My Mother’s Kite: A Eulogy

by Helen Holter

(Note: Al Holter, my brother and an Oscar-winning animator, created this watercolor drawing of our mother flying kites with us, her children. I shared this reflection of my mother at her funeral, now laid to rest alongside Dad in Hinsdale, Montana – not far from the northeastern Montana homesteads where they were born. My parents have come full circle; may the circle be unbroken.)

Even in her final days, I sensed my mother was looking at me and saying “Recalculate.” 

Recalculate life without me.

Find a different way to look at life, without me.

Find new ways to use your time and energy, without me.

Find other people to pour your love into, and into this world, without me.

Recalculate.

It was a magical word between us.  Mom and I would giggle uncontrollably when we said that word – “Recalculating!” – or heard others say it out loud.

It began a decade ago when I’d visit Mom in Wisconsin after my dad died and we’d hop in her car and head somewhere – anywhere – a wayward road trip just for fun — whether it was 3 miles downtown or 103 miles out in the countryside.   To help us navigate, we used a new-fangled, and now dinosaur version of GPS that would map out your destination, step by step,  and call out “recalculating” when you screwed up. 

We got directions so wrong, so often – actually I am the one who got directions so wrong and so often – that it became a game to see how fast we could screw up and have that sweet GPS voice call out “Recalculating.”  Mom and I eventually ended up where we needed to be, but there were many twists and turns along the way – just like the roads we take in our lives…

We gather here today – those of us who knew and loved my mother so dearly, Frances Helen Schultz Holter, who have cherished her since her birth – seemingly not that long ago – born on a homestead just down the road.   And we gather here to honor and remember my mother, in the empty space she leaves behind when she passed from us on April 19th. We gather here today, remembering how she taught all her children, all our lives to …. recalculate.

When my mom and dad’s first baby died  – he was born with Down’s Syndrome ­ – Mom was just 22 years old – she had to decide whether to try again, or not.   They wanted a family.  Mom and Dad had to recalculate:  What now?  What to do next? — in the pain of this unfathomable loss and at such a young age. Just 22 years old!  Mom – and Dad – recalculated, and chose the path of those you see gathered here today: a son, Al, and three daughters, Marilyn, Jennifer, me.

One of my earliest memories of my mother was growing up in Billings, Montana.  A schoolteacher by profession, Mom would take us to a nearby wide-open field behind the schoolhouse, where she showed us how to launch homemade kites she taught us to make from our Billings Gazette newspapers. Mom strapped the newspaper page onto two pieces of wood in the shape of a cross – which later when I was older thought symbolic of her sacrifices for us.   She also taught us to recycle at an early age, carefully tying our worn-out clothes – especially socks – onto the kite for a tail.  

Mom taught us to run with the kite and watch it catch a breeze and sail upwards – up, up, up – that only a tired little hand like mine would reel in when it began to rain, or when it was time for supper.

The homemade newspaper kite I created for my mother’s funeral, made of newspapers from the towns where she lived in Montana.

I was my mother’s kite – all of us children were.  We were her dreams and desires she wanted so much, and endured so much loss and grief to have us in this world, to launch us into the clear azure blue skies of Montana as well as dark of turbulent firmament of our world.  And then… my mother taught me to launch my own dreams into the sky with my homemade kite.  When the winds blew hard, ripping a hole in the kite or a crosspiece broke with a crash landing, Mom taught me to recalculate: to mend the broken wooden crosspiece with wire, or not – or perhaps to tape up the torn newspaper kite, or even radically replace the entire kite with fresh Billings Gazette newspaper pages filled with new news or new comic strips, adding and subtracting our socks and rags for weight.  I often wonder if our love of news and cartoons originated with Mom’s newspaper kites…

When some dreams imbued into my kite were dashed into the ground by unruly winds of international political turmoil that altered my career path, by marital abuse, and by deadly pandemic viruses, Mom taught me to ask myself: “What now? What next? What to do when things don’t work out?“ I kept learning and relearning: recalculate. Should I keep my kite intact – my dreams, my goals, my marriage, my career? Should I try to salvage bits and pieces of it? Should I even radically cut loose and cut my losses and start again from scratch? Recalculate.

Frances Holter and children flying kites-Drawing by Al Holter
My brother, Al Holter, created this watercolor drawing illustrating our homemade kite-flying days in Montana with our mother, Frances Holter. My younger sister had yet to be born, and thus not in the drawing.

Once, when I was flying back to Seattle after working for ABC News in Moscow, Russia, I looked down at the ground below, so far away, and reflected on our childhood kite-flying days with Mom in Montana. I reflected on how she helped launch each of her children as individual spirits, and helped set sail our own individual dreams and aspirations that literally took us around the world. On that flight home from Russia, I wrote a story about all this, and later gave it to Mom for Mother’s Day.  I called it “My Mother’s Kite.”

Her gift for Mother’s Day is now her eulogy. . .

Sometimes, when I’m traveling somewhere, anywhere with that GPS voice literally or figuratively calling out to me “recalculating,” I look out the window – and I imagine my mother with her children, running with our homemade kites and dreams and setting them aloft on the boundless, wide-open fields and beckoning breezes of Montana…

It is a perfect day to fly a kite.

Helen Holter signature
A final tribute to my mother, Frances Helen Holter.

You may also like