Getting to Know You

A tribute to my Mother in Law, Lauretta Ruth Babcock Phillips.

I love creating Powerpoint presentations for my day job. It’s fun. The biggest problem I have is keeping my word count down. (Oops, hello? Writer.) But I have to tell you, I’ve spent the last week agonizing over the at first seemingly unsurmountable and daunting task of creating a Powerpoint slideshow for my mother-in-law’s memorial Saturday. I had to make sense of so many photos, put them in order, and create the story of the life of a woman I barely knew. And, it had to be perfect.

It’s been bittersweet, like popping a red hard candy into your mouth thinking its cinnamon but it turns out to be cherry. Surprisingly sweet and unexpected.

I hardly knew David’s mom. By the time I came into her life she’d been struggling with dementia for a few years, but was still able to live at home with her daughter and son in law , Kathy and Tim, as her caretakers. We brought her to our home for a few Sunday dinners, we took her to parades in the village.

But a short time after I’d met her, she was removed from her home and placed in a facility that cares for the elderly, especially those struggling with dementia and Alzheimers. We visited her and brought her cakes and cookies, and photo albums of better days in the hopes of helping her remember bits and pieces of the good times. It was hard on David, because when it was time for us to leave, Mom would cry. When the pandemic struck, our chances to visit ended. David never got to see his mom again.

She passed away in January of this year due to complications from COVID.

The thing I remember most about Mom is her infectious smile and her laughing eyes. But there is so much more to her, I’ve learned this past week.

Mom went by many names, with her given name of Lauretta a derivative of two—her aunt was Laura and her mother, was Etta. Growing up in Maryland, as a young child she was known by her middle name, Ruth. She was also known as Ruthie, Wolfie, Laurie, and Mom, of course.

The woman I knew when she was alive was simple. Like I said, she had an amazing smile, and loving, laughing eyes, (I can’t say that enough because words do not describe her beauty and the love she expressed with a simple look, that still is witnessed years later in her photos). But by the time we met, she didn’t speak a lot. She loved sweets, and judging by the gardens around her house and from stories I’ve heard, she loved flowers. There were hints of humor and generosity in the stories shared, but I never experienced this first hand as she was already very ill.

Now, preparing for her memorial I’ve learned that Lauretta Ruth Babcock Phillips was not a simple woman at all. She was so much more. Vibrant, kind, loyal, loving, adventurous, curious, silly, endearing. Most of all, she was adored by everyone who met her.

Thank goodness Mom loved to take photos. She kept boxes and boxes of pictures, dozens of albums, framed photos and portfolio’d pictures that now sit on shelves in my husband’s office. And while there are not too many with her in them, comparatively speaking, we’ve found some lovely photographs of Mom throughout her life. She was very photogenic.

She also enjoyed traveling. We’ve found pictures of her global wanderings that brought her throughout the United States, as far reaching as Alaska, a trip she took with her sister, Sue.

Aunt Sue and Mom on one of their jaunts.

She even went to the UK, proof in pictures of her standing in front of the House of Parliament along the River Thames.

She loved camping, and spent many a good times at Kindervolk, a camp owned by her best friend Bev and Bev’s husband Eric, up near Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks. David has shared with me a lifetime of adventures he experienced there as a child. Good times that were recorded often in photos by Mom, so there were very few pictures where she was included. Luckily, we found one labelled on the back in her familiar handwriting, “High Tea at Kindervolk.” She was a fun lady.

High Tea at Kindervolk. Mom’s kneeling in front in dark blue shorts and hat.

Her fun times included a four-seater plane ride with her son, whitewater rafting, a trip to New York City with her daughter, dressing up in period clothing (we aren’t sure why!), and celebrating the holiday’s with her extended family of stepchildren and their kids. We weren’t able to find those pictures, I only know that from stories shared. They went to amusement parks, had family vacations together, went back home to Maryland to visit her other best friend, Peggy and her children, and made sure she left a lifetime of good memories for loved ones to hold on to through the years.

Speaking of loved ones, we found long forgotten pictures of her husband, Earl. David’s dad who passed when David was a young boy. We found lovely vintage shots of Dad and the kids, of Earl standing beside a Model A Ford that he lovingly built himself.

Dad, David, and Kathy
Dad and one of his Model A’s he built himself.

We can’t forget the furbabies she surrounded herself with throughout her life. When visiting their home, you were most assuredly greeted by any given number of doggies and cats. Photos show mom lounging or snuggling with any of these beloved pets, including Colleen, Smokey, Blacky, Stubby, and Patches, among many, many others.

Mom and Colleen

Lauretta was so very proud of her offspring. There are volumes of snapshots of David and Kathy (his older sister) as children, from birth to adulthood. Kathy in band, at graduation, on her wedding day.

Mom and Kathy

And David, running around in a superhero cape, cowboy gear, competing in Karate events, and standing in front of his first car. And more. Too many to describe here.

David the Superhero (He still is, even without his cape)

Another area of her life that encompassed a huge part of her heart was her schooling and her career. She was an alumna of Syracuse University School of Nursing, and lived her adult life serving others at Little Falls Hospital as a nurse. And the few photos we found of her in her nursing uniform presented a woman who loved her role as a healer.

So as we prepare to say goodbye to the remarkable woman who brought into this world a remarkable son who became my remarkable husband, I’ve had the heartwarming task of finally getting to know my mother in law. And when Saturday comes, I will not be saying farewell to a woman a barely knew.

I will be remembering and honoring a woman who left a lifetime legacy of love, laughter, and great memories for all who knew her.

Lauretta—Mom—you may be gone, but you will never be forgotten.

Pictured, right, is Mom with her brother Kenny, who has passed (center), and her surviving sister, Sue (left).

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