I wrote awhile back about all the smart people I work with. Everything I said about them was true. And it isn’t just people I work with. I have really smart friends also, and many of my family members are no slouches either. But the smartest person I have ever known, by far, is my mother.
My mom was not a highly educated woman. She graduated from the 8th grade. This was the middle of the Great Depression so the costs of education made both high school and college out of the question for her, the youngest of six children. But even though her formal education ended young, my mom was a great reader and continued to educate herself throughout her life. When I was growing up there were always books in the house and reading often took precedence over dusting and vacuuming (a standard I am happy to say that I uphold to this day!)
Much of mom's education came from life. She moved from the farm to the nearest large town and started to work. She married in 1939, about five weeks shy of her 19th birthday, and had children. She worked as a domestic, a cook, and a waitress. She suffered the pain of divorce and lost babies. She remarried and had more children, both produced and acquired. She buried her parents, siblings, and her husband. She left friends and family behind and started over, more than once, simply playing the cards that life chose to deal to her.
Through it all, she was kind and loving and compassionate to others. She did the best she could with what she had for as long as she was able. She worked hard, both in terms of hours and physicality. At age 70, she tore up the old carpet in her house - by hand - and laid down new carpet - also by hand - and repainted all the rooms in her house - by herself. Whatever you could call her, it wasn't lazy!
My mom was not perfect - no person or parent is - and I'm not trying to make her out to be a saint because she wasn't. Did she make mistakes? Yes. Did she regret some of her choices in life? Probably. Given the chance, would she have done a couple of things differently? Maybe. In addition to all the wonderful gifts she gave me, she also contributed to a trait or two in my make-up that has proven to be less than constructive in adult relationships and that I have had to deliberately work to change. However, those 'damages' were not done maliciously or with intent. They came from her own 'damages'- things that were done to her by others or circumstance over which she had no control. I certainly don't blame my mother (or dad for that matter) for any of my shortcomings or weaknesses. They are mine alone to own and change.
I was a late-in-life baby, the last of five in my family, born one week before my mom's 40th birthday. If you ask my older siblings, they would probably tell you I was spoiled. I, of course :-), don't agree. My mom was fair. She treated us not the same but equitably, nonetheless. She adapted to her children's personalities and strengths. She was able to see the different things we needed and gave them to the best of her ability.
I remember when my mother's mother died. I think I was 14 or 15 at the time. My grandmother lived far away from us all my life so I didn't grow up in close relationship with her. I saw her once a year until I was about 11 or 12. I'll be honest and say that she wasn't my favorite person. She was old and crabby and her house smelled funny. She lived in a little town where there was nothing to do and going to visit was a painful week out of my summer. She was also mean. I'm sure she wasn't but I perceived her that way because I didn't know her. I was afraid of her.
Because of my childish perspective on my grandmother, I admit that after her death, I couldn't really understand why my mom missed her so much. They hadn't lived in the same town for 30 years. As time passed, and my mom would occasionally mention how much she missed her mom, I understood it even less. How, 25 years after her death, could her lack of presence be so painful? I really didn't get it. And, of course, now I do. Clearly. Daily. I'd give my right arm to have my mom back, to simply be able to talk to her about my day or hear her tell a story about hers.
Abraham Lincoln once said "All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my mother." I believe I can say the same. She taught me to listen and learn and be compassionate to others, to work hard, to have courage in the face of adversity, to not think the world owed me a living, to be kind and patient even when you don't want to be, that laughing at myself was good and that there was rarely ever a reason to take myself or my circumstances too seriously. Do I always live up to those lessons? Not nearly as much as I would wish yet I'm grateful for having been taught them so lovingly.
So on this day, the tenth anniversary of her death, and every day, I pay tribute to my Mother - my teacher, my mentor, my cheerleader, my pal, my Mom.
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