Remembering our moms on Mother’s Day

5017612_052907_1z3Editor’s note: As we get older, the “Hallmark holidays” seem to have more meaning. Here’s the obituary I wrote for my mom when she died in 2007. It ran in The San Francisco Chronicle and The Union. My parents died in the same week. One life-changing experience that eased the pain of losing my mom and dad was the birth of our son. Our family is going to have a grand Mother’s Day celebration. Happy Mother’s Day.

Marilyn Pelline: A super mom

Marilyn Jane Pelline, an extraordinary wife, mother and grandmother, passed away last week in Nevada City. She was 79.

Mom died the same week as my dad, a situation you hear about but figure will never happen in your family. Both of them died of complications from strokes. They were married 53 years.

My mom grew up in Los Angeles in the ’30s and ’40s, when it was a relatively small city. She and some of her friends and a girl named Shirley Temple belonged to the “Meglin Kiddies,” a group for aspiring young actresses. My mom always was quick to point out that she was the “bunny rabbit” and Shirley was the “fairy princess” in the kids’ plays.

She watched the ceremonies of the 1932 Olympic Games from the front porch of her aunt’s home near the L.A. Coliseum. Mom spent her summers with her parents, her sister Zoe Ann and her cousins on the Balboa Peninsula of Newport Beach, and she skied with her friends in the winter in the San Gabriel Mountains and at Lake Tahoe.

My mom met my dad, Joseph, in 1951. Both native Californians attended UCLA. My parents spent their honeymoon at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, arriving from L.A. in wintertime in a new red covertible.

Mom said she was delighted when she woke up the next day, and the clerk handed her a clipping of their wedding announcement from the L.A. Times. “Simple charm marked the wedding of Miss Marilyn Jane Mitchell and Joseph Emmett Pelline,” said the article dated January 22, 1954.

My mom’s personality perfectly complimented my dad’s: she was full of energy, friendly and fun loving. He was more reserved and serious. She could make friends with anybody.

One year, I remember going to the Bing Crosby Pro-Am in Pebble Beach with my parents. We were walking together past the ninth hole, well before any tee time, and she spotted Bing walking on the green. The two wound up visiting for about 15 minutes, while my dad and I stood on the edge of the fairway, shaking our heads.

My mom was the most dedicated mother any son could wish for. She was a P.T.A. president and volunteered at many school and church events. Together we liked to belt out a 1920s Episcopalian hymn written for children, “I sing a song of the saints of God.” It was meant to show that saints can be encountered even now, in daily life.

My childhood was memorable, thanks to mom. One year for my birthday, she took me and my friends to see “Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, and we stopped at Schwab’s Pharmacy for hot fudge sundaes. It was a lasting memory. While I was growing up, mom taught me two of my favorite activities: swimming and cooking.

Our family spent most of our vacations in Northern California — at Tahoe, Tioga Pass near Yosemite and my uncle’s mining claim near Downieville.

Mom was a determined fisherman. One summer, I remember waiting for half an hour with her at Tioga Creek while she persisted at catching a 13-inch trout that kept getting away. When I cleaned the trout, its belly was full of Pautzke’s “balls of fire” salmon eggs. She had named the trout “Herman” during her pursuit of him.

Mom loved pets. When I was growing up, we had a Norwegian Elkhound named Eloise. She named the dog after Eloise, the precocious girl from the Plaza Hotel. She and Eloise would spend the day playing together, while my dad was at work and I was at school. She joked that Eloise was “most precious,” my dad was “precious,” and I was “least precious.”

Mom also was an expert needlepointer, making dozens of pillows, including one that listed all my memories from childhood: Indian Guides, Church of Our Savior, swimming, Little League and so on.

My wife, Shannon, was the daughter that my mom never had but always wanted. We were close to my parents and often spent Christmas with them at their home in Bodega Bay. My mom would buy fresh Dungeness crab and whip up a remoulade sauce, one of Shannon’s favorite meals.

My wife’s birthday is only five days after Christmas, running the risk of being forgotten. But mom would always go out of her way to buy Shannon a special birthday present.

Mom always remembered the birthdays of her friends, as well as her friends’ children. She kept an ample supply of greeting cards in her desk drawer.

Our son’s birth five years ago was one of the biggest thrills of my mom’s life. We named our son Mitchell, which is her maiden name. Mitchell and Grandma were best friends: she would read books from my childhood to him (“Winnie the Pooh,” “Old Black Witch” or the “The Little Engine that Could”) as well as eat macaroni and cheese with him.

He would recount stories about his day at preschool in excruciating detail. The wall of my mom’s bedroom was filled with my son’s artwork.

The past few years of mom’s life were difficult because of her declining health, including a major stroke and extreme arthritis. We moved my parents close to us and later into our home, so we could help out. “Thank you,” were one of mom’s last words before she died on May 25.

We will deeply miss my mother, but she has left an indelible impression on many people, most notably her grandson who is named after her.

Marilyn is survived by Jeff Pelline, her son; Shannon, Jeff’s spouse; and Mitchell, their son, all of Nevada City. A private memorial service for Joe and Marilyn Pelline will be held this summer in Sebastopol, Ca., near their home for many years. In lieu of flowers, tax-deductible donations can be made to their grandson’s favorite charity, the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum to help build a real “Little Engine that Could.”: NCNGRR Museum – Locomotive Fund; PO Box 2392, Nevada City, CA 95959. Call 530-470-0902 or go to for information.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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