To most of us our parents pass along the obvious genetics – hair color, eye color, weight/height, etc… And as I find myself nearing the end of my fifth decade, still confused as to the path I should take, I can’t help but wonder of my own mother and father and how their genes ran far deeper than skin and hair color. I see letters written by my father, or even my mother, over forty years ago and I could swear, had I not known better, that I wrote them.
Eighty-nine years ago this month, in one of the worst blizzards in the history of Wisconsin, our mother was born. Only a few days old, she caught a cold that quickly grew to pneumonia. Thinking that her tiny body would not make it through recovery, her parents called for the minister to perform the baptism and what they thought would be the inevitable funeral. But that tiny baby proved to be much stronger than anyone thought possible and she not only survived the deadly virus, she would continue to prove throughout her life that she was much more durable than many would give her credit for.
As a woman who was all of five feet two inches tall and only one hundred and eight pounds; such a tiny woman who was raised on a dairy farm during an era known in our history as the Great Depression. During this time she taught herself how to sew and cook; all the while studying hard for she had her sights set on something, anything that would take out of the small town in which she lived.
She graduated valedictorian and earned a scholarship to River Falls University where she majored in Science and minored in Mathematics. But her scholastics career would end early graduating magna cum laude in an accelerated program due to the war; and because the country found that there was such a shortage of teachers, the choice became obvious so off she went to teach in Minneapolis. This occupation however would be short lived but would serve its purpose for the time being.
After teaching and soon after the war ended she and about four or five of her friends decided to move to San Francisco, CA. Unfortunately, all but one of them chickened out. With no job, no apartment and no friends to greet her on the other end, our mother had enough for the train ticket to California. But she would soon find that all would work out. Soon she would meet many friends and eventually meet that man of her dreams – our father – and they would end up happily married and with a family. Unfortunately that would be short lived as he would die after only twelve years of marriage.
Remember now, this was a woman much stronger than anyone ever imagined. This was a woman who had grit, courage and was unshakable. However, as time passed and life grabbed hold, somewhere along the way, though she had plenty of courage, she was somehow shaken and had lost her confidence. I bring this up because I too am losing mine. You see, I’m the age my mother was when she would have been widowed for nine years.
In those days our country had so much conflict going on. Even in our small yet cosmopolitan town, there was much tension between the races. My oldest sister was already in college and my brother graduated early so he could escape the tensions he faced on a daily basis. Our mother continued with her brave front and continued to teach us the wrong of racial inequality and the ignorance of it. All of our friends were leaving for “whiter” pastures while we stayed. All the while I could tell this bothered mother. Not so much that she wanted to “escape”, as much as she wanted to shake some sense into her friends and neighbors. It was simple nonsense as she called it! (She referred to them as Archie Bunker – the character in the famous All In The Family from the early 1970’s sit com)
Our mother was way ahead of her time and saw people as people. But to say that she didn’t see color; well, I would be lying. She was, after all, of the older generation. But, she raised us with the knowledge that we were all equal under the law and in the eyes of God. And so that was how we continued to live our lives. Our mother has since passed away, but I can see her in all of us. For instance, in my oldest sister Kim I see her courage and her sewing (mother was a wonderful seamstress). Also, every time Kim makes a list it reminds me of mom (she was a big list maker). Our brother got her mind for science and mathematics; and Elizabeth always has an eye out for another project with her home and I think out of all of us, she reads and rereads the most books (our mother was an avid reader, going through several novels a week). I got the ‘craft’ gene and ALL of us love long distance driving. You see, our mother didn’t learn to drive until daddy died. But once she did, watch out! She was off like a bullet.
The traits don’t stop there, obviously. There are many favorite memories that I hold of our mother; such as the memory of her holding me and rocking while singing. My ear would be against her chest and her bass voice would resonate and it would be so soothing. To this day the idea of rocking is still my favorite action. Or the memory of going to sleep to the sound of the sewing machine only to wake up to a brand new dress hanging on my closet door the next morning.
We used to call her Mighty Mouse and mighty she was. But she was also very fragile in many ways, though she would never show it. And it’s that frailty that I wonder about in myself. Is it possible that our lives can mirror those of our parents? If so, is there a way to truly break the pattern or break the chain? For once in our long lineage I would love to do what “I” want to do – I just need to truly figure that out and not let anyone [ANYONE] discourage me from that dream.
I’ve been placing way too much importance in what other’s feel about what I do. Bottom line; it shouldn’t matter what others think. I mean, there is a point where it might (just a bit), but not so much to where it should influence my doing or not doing [x, y, z].
My mother was famous for saying, “That’s great Sweetie, but first you need to do…” There was always something I needed to do first, as if I had to perfect something. But isn’t this process of life the ‘perfecting?’ I loved my mother; love my memories. I still celebrate her and her birthday and perhaps, just perhaps the mere fact that I’m aware is the break in the chain that is needed (fingers crossed). She was truly a talented woman who hid her light under a bushel – such a waste. I don’t want to do that. Our talents are to be enjoyed. So I prefer to be the hybrid, if you will, of both my parents. I think we all have the best qualities of them and can focus on those. Our mother had so much, I just wish she knew how much. I think if she had more validation in her life, life might have turned out much differently for her.
“We are each gifted in a unique and important way. It is our privilege and our adventure to discover our own special light.” – Mary Dunbar
“Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?” – Benjamin Franklin