I can't be with my mother, Marilyn Ruth Flaherty Maxwell Muller on her 86th birthday tomorrow, so I thought I'd write a brief biography of her, instead, so you all can know what an awesome woman she is.
Marilyn Flaherty was a shy girl who grew up in Piedmont, California, a hilly small town across the bay from San Francisco. Already a third-generation Californian, she went sailing in the bay and in the Pacific with her father, roller-skated down steep hills, and put on gloves and a hat to go shopping in the city with her mother and younger sister.
As an undergraduate in history at the University of California, Berkeley, she met my father at a sorority dance. He was a shy Army recruit enrolled in Italian classes. They dated, fell in love, and wrote letters several times a week during the years he was stationed elsewhere in the States and then in the far reaches of India during the war. When he returned, they were married (see her guest post about her first car).
According to both of them, they talked ahead of time through all their plans for being a couple and being parents. They gave birth to four children, all less than two years apart (I'm #3). Mommy participated in a playgroup cooperative associated with a local college. She was home with us until we were in high school, and was a devoted Girl Scout leader (Leader of the Year in 1963) and Cub Scout den mother for my younger brother.
Our home was filled with books of all kinds. Mommy loved to read mysteries and my first Agatha Christie reads were her books. As a child when I couldn't sleep, I would sometimes make my way back into the living room where she sat reading, and if I was lucky (or if she chose to let me, more likely) I'd get some cherished time reading my own book next to her.
My mother was always creative. She made a puppet theater for us by painting a refrigerator box, sewing and mounting a curtain, and fabricating puppets out of old socks, buttons, paint, and fabric. She sewed intricate ballet costumes for my two older sisters and me every spring, four per girl, and taught the other mothers the patterns. She took a cake-decorating class and made roses (roses!) out of frosting. She sewed most of our clothes and knit us sweaters.
She also paid attention to our nutrition. Although she never really enjoyed cooking apart from baking, we always had balanced meals. She read Adele Davis and tossed things like dried milk into the Bisquik to give it more protein.
On our annual two-week camping vacations in the Sierras, she taught us about birds and plants. We'd lie on our backs at night in an open area with her and learn about the stars (yes, using the Rey book). She let us run loose within certain boundaries on vacation, making sure we checked in (with a code word - "I'm going to visit Mrs. McGillicuddy") when we headed off to the bathrooms. At home I could go off anywhere on my bike as long as I stayed within a certain square of blocks. We were self-sufficient at home, too. We kids made our own breakfasts and lunches as soon as we went to school. She wasn't into short-order prep for four picky eaters.
In their fifties my parents divorced. Both of them remarried happily. My stepfather Fred Muller and my mother moved north out of the LA smog to Ventura, California, where they spent many sweet years together. They'd drive the few hours to Las Vegas and take advantage of the many senior discounts on food and lodging. They'd gamble a little for a few days and then drive home. Mommy took up quilting, making numerous beautiful quilts for her children and grandchildren. She won awards at the County Fair and made some good friends in her quilt group, Stitch and Bitch. She and Fred played games every afternoon: Scrabble, cribbage, cards. (I didn't beat her at Scrabble until I was 50...)
My father had passed away by then, and Fred was a perfect step-grandfather to my sons. Mommy was and still is a devoted grandmother, suitably admiring and indulgent. She now has many great-grandchildren. All of her grandchildren and great-grands (as of 2007) and all but my brother are pictured at left.
Fred passed away from Alzheimers several years ago, and my mother no longer quilts. She's still a superstar with words, though, and loves to read her beloved Dick Francis.
Happy Birthday, Mommy!