pour les mamans

8 May

About a week ago, I found myself going on about some of my mother’s adorable/ridiculous idiosyncrasies…like the fact that she believed so strongly in the importance of properly recognizing and celebrating birthdays that she flat out lied about the date of mine, choosing instead to celebrate it on June 27th rather than December 27th, so that it didn’t get folded in and forgotten with Christmas/New Year’s festivities.  One of my friends chimed in that she would really like to meet my mom, that she sounded fascinating.  I smiled.  She really was.

She passed away a little over a decade ago, and I can honestly say that I think about her everyday–mostly fairly happy memories or fun ideas, like that I think she would be tickled pink that I still core and slice apples like her (there are many different techniques!) or that I’ve finally come around to hating the cold but loving snow.  Sometimes, out of nowhere, I get inexplicably sad.  It hurts my heart a little to think that she never knew John or the Y’s & Co. or my colleagues and mentors from college and beyond who did so much to, like her, shape who I am.  In the blur that was our wedding day, one interaction will always stand out for me: in the midst of drinking and revelry, Mr. W (our neighbor of 20+ years) pulled me aside to tell me that he and his wife were so happy for us, and that he knew my mother was proud.  Well, I know mom would decidedly not be proud of everything I’ve done in the last 10+ years (good God, she would cringe at the indiscretion of a public blog!), but in that moment I believed him.

Clearly, I could on for far too long on this subject so, in typical anna-fashion, I’m just going to resort to a top ten list (hmmm, more like “first ten”; I’m sure I’ll want to include another ten or twenty as soon as I hit “publish”)…I’ll try to exercise some amount of length restraint (I will fail):

  1. Born in Czechoslovakia during WWII, my mother was named Gunda Carmela Sporer.  I swear she was the only Gunda out there who was not an Eastern European speed skater.  In response to a lifetime of people butchering her name, she chose to name all four of her children names that were easy to pronounce and easy to translate.
  2. She had, no joke, actual synesthesia: she saw letters and numbers in very specific colors.  I remember once coloring in enlarged numbers in a coloring book and she looked over my shoulder and said, “Honey, the number 3 is always pink.”  I was four, and I still remember thinking to myself, What the f—??
  3. Mom loved reptiles, amphibians, and tigers.  She would catch a frog just so that we could kiss him to see if he would turn into a prince.  For one of her last birthdays, Dad arranged to have a three-week old tiger brought to the house.  Mom got to name him (Amir), and he would suck on our fingers because he was teething…the jaw strength of a tiger cub is just a little unsettling.
  4. Like I mentioned, she was born in Czechoslovakia, but her family moved to Southern France in 1945, where she lived until she received a scholarship to go to college…in Wisconsin (hater of cold that she was).  As a result, her cooking was a mixture of Mediterranean and good ol’ American home cookin’, with a side of spaetzle to give credit to her Eastern European roots.  When we ran out of deli meat, my mom would send me to school with a piece of dark chocolate shoved between two slices of baguette.  I was a lucky, albeit slightly chubby, child.
  5. Gunda spoke seven (seven) different languages fluently, and.she had an accent in every single one.  She raised me speaking French, and she and I would flow in and out of French and English without realizing.  It drove my friends crazy.
  6. She was a flippin’ amazing educator, teaching foreign languages (French, Spanish, German mostly) to all age levels (mostly second grade through college).  Parents would drive their kids from hours away in order to be tutored by her.
  7. My mother had a special love of mixed tapes, especially ones that included classics by the Gypsy Kings, Dire Straits, and the Eagles (her favorite song was “Take It Easy”…go figure).
  8. Mom would pull me out of school a few weeks early so that we could go to France that much earlier to hang with the fam.  “You’re in third grade…what are you really going to learn that you can’t make up with a couple extra weeks surrounded by French speakers?”
  9. She loved gardening and art.  One year, the family went out to Monet’s garden at Giverny.  She pulled aside this man with a white beard because she thought he looked like Monet: “Excuse me, but would you take a picture with my daughter?”  So now, in our home in Virginia, we have an 8×10 of 10-year-old anna with a random old man in front of water lilies.
  10. On mother’s day, it’s important to recognize the mothers who truly have, especially in the wake of my mother’s passing, treated me like family.  I know that I am likely forgetting someone in my rush to get back to studying the physiology of sexual response (tough life), so please don’t be shy and give me an earful.  Francoise, Teda, Genevieve, Leslie, Christine, Jean, Jill, Mary Ann, Pamela, Jane, Emily, Judy, Donna, Priscilla, Terry, Linda, Mieko: I am so very lucky to have your love and support.  Happy Mothers’ Day!

35 Responses to “pour les mamans”

  1. vivion May 8, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    Anna, you have painted such a wonderful portrait of your mother. Thank you for sharing!

    • annaojesus May 8, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

      Viv, thank you! What a kind thing to say–not sure I could ever do her justice, but I’m so happy you liked it. I hope you’re well, and I love the website update!

      • KWilbs May 8, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

        I miss your mom too…much like I miss you. And my Dad is right; she would be so proud of you. ❤

      • annaojesus May 8, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

        oh honey! thanks so much! i still remember coming home to you in my closet…thank you. also, sorry i suck: happy belated birthday!

  2. Jill Blasingame May 9, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    I’ve always regretted that I only got to meet her once. She would be very proud, happy and full of joy to know you as the amazing adult you are today.

    • annaojesus May 9, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

      thank you, jill. to be honest, i think she would be kind of annoyed that i went to med school 🙂 but i think she would really love john…she would speak to him in italian all day long! i’m so glad you met her!

  3. Dad May 9, 2011 at 8:49 am #


    What a nice blog! Made me tear up. Always neat to get a perspective on a family member from another source. I had forgotten that she took you out of school early several times, but I sure do remember talking with her about the relative value of time in school vs time at some other activity or in some other place. Frankly, I claim authorship of the line about “What can she learn in school that is better than what she could learn in France, or in the woods with me, or on some trip?”

    Languages: French, English, Spanish [did I ever tell you that we had been married several years before she concluded that her English was finlly better than her Spanish?], German, Czech, Russian, Italian [?], Latin, and what else — she never claimed Portuguese, and she was not interested in either Basque or Occitan.

    We have never been clear about when the family moved to France. It wasn’t in 1945 or 1946 — they were in refugee camps. She went to school in Germany or Austria for one or two [or three ???] years. Remember her stories about her first days in school in France. She might have been seven.

    A really nice note of rememberance, especially for all the women who have been so helpful and influential.

    And one more thing — you really write well !!!



    • annaojesus May 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

      Aw, Daddio! I’m really glad you liked the post, thanks for your sweet note.

      Ha! I forgot Latin. I remember her trying to learn Portuguese and just getting very annoyed.

      Oh, sorry for the error, I didn’t realize that she was in Germany/Austria for so long, but I guess that makes sense.

      Love you, Dad!

  4. vibrantgrace May 9, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    Anna, I loved reading this. I still think of your cherished Mom often. I love the picture you have of her in your bedroom; it’s one of my favorites! This was such a precious recollection of her! It would’ve brought a smile to her face and a wonderful laugh.

    • annaojesus May 9, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

      My Tiffany! Thank you so much. It always makes me happy that you knew her, and she really loved you! I’ll have to scan that picture of her…it’s one of my favorites as well. Looking downward always makes that Eastern European potato nose we both got rockin’ look a little smaller…

      • vibrantgrace May 9, 2011 at 10:54 pm #

        Hahaha! I just burst out laughing at that last line. Too funny!
        And yes, I would love a copy of that photo sometime. 🙂
        Thanks for your advice tonight.

  5. Erica May 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    I loved loved loved reading this 🙂

    • annaojesus May 9, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

      You make me so happy! Thanks, love!

      BTW, I LOVE that everyone in med school has heard of the infamous Erica W…best prom date ever!

  6. Donna May 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    So nice to think about your mom…posted for mothers day, but remembered every day. You are a delightful daughter-friend, my dear.

    • annaojesus May 9, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

      and you are a wonderful mother-friend. thank you very much, and happy mother’s day!

  7. Lauren Ben-Shoshan May 9, 2011 at 6:25 pm #

    Beautiful tribute, Anna!!

    Much love and can’t wait to see you in a few weeks!!

    • annaojesus May 11, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

      thank you, Lauren, that’s so kind of you!

      may has been such a big month for you–so many congratulations!

      so much love, and looking forward to seeing you in MN!!!

  8. Bill May 9, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    sooooo nice!!!!! A great letter to your mom, who I knew , but didn’t. It was enlightening and gave a new perspective for me while enlarging on what I already knew. Thanks, Anna.

    • annaojesus May 11, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

      thank YOU, bill…i’m so touched that you stopped by here. but, more so, i’m very moved by what you said. you knew her quite well, so to hear that i gave you another perspective is a truly wonderful thing to say to me. love and miss you very much.

  9. schorrmore May 14, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    This is a really beautiful post, Anna! I’m so sorry that your mom passed away when you were so young. She sounds like an amazing person.

    • annaojesus May 18, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

      Thank you so much, Emily! What a kind thing to say. Do you have the pesky MCAT behind you?? Thinking of you–I’m sure you’ll destroy it!

      • schorrmore May 19, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

        Thanks, Anna! I took the MCAT three weeks ago, and find out my scores in two weeks…!

      • annaojesus May 22, 2011 at 9:16 am #

        Wahoo!!! Congratulations! Must feel incredible! I wish you the best of luck…and good luck on applications! Let me know if there is anything I can do!

  10. Heather May 22, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Go ahead. Write more about your mom.

    • annaojesus May 22, 2011 at 10:29 am #

      heather! how are you doing? thanks for the note! when is your recital???! getting pumped? wish i could be there :/ will be thinking of you!

  11. Ashley May 23, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    I heard “Take it Easy” yesterday and cranked it way, way up and thought of you and your mother 🙂 I love you!

    • annaojesus May 31, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

      aw, love you back! sweet of you to think of her!

  12. Chloe May 20, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

    I remember the French conversations. I was so impressed! And I remember the sandwiches your mom made and brought to us at the pool. She is the reason I consider lettuce-less turkey sandwiches sub-par. She is also the reason I know about Heath bars. She was such a kind lady. Happy belated Mother’s day to you both.

    • annaojesus May 21, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

      Chloe!!! Hi! Wow, your comments just made my day! Thank you so much. There are so few people in my life who knew my mother, it’s a real treat to hear what they remember of her 🙂 I’m so glad you think so well of her–thank you!

  13. Angelika August 13, 2015 at 5:29 am #

    hello!,I really like your writing very much! percentage we be in contact extra
    approximately your article on AOL? I need an expert on this area to resolve my problem.
    May be that’s you! Taking a look ahead to peer you.

  14. Clarissa Lewis December 10, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    Hi Anna! How did I not see your blog until today? I know it’s a few years old, but your dad is right: You are an AMAZING writer…so entertaining. I look forward to reading more of your blog posts. I loved your mom so much, and I LOVE this amazing portrait of her. Brings back memories of the Gunda I remember! Hugs to you!


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