on their dock and at their camp, dinner at the BMI or Duffy’s at The Glenmore, and in particular, her many friends.
Mom kept busy with what she enjoyed, especially spending time with Dad, and her grandchildren, whom she loved holding and taking care of as babies. Mom also enjoyed reading, walking, music, and volunteering – whether driving and delivering for Meals on Wheels, helping out at the Big Moose Community Chapel, or serving on boards in Syracuse. Besides being a wonderful wife and mother, Mom was an incredible daughter-in-law, and daughter. She took good care of her father, who late in life suffered similar type strokes she herself would the last nine years of her own life. Mom’s caring hands and unwavering devotion to Grandpa Tracy taught me well in loving and caring for him, and therefore recently for her.
On my birthday each year, Dad reminds me that I was the “frosting on the cake,” because after two boys he and Mom had hoped for a girl. I have, however, always thought that in our family, Mom was the important, sweetest ingredient. The richest part of us all, and what makes our family what it is – special. We are now in unchartered territory – a new dawn – and we must be strong, like Mom. It will not be easy without her and we will need to remember the beautiful lessons Mom taught us – Be patient, kind, loving, unselfish, uncomplaining, forgiving, a good listener, tolerant, joyful, and gracious.
In closing, on February 6 Mom suffered another stroke – her fourth in almost nine years – that she could not recover from, though she fought to. In other times, Mom was able to regain as much as she could during rehabilitation, perseverance, and hard work. Mom always accepted her injuries with grace, while enjoying each and every day, reminding Dad to do the same. Dad, our entire family and others supported Mom after each stroke and did again this time, trying to do everything in Mom’s best interests.
During the ten days that Mom was hospitalized she thankfully could hear and comprehend so that we could tell her how much we loved her. We held her hand, gathered around her bed, and stayed overnight. For those of us who could not be with her in person, we spoke our love to her by cellphone. We were as a family ‘in it together.’ Dad told Mom how much he loved her, that she was his best friend, partner and companion – for seventy years – and how much he will miss her. The last day we as a family spent together with Mom was Valentine’s Day, and though it was in the hospital, it was surrounded by love. Dad read her his Valentine’s Day card and he gave me the one they had together picked out for me.
On Thursday morning, February 15th, as the rays of rising sun streamed onto Mom’s face through the window overlooking the university she graduated from and the city she always loved and lived in, the sky turned a magnificent pink. I lay beside Mom holding her tight as I’d done the previous four nights – playing soft music, walking through her life, telling her how much we love her and that we know she loves us – when her breathing told me the end was near.
I whispered in Mom’s ear how beautiful the dawn was, just like her.
“It’s okay to go, Mom,” I said, as hard it was to say. “You’ll be with your brothers and parents again, and everyone you loved, and God. We will be okay and take good care of Dad. And one day, Mom, you’ll greet us all in Heaven.”
Mom, thank you for being the beautiful, special woman you were. As your brother, Jim, liked to say, “you were perfect.” We love you so very much and will miss you always. You made our world beautiful. We are and will be better because of you. Love, Sarah
Alison Burrows 02/25/18
To Our Nana, Love the Grandkids
I speak for all the grand kids when I say that we all feel so lucky to have grown up with grandparents who are so involved in our lives. I was a teenager when I realized not everyone spent every summer with the whole family – and I didn’t fully appreciate how special that time was until later in my life.
All the grandkids remember summers at Big Moose Lake when we were little and all stayed at Nana and Grandpa’s camp together. Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins – golden retrievers. It was chaos. We screamed, we cried, we played, we fought, we laughed. And through it all, I can’t remember a single time when Nana lost her patience.
When we got older, our family’s moved out of the Nana and Grandpa’s camp to their own for the summer. But we knew we could always stop by to fish off the dock with Grandpa and eat lunch with Nana. Nana would make us sandwiches with fig newtons or chocolate covered graham crackers for dessert. She would sit with us and ask all about whatever we happened to be doing at the time – lunch with Nana was always about us, never about her.
Even when Nana had her stroke nine years ago and fought through months of physical therapy – we would ask how she was doing, knowing it must be an incredibly difficult, frustrating, and painful process. But she always answered “oh, just fine” and then asked us about school.
A few years later, after the whole family vacationed together in Colorado, a huge snow storm came through the day Nana, Grandpa, Jay and my parents were supposed to fly home. Everyone was so frustrated – How could this snow storm get in the way of our lives! But not Nana. She never complained once and instead enjoyed each moment of what turned out to be a memorable three extra vacation days with the family.
Nana evoked a quiet selflessness, finding joy in others happiness. She took each moment as it came with grace, whether it was good or bad. My only hope is that we can carry on Nana’s legacy with the same grace, patience, and selflessness she so effortlessly embraced in her own life.
My words will never sum up what Nana meant to me and all the grandkids. But I know we are so lucky to have so many wonderful memories to reflect upon, and so many that we can share together. Summers, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and family dinners just because we love spending time together. Those memories will continue to bind our family together and I am forever grateful for that.
Nana, from all the grandkids – we love you so much and we’ll miss you forever. But you’ll never truly leave us. When we drive past the dock and see Grandpa reading in his Adirondack chair, you’ll always be sitting right next to him.