Some people question, as they reach their quieter years of life, whether their time on the planet has actually mattered. They say things like: I never saved a life, never sold out Madison Square Garden, never wrote a bestseller, never redirected someone else’s child toward a better path, never invented technology that would revolutionize the way we communicate, never discovered a constellation, a cure for cancer, or even a way to pay off my mortgage.
As the daughter of a woman who could potentially have such thoughts, I am here to offer a hearty “Hell, no!” to that kind of thinking while I indulge myself and my family by introducing you to our own personal Bay Maker, Marcia McLean, otherwise known as Mom, Marsh, Mush, Grammy, and The Goose, a woman whose name you won’t find in a Wikipedia search but whose impact is deep in our hearts.
Please note that I may just be disowned for doing this because the woman doesn’t exactly like to see her name in lights. Growing up, my brother and I often celebrated our birthdays while the staff at Farrell’s caused an outright scene with the presentation of our birthday “Zoo” (a trough of an ice cream sundae carried on the shoulders of two enthusiastic singers). Whenever it was time to celebrate Mom’s birthday, though, we were given threats and death glares when promising a similar public fuss being made in her honor.
So, I now offer my mother another kind of Zoo, one that is far overdue that she can digest in the privacy of her own home and in her own heart. (As an added bonus, Ma, this kind comes free of carbs! J)
You guys, to know Marcia McLean is to adore her. She is genuine, generous, kind, creative, colorful, quick to laugh, and somehow knows how to drop a well-deployed eff bomb and still be pure Maya Angelou with her focus on making the people around her feel special and important.
As children, she made us feel loved and secure through her involvement with our activities. She worked the snack shack, sewed on badges, and made holiday crafts with me to sell at the community center bazaar.
She was also the sports mom who designed and sewed homemade patches for our team uniforms. I remember feeling particularly proud the year I played for the Swenson’s Vikings and she created a Nordic helmet felt patch with an ice cream sundae resting on top. A close second was the year I was on the green team and she came up with “The Winnergreens” for a team name and created a Lifesaver design.
Marsh also loves a good time. She and Dad hosted a disco party in 1978, complete with an instructor they hired. I can still see their “these-smiles-are-real-because-we feel-so alive-right-now” expressions in pictures she saved from the party.
And although no one would exactly call her a singer, there are witnesses (some even in Germany and Japan) to her performances of Harry Belafonte’s “Day O” and Joan Baez’s “I Gave My Love a Cherry” (likely after someone gave our love some sherry).
The woman is also famous for a puckered lip expression on the dance floor that pre-dates modern day “duck face.”
Marsh’s fun-loving ways have always made her seek reasons to celebrate. Every holiday brings out colorful decorations and traditions. We had birthday parties with butter-cream frosted cake for our dog Chelsea and had pre-Pinterest birthday parties with actual buried treasure and a fishing for prizes game with a sheet in a door way and a fishing pole that would hook goodies.
There were sleepovers and a ritual in high school of inviting a crowd of 15 of my friends for a fancy Christmas tea party, with a sit-down lunch and gift exchange. So many memories with her are summed up by the quotes “let the good times roll” and “’let them eat cake’… and let’s make sure there’s extra so I can have leftovers for breakfast.”
Mom is also a champion of the underdog. We have so many stories of her speaking up on behalf of whatever person (family, friend, celebrity, or politician) is currently playing the role of the biggest asshat. A favorite was the time my brother’s dog was visiting. I looked out the window and said, “Uh oh, looks like Sandy pooped on the patio,” and Mom, in true public defender form, said: “Oh, you know, we’ve been seeing raccoons in the yard lately. I’ll bet one of them did it.” We tease her about this, but we’re also secretly glad to know that when our own name comes up in the context of asshattery, she will have our back.
To see her as a grandma has been such a gift because it allows me to see the love that was directed at me as a child from a vantage point I can better appreciate now that I too am a mother. Every visit when the kids were little would start with Mom crouching down to their height with her arms extended and a squeal of delight that let each granddaughter know that their biggest fan was so happy to see them. She hosted tea parties with miniature sets, made messy crafts, and bought them things that sparkled.
Grammy also had a well-stocked trunk of costumes and encouraged the girls to put on shows. She would introduce them via megaphone: “Ladies and gentlemen, boooooys and giiiiirls… introducing Victoria, Taylor, Courtney, and Kasey!”
During recent years, Mom’s cheerfulness has been tested. She has had to accept the other side of such deep love and commitment to family by having to say goodbye to her own parents. We watched her add joy and love and caring to her parents’ lives ever since my brother and I were born and there’s no doubt that their passing has put a shadow on her heart. One of the things I admire most about her is her commitment to not let her grief, her fears, or the aches and pains of aging make her a sad person to be around.
She remains a source of light, love, and good humor to her husband, brothers, children, grandchildren, and the friends and strangers she encounters with her huge heart and her daily choice of finding gratitude.
All of this may sound like nothing to the people doling out Nobel Peace Prizes and Congressional Medals of Honor, but I assure you that it is everything to those of us who have been touched by her positivity and are committed to keep the ripple going into future generations.
So, with all due respect to the people who affect our lives indirectly but importantly with their discoveries and creations, the true mark of having a life that matters is in having touched the hearts and spirits of the people around you.
Your life matters to the tips of my toes, Marcia McLean. Thank you for being my day-one Bay Maker.