Happy Birthday, Mama

28 February 2013–Another year has passed, make that flown, and it is Mama’s birthday again. Here below is a repeat of last year’s post. Click on the link if you want to read the comments, too. Happy Birthday, Ruth.

28 February  2012–I’ve spent most of this day trying not to write about my mama, but it didn’t work. Today was her birthday, would have been her 82nd. I’m not sure she would have liked being 82 unless she could still look and act like she was, say 62.

Portrait of Ruth Clark, by Robert Bruce Williams
In my New York apartment hangs this portrait of Mama by Robert Bruce Williams, above her fabulous Hepplewhite sideboard, now mine. 

I think I was 37 before I realized she wasn’t “36.” She was “36” for about 20 years. She did not want to be old and probably would not have been good at it. She was really good at a lot of things, though; and loving my sister and me was right there at the top. Man oh man were we lucky.

I finally found a home for most of the pretty things I inherited from her, despite the fact that 1960s New York co-ops don’t exactly lend themselves to Hepplewhite sideboards and life-size oil portraits and such. Much of it went to Bee Cottage, my house in East Hampton. Last spring I even wrote an article called “Decorating With Mama’s Things,” for The Wall Street Journal. I ended it with the story of this portrait (stop here if you’ve heard it): She told the artist in no uncertain terms, “I don’t care if it looks like me. I just want it to be young and thin.” Like all good steel magnolias, she often spoke in italics. Six feet tall in her stocking feet, she was at the time in her 50s and every bit a size 12. But in that portrait, honey, she is 36 and a size 4, max. She was a knockout.


  1. Frances; like you and your sister; I am sure your mama was something….especially since she was a pisces!!!

  2. I remember the portrait and lady well. The part of your blog that says, “She did not want to be old and probably would not have been good at it. She was really good at a lot of things, though; and loving my sister and me was right there at the top. Man oh man were we lucky.” reminds me of someone else….

  3. Dear Frances….

    Next to my Mama, your Mama was my favorite. I think of her often….my memories of her always make me smile. She could not have been more proud of precious you and your precious sister. Sending love on her birthday, Kara

  4. Hi Frances.
    She was so beautiful and stylish. I lost my mother a few weeks ago and my dad five years ago in February.

    I am beginning to think that it is a great month to get away and enjoy life.

    Take care.


    1. Oh Whit I did not know and I am so sorry. I agree with you about February and bet your parents would too. Blessings to you, and love, Frances

  5. What a lovely tribute Frances. Our Mama’s never really leave us. They remain in our heads and hearts for when we need a piece of wisdom or a bit of comfort. We are so blessed to have scored in the Mama department.
    Love you you and His Grace,

  6. Yes, she was a knockout, especially to this country girl who just sat and stared at her. I know you miss her. She will be forever young in my eyes.

  7. Frances,

    I love this article and loves her. She was such a joy and brought a smile to every face in the room. She was so kind and warm to me and my parents, and I will always love her for that. You both exude all the wonderful things about Ruth and she would be so proud of both of you, and all her lovely grandchildren! It’s hard to believe it’s been 8 years that she’s been gone, and 7 since JB passed away. We were all so blessed to have known her.

    Thanks for sharing a little of her today!

    Love, T

  8. You look just like her! Lucky you. Don’t you just know she’s looking down on you and thinking “Bless her heart…I’m STILL 36.”

  9. Ruth was brilliant and beautiful, Frances, and she loved you and Duvall so much.
    I miss my mother too, miss my papa, but I miss my mother more.
    Today, my middle child and one son turned 21. This is a great day to be born.
    Love you,

  10. Dear Frances,

    I share your pain. No one cares about the tiny details of our lives like a mother.

    I miss my mother every single day. A steel magnolia who never had an unkind word in her life.

    She once, after leaving a party from a—shall we say—new-fangled house, was overcome enough to say, every so softly:
    “Pity, pity, pity.”

    Best, Ellen

    1. Darlin’ Ellen, I can totally picture your mother and I know how proud she must have been of you and would be still. Pity, pity, pity is hilarious and I can hear her saying it! Thank you for writing – xox Frances

  11. Such a sweet tribute and happy remembrance of your Mom. Ruth was a delight for sure. Love your painting…what a treasure and she could step out of it..so her. Hope her many friends are reading this today. When we get past 36 we replace the mirrors.

  12. Francis, This morning about 8:30 Daddy and Lucky, the new dog, went by to speak to Ruth. Mama said it was way too too early. OH how we miss her!!!!

    1. Dearest Rudolph, Thank you so much for this. You know she was crazy ’bout you and spoke of you so often. It means the world to me to hear from you. Love, Frances

  13. I was so lucky to have a fabulous mother! It is a lifetime gift!!

    She gave me a wonderful gift; she said (long before she became sick); “When I’m gone; if you really, really need something, you ask me! And I will run from one end of heaven to the other to try to give it to you!!”

    Isn’t that a lovely thing? Well; I have, and she does! I thank her constantly, even if I have’t asked!

  14. I still miss her and always will……..my 3 think there is nothing better than a good Woosy story!
    You and Duvall were truly blessed with a good Momma.

  15. Oh, Frances, Do you remember the dark blue Electra convertible she had when she was 36? Just yesterday, I came across an “oh, so Southern” photo of me riding on the back of it on Main St. waving and smiling. She had so kindly lent it to me for the Homecoming Parade! She insisted that I keep it all day and drive it anywhere I wanted.
    What fun for a teenage girl who drove a “vanilla” station wagon. How timely that the photo appeared out of nowhere yesterday. Happy Birthday to your dear Mother!
    Thank you for sharing this special day.( If you wish, I’ll email or Facebook the photo to you.)

  16. Good mothers tend to have really good daughters, and, it seems tall, beautiful moms tend to have tall, beautiful daughters. Remarkable moms seem to have remarkable daughters. That is how it works. Well done Ruth, you certainly left a great legacy.

  17. Sounds like we had similar Mother’s even though my Mom is from the North. Wow – did it strike a cord – when you wrote,
    ” she did not want to be old and probably would not have been good at it’ My Mom is now 81 and it is fighting it every it every step of the way! My brother always used to say, Mom is so fun and a knock out every time she walks into a room but she is “not going to be good at getting old”

  18. Frances, I shared this with my Mother (Jeannette) and this was her response:

    This is fabulous! I knew Ruth and every bit of this was her. She was an original.

    I have heard about your Mother for years and so wish I had known her. xoxo

  19. Your mother was a beauty!! My grandmother and daughter both are named Ruth. Never met a Ruth I did not love. They have spunk.

  20. I am trying to grow old gracefully.It is not for wimps. I will be 72 in April. Enjoying life and keeping busy and still working 40 hrs a week.
    Your mother is beautiful, nice tribute

    1. Dearest Maude, something tells me you are far from a wimp. Thank you so much for writing and for bringing your energy to all of us. I can feel it right through the computer screen. Blessings, Frances

  21. There is nothing left to say — except to magnify all words. Wasn’t I the luckiest to have her as a sister-in-law. She guided me in all things and made me such a better person. And then, there was having you and Duvall in our lives. Dubba did so love her so. Gray

  22. Happy Birthday to our wonderful Ruth !!! She was such a stunning, amazing lady. Just like her two stunning daughters!!! I miss your mama –but her beauty “inside and out” lives on in both you girls


    1. Thank you precious Lib. You know something about having a great mother yourself. Love to you – I owe you a call, too – xox F

  23. Oh Happy Birthday to your Mama. She must have been an amazing lady, and that amazing lady definitely lives in you! xo P

  24. Ah, Miss Frances, you always make laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time, like this post. My Mama’s birthday was 12/12/24, she just loved her birthday. It was the day we put up the Christmas tree, then had chocolate cake (she sure loved chocolate) and champagne. I try to keep that tradition, even when it’s in the middle of the week. I do believe we were both blessed with extraordinary Mamas, who now watch over us from Heaven. Sending you hugs.

    1. And sending hugs back to you, Miss Barbie. Love that your mom was a Sag like me. Thank you as ever. I know she was proud of you and the fabulousness you have become. Xo Frances

  25. I can relate! As you know my Mom died on my birthday. I still drink a little toast to her on her birthday. She was born on 23/12/1923. She would have hated being old-far too young at heart for old age. To think she would have been 90 this year. My only regret is that she never knew Thomas!

  26. What a wonderful tribute to your mother. Happy Birthday to your Mama. I don’t think that the apple fell too far from the tree.
    I still have my mother and she too tries to keep her age mystery. She tells me that it’s a number and it’s unlisted.

    1. Thank you dear Maureen. Your mama sounds like a bit of a character herself, like you, and I mean that in a good way. 🙂

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