On Mortar and Mothers

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about mortar.  You know, that goopy stuff that goes between bricks or stones and holds them all together?  Mortar.

You’ve never given it much thought, have you?  Neither had I until I began learning a lot about stonemasonry to write a book about a stonemason.  Turns out, there’s quite a bit to know about mortar.

These days there are two main types of mortar: lime mortar and Portland cement.  Lime mortar has been around since ancient days, used by the Egyptians in the pyramids at Giza and by the Romans and Greeks.  Portland cement was first developed in the 19th century and became widely used in the later part of that century and early in the 20th.  Nowadays, mortars are usually made from a mixture of the two.

The process of making traditional lime mortar is an arduous and time consuming one.  First limestone is heated at a high temperature to remove the carbon dioxide, leaving calcium oxide or quicklime.  This is then mixed with water, stirred or beaten, and left to age for several months after which it forms a soft putty which can be mixed with sand or another aggregate to form the mortar.  Rushing the process causes weak or inferior mortar.

Lime mortar and Portland cement differ in their strength and permeability.  Portland cement is stronger and can be used with heavy modern concrete building.  Lime mortar is more porous or permeable, allowing older buildings to breath and release moisture. 

One phrase I read repeatedly was that mortar is the sacrificial element of the masonry process.  Mortar should be weaker than the masonry units it holds together.  This is so that when stresses occur, any damage is taken by the mortar, which is easier to repair or replace than the stone or brick.  Mortar is the piece designed to break or crack when stressed to protect the stone and to absorb any unwanted moisture, thus protecting the stone or brick from moisture damage.  If the mortar is stronger than the stone or brick that surrounds it, any breakage or stress will affect the stones rather than the glue.

I would submit that as mothers, we are the mortar of the family.  We absorb the stresses, the tears and tears of family life and thus allow the rest of the family units to hold their shape. Whether your kids are preschoolers or teenagers, they look to you to comfort their hurts and offer guidance when they’re out of their depths.  They push and pull at the restraints you may put on them, but I believe they are happy to know you provide structure and boundaries.  When the storms of life come, I can comfort myself knowing that I am acting as the mortar for my family.  What mother would not choose to bear the cracks for her children?  It’s not always pleasant to absorb the hits, but to see your kids succeed, stand strong, victorious and beautiful will be worth it.

Those old buildings that are still standing after hundreds of years?  It’s because of their mortar.  The lime mortar that was used has absorbed all the stress and damage to the building and allowed the stones themselves to remain unharmed.  Those families that seem to have withstood the external pressures of life with grace and dignity, who remain together despite tragedy?  I bet they have a great mother acting as the mortar, the glue keeping them all together.  Like mortar, mothers get stronger by withstanding the heat of fires, by being subjected to stirrings, beatings (psychological and unfortunately sometimes physical), and time.  Our strength holds the family together and often takes the damage so that others might be spared.

Here's to mothers and mortar everywhere!  We’re the glue that keeps everything and everyone together.

About Katherine J. Scott

Welcome to my website and blog. I am a writer and librarian interested in historical fiction. My works in progress include a trilogy about a stonemason from Elizabethan England and a novel loosely based on the Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestries housed at the Cloisters in New York.
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One Response to On Mortar and Mothers

  1. Mandi Watts says:

    Great analogy!

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