Mother’s Day fast approacheth. Generally, I dislike man-made holidays. But now that I’m a mom, I can see just how much work goes into being a mom. You’re the “Where’s my ___?” person. You probably do most of the chores. You’re a chauffeur. You’re a mediator. You’re a cook.
That’s only a partial list, by the way. There are many, many more roles mothers play. But I want to write about my mom today.
Mom was born and raised in the Midwest. The daughter of an Episcopalian minister and an artistic, musically gifted housewife, she was the second of what would eventually be seven children. Mom was her dad’s favorite. It’s all the more tragic when her parents divorced and her dad disappeared from their lives. Still, she went on to develop a great passion for music. She commuted from home to attend the University of Nebraska. She graduated with her B.A. in performing arts – voice. She taught music at the junior high in Norfolk, NE.
A bit of a late bloomer, she didn’t date much. Granted, the pool was tiny. She entered the Navy and became a WAVE. She directed the WAVEs chorus and was told by the Command Executive Officer that she had great legs. She says of this period that she had a marvelous time and really became her own person. I believe it. Some experiences and seasons of our lives “make” us. This was hers.
During this time, she met my father on a blind date. They dated for about 6 months and got married. Dad’s family being “old Maryland money” wasn’t sure what to make of my funny, irreverent mother. I think they had a DAR set aside for dad. Mom didn’t always fit in, despite being a potential DAR candidate herself. She tells a story of my paternal grandmother talking about her black cook, Annie.
“They [colored folks] just love the chicken wings!”, my grandmother exclaimed once to my mother.
Mom said, “I bet they’d love the breasts, too.”
Oh yes she did.
Eventually, Mom had me – after 6 years of wedded bliss – and then my brother. Mom put dad through school. He graduated from the University of Maryland (go Terrapins!) with a teaching credential. He taught in Annapolis suburbs for several years before tiring of the pressure of the “society set”.
When I was three, my parents moved to Oregon. Mom’s sister Susan helped Dad scout out a teaching job at Ickes Jr. High (now closed) in Milwaukie, OR. Mom made the best of things. Her sister’s family was only 10 blocks from us. My cousins were like my first sisters. Mom settled down to be a housewife in a new state in our progressive NE Portland neighborhood. It was a hodgepodge of hippie and civil rights goodness. Jews, Catholics and blacks all living side by side. Not what Mom – or Dad – was used to. But she embraced the diversity and made new friends.
What you need to know about my mom is that when she and dad divorced, she made it a point to not speak badly about him. She remembered that he was our father and we needed to respect and love him even if he wasn’t living with us anymore. She found a full-time job with the state of Oregon Employment Department, helping people find jobs. It seemed to give her an outlet for her incredible compassion, interviewing people to find out what they were best suited for, and hearing their stories. She also learned by trial and error about how to truly help the homeless. In fact, at different points in time, she took them in.
During the 1980s, she worked for a place called The Vet Center. Veterans who fought in Vietnam couldn’t find jobs. In fact, they were regularly rejected by employers, even spit upon by the public. She helped them find places to work and get into counseling right there. She championed their cause almost as much as the feminist movement. A great believer in equal pay for equal work, she told me from an early age that I could be anything I wanted to be.
I remember our next door neighbors would let me tag along to the movies, to their hemp farm (kidding!) and pretty much anywhere. Their kids were my age and having an extra buffer kid was most likely a plus. But my mom hardly ever had kids from the neighborhood over. I hated it. She would say to me, “Am I feeding the whole neighborhood?!” Now, I empathize. She worked full-time dealing with the public. She had a very limited budget. Heck, our allowance was $3 every other week…if she could swing it. She didn’t have energy to play or have surplus kids around. She dearly wanted to sit down, put her feet up and read a book. Seemed she was always in the middle of some book or other. Sometimes she would have her feet “talk” to me. Now you know.
Mom hosted great parties. A first soprano in the Portland Symphonic Choir, she would regularly have everyone over to her place after a performance. We cleaned like maniacs and even shined the silver. Carter and I loved it. Chicken in a Biscuit crackers never made an appearance in our house otherwise! The house was filled with laughter and music and storytelling. We had our first interaction with same sex couples at those parties.
My mom has some amazing qualities. She stands up for the underdog. She accepts people as they are, without reservations. She is a voracious reader and infected me with the disease by her example. I am a musician because of her passion. She has compassion for hurting people. And her sense of humor – I’ll let her tell you about the belated Christmas gift she found recently – tie them all together in a beautiful, one-of-a-kind package. I hope I can be like her someday. I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!