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A Passion for Keeping Busy

Remembering my Mom

by Katie O'Sullivan

My mother died on the last day of winter, March 19, 2014. She had lung cancer, and died at the age of 72.

Summer had always been her favorite of the seasons, maybe because she was born in December. When she got engaged she wished for a summer wedding, but circumstances dictated she and Dad marry when he was home on Christmas leave from the Army. The wedding was on her birthday instead of in June, and her bridesmaids held poinsettias instead of roses.

As a child, she spent her summers at a mountain lake in New Jersey, but acquiesced to my dad's wishes, embracing summers at the Jersey Shore.

Lazy days on the beach, exciting nights at the Point Pleasant boardwalk, movies at the drive-in, swimming lessons, sailing lessons, waterskiing on Barnegat Bay, lobster parties with friends...all this despite the fact that she would have been perfectly content to lie in the sun reading novels and sipping tea for the entire summer.

After she died, a friend reminded me of how Mom would let us invite our school friends to come down the shore and stay with us for weeks at a time, joining in the shore activities.

Mom never ran out of craft ideas and suggested activities to keep us entertained, a fact I looked back on with new appreciation once I became a mom. Keeping kids busy and happy is so much harder than it appears.

She was my first Girl Scout leader and helped found the girls softball league in my hometown. She did her time as president of the Women's Club and PTA, and organized a gourmet group, a craft group and two bowling leagues.

Mom believed in keeping busy, which trickled down to her children. She signed us kids up for everything, long before it was the norm. I had ballet lessons and played flute in the school band and sang in the church choir and the school chorus and did Girl Scouts and Youth Group and school sports every season and town softball in the spring. And that was grammar school.

In high school she told us she didn't care what we wanted to do, but we had to sign up. I played volleyball, basketball and softball, as well as singing in the school chorus and participating in the spring musical productions and another handful of clubs. And... I had two sisters who were just as involved as I was, in completely different sports and activities.

Family Photo – a Cape Cod tradition with (L to R) Katie O'Sullivan, Tamara, Barbara, Bill & Deb Flohr

It would've been easier to limit our activities, or put her foot down when one of us wanted to add something else to the already full schedule. But she didn't. She figured out how to get us to and from our activities and how to pay for the new gymnastic leotards or softball mitts.

Granted, my sisters and I all have specific memories of sitting on the curb in front of the school waiting for a ride, but looking back now I have no idea how she managed to keep any of our schedules straight.

When I turned eighteen, she and Dad moved to Vermont and bought a ski lodge. She put her tour guide skills into wider practice, helping guests organize vacation days and see all that Vermont has to offer.

After retiring from innkeeping, my parents moved to Savannah, Georgia, where she once again began volunteering and leading clubs and groups, organizing events and parties.

Moving back to New England was my father's idea, to be closer to the grandchildren, but she jumped right on board and into knitting clubs and gourmet groups, finding new groups of friends with passions similar to her own.

Mom was a master at organization when we were young, and rediscovered her skills when her grandkids visited. She always had a craft ready to go or an adventure planned out. She was the ultimate tour guide, with suggestions at the ready for any age group or time of year.

Watching her dote on her grandkids made me truly realize what a wonderful mom she'd been to us as well. Even as sick as she was this past year, she made it to almost every soccer game of my son's final high school season. She applauded my daughter, starring in her first big stage role as Titania in Midsummer Night's Dream and my other son in his high school production of the same play.

Barbara with her girls at Thanksgiving, 2013, (L to R) Granddaughter Teagan, daughters Tamara, Katie & Deb

Christmas was her favorite time of all. She'd start decorating the day after Thanksgiving, and the house would be filled with a warm glow and the smell of baking cookies all month long.

She had little use for winter once the magic of Christmas passed. This winter was particularly cruel and cold, the snow keeping her already frail body housebound. She hosted one last gathering of her knitting group in January, when she first came home from the hospital.

Mom kept putting events on her calendar, because making plans is what she did best. Many of those plans ended up being erased when she didn't feel up to leaving the house. Other penciled activities still sit on her calendar – spring track meets and soccer games, high school graduation in June, her fiftieth wedding anniversary in December.

Mom was ecstatic when my son got the call that he'd been accepted to his first choice school, the U.S. Air Force Academy. Her last good day included a Sunday family dinner celebrating his appointment.

As she spent increasingly more time in the chair next to her oxygen machine, she watched the snow blanket the woods outside her window and dust the tree branches in powdery white. She appreciated the quiet beauty of the swirling flakes, maybe for the first time in her life taking the time to observe the world around her without having a million other things she needed to be doing or organizing.

The week before she died, I overheard her telling the hospice nurse that she wanted to see one more good snow before the end of winter. "Everything looks so beautiful under the fresh snow," she said. "So calm and peaceful. I love to just sit and watch."

After a lifetime of keeping busy, Mom spent her last days learning how to appreciate stillness.

Barbara Ellen Oliver Flohr

December 30, 1941 – March 19, 2014

Grew up in Closter, NJ. Graduated Northern Valley Regional High School, Green Mountain College, and Fairley Dickinson University. Retired Innkeeper of The Grey Bonnet Inn, Killington, Vermont. Married for 49 years to Bill Flohr. Sister to Kate and Jim. Mother to Katie, Deb, and Tamara. Grandmother to Sean, Brian and Teagan O'Sullivan. Aunt to seven nieces and nephews. We miss you, Mom.

Katie O'Sullivan loves editing, writing and playing with words. She lives in Harwich with her family, and the big dogs who "make" her walk on the beach every day.

She writes romance and adventure for young adults and the young at heart. Her latest young adult novel is BLOOD OF A MERMAID, published by Crescent Moon Press in May 2014. It's the sequel to last summer's best-selling SON OF A MERMAID.

Her newest Cape Cod romance is MY KIND OF CRAZY, published by The Wild Rose Press in March 2014. Available now exclusively on Kindle, the world-wide all-format release is slated for July 31, 2014.

Check the Event listings for upcoming book signings, or visit her blog for details.

For more information about working with Katie to make your words sparkle on the page, email her at