Jean Wasserman Denker – The Passing of an Era

Laurie Denker MacNaughton

It’s the second anniversary of my mother’s passing. Though the pain is no longer fresh, in some ways the memories are more Technicolor than ever.

Like many young couples, Mother and Daddy were on a budget when they started out, so family outings often meant taking long drives through the Southern California hills. Gas was cheap, we kids were small, and Friday night Little League games hadn’t yet been invented, so we would grab pillows and pile in the car. Though there were favorite routes, the destination was not the point; the journey itself held the magic.

On these drives Mother and Daddy would break into song, singing in what to a child’s ear sounded like perfect harmony. Though I was still very small, wistfulness would drift over me as they sang I’m Going to Leave Old Texas Now, only to be brought back up to childhood buoyancy by Dance With the Dolly With a Hole in Her Stocking. Other than when digging holes in the rich California backyard soil, I cannot remember ever feeling happier as a preschooler than I did on those Friday night car rides.

I turned five the year we moved to Tucson. Often Mother would call us to the window to look at the breathtaking Santa Catalinas. “Look,” she would say. “Do you see how the mountains fade from blue to gray?” More times than I possibly could count she would grab a pencil and illustrate distance, tone, perspective, light and shading.

Mother was not good at everything – to this day I have about 100 undistributed fourth-grade school pictures as testament to her lack of hair-cutting skills. But there was nothing she wouldn’t try, and her stunning successes, based upon her breathtaking skillset, was nothing short of spectacular.

Many – indeed most – of my friends, never learned to sew; nor to embroider; set a formal table; discern sterling from plate, or Baldwin from look-alikes; build an open cook-fire; set a solar still; catch a snake; sketch a cityscape, landscape, eye, hand, or face; bind a book; bind a wound; bake a cake; change a tire; row a boat; feed a crowd of hundreds; write a poem; recite a soliloquy; fire a gun; shoot a bow; arrange a bouquet.

Not only could Mother do all this, and more; Mother could – and did – teach her children, and many others’ children, all this, and more.

My mother was far from perfect. She could be harsh. She could be relentlessly judgmental. She was often vexing. But she was one of the great souls of our age and truly, with her passing passed an era.


Laurie Denker MacNaughton [NMLS 506562] is a freelance writer and Reverse Mortgage Consultant at Southern Trust Mortgage. She can be reached at: 703-477-1183 or

5 thoughts on “Jean Wasserman Denker – The Passing of an Era

  1. Laurie,
    I’m sorry to hear about your Mother’s passing. As you know, Brenda and I experienced a lot of what you went through. She’s in a better place now. We’ll pray for you and her.


  2. Hi Laurie. So sorry to read of your mother’s passing. What a lovely tribute to her…i love the magic of the family car rides on Friday nights. I hope that you will find comfort in this and many other good memories of her.


  3. Laurie, this is a beautiful tribute to your mother. I only met her
    once, but she sounds like a great woman. I know memories of
    her will give you strength, as mine of my mother do. Linda


  4. This is the most beautiful obituary I have ever read. I was moved to remember my own mom, and lots of those little (and big) things she taught me too, despite a very strained relationship in the end. Thank you.


    Cindy Quick

    Keller Williams Realty



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