What My Mother Taught Me

What My Mother Taught Me

“Stories move in circles. They don’t move in straight lines. So it helps if you listen in circles. There are stories inside stories and stories between stories, and finding your way through them is as easy and as hard as finding your way home. And part of the finding is getting lost. And when you’re lost, you start to look around and listen.” 
—Corey Fischer, Albert Greenberg, and Naomi Newman
A Travelling Jewish Theatre from Coming from a Great Distance
Excerpted from Writing for Your Life by Deena Metzger

Sandra Doris Greenwade Brown age 18

I’ve never shared a story about my mom, Sandra Doris Greenwade Brown. Tackling her story seemed too personal and close for blog-land. But, (my mom who just turned 70) asked only for each of her 7 children to write a letter about what they had learned from her as her only birthday wish. This is my letter.

Sandy was born in Upperlake and raised in Middletown, California in the hills above Napa, back when it was considered country and backwoods. She was the  youngest child born to Farmer age 58 and Helene Frances Halvorsen age 41. Farmer and Helene had separated by the time mom was 5, leaving Sandy and her brothers and sisters on the ranch alone with their mom.

Brother Frank , Sandy and mother Helene in happier days.

Mom speaks fondly of her tomboy life on the ranch, shooting her first deer, roaming the hills with a stick to guard against rattlesnakes. Her childhood though was cut short with the death of her mother from cancer when she was only 13. 

Greenwade family picture not long before Helene’s death.

Sandy moved in with her married brother and his family in Napa. Sandy was shy around others she didn’t know, now she was even more quiet, suffering from ulcers and in a dazed fog from her mother’s death. Mom never got over the loss of her mother, she still can hardly speak of it today. 

Sandy came back to the land of living when she met upperclassman James Brown, his friends called him Sam – but she always called him Jim. Jim was outgoing, funny and poetic. Sandy was reserved, athletic and practical. He was the ying to her yang.

Jim and Sandy at Prom 1958, Napa High School

Jim and Sandy got married when she was only 17 and by the time she was 18 she had me. At age 47 she had her 7th child, by the time that daughter was 18 and left home, Sandy had 46 years of child raising.

These are just a few of the things my mother has taught me:

  • To save some time and energy for myself.
  • That women can be strong and competitive.
  • You can find and create beauty anywhere.
  • Giving up or quitting is not an option.
  • How to make up funny words to describe uncomfortable things.
  • How to make use of what I have.
  • How to be polite and have  good manners.
  • That I am responsible for my own happiness.
  • Life is hard and that I can do hard things.
  • How to care for children and others.
  • That without her I would have been lost.
Sandra Doris Greenwade Brown 70 and still gorgeous!

Mom, thank you for all the many things you taught me. The love and strength that you shared with me and so many others will be a legacy that will live forever. Happy Birthday Mom. Forever my love, Valerie.


  1. Happy birthday to your mom, and THANKS for sharing this letter. It’s a wonderful post.

  2. Beautiful writing sister. I know this is priceless to mom.

  3. What a wonderful tribute to your mom, Valerie. Love the pictures and the heartfelt letter. And wow, just look at her today! Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. I love all the picture’s you have that I have never seen. Thanks for sharing a side of mom with me I never knew.
    Lovely words sister.

  5. Valerie, what a lovely tribute to your mom. She sounds like an amazing woman! Thanks for sharing what you learned. And happy birthday wishes to her!

  6. Thanks everyone for letting me share about my amazing mom. Hard to condense and articulate all that she taught me, but I am grateful for having a blog as a means of writing it and sharing it.

  7. Sandy Brown :

    Thank you for writing such a sweet, meaningful tribute and I know that as a Mother there is no better teachers than our loved ones.They teach us much about life and am still learning from them. Very lucky Mother as I have 7 very special children. Love you all and all your children and grand children. Wish I had more time to have spent with them.

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