On Mother’s Day
Here on the day before Mother’s Day, I feel like writing a little bit about my own mother who has been gone now for 23 years. She was a grade school teacher for 38 years, beginning when she was 18, as was possible in 1928. She taught during the school year and then went to Eastern Illinois University in the summers to work on her degree. At the end of the summer, she came home to begin the next school year.
This was in southeastern Illinois where she taught at places such as Victory, Berryville, Calhoun, and Claremont. In the early 1960s, the school board at Claremont refused to renew her contract because they felt she didn’t discipline her students severely enough when they needed it. Funny, because I remember a story about her tying a boy to a chair when he refused to behave. Took a rope and tied him to a chair. Sounds pretty severe to me. That boy must have gotten under her skin and chewed through her last nerve. I can barely imagine my mother doing something like that because she was the kindest, most compassionate person I ever knew. She could be timid. She could go unnoticed because she never drew attention to herself. She believed in forgiveness. She didn’t hold stock in gossip. She knew that anyone, no matter his or her flaws, deserved our understanding. Anything I learned about how to treat people, and I’m not sure I’ve learned enough, came from her.
She never asked for me. I came unexpectedly into her life when she was 45 and my father was 42. I was her only child, and she loved me even when I disappointed her. She taught school, taking a position in Oak Forest, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, after losing her job downstate, and at the same time she gave my father the assistance he needed after the farming accident that cost him both of his hands. On top of all that, she found herself having to raise a son well into her middle years. I never heard her complain. She was a woman of endurance and charity and faith.
A part of me feels guilty for writing about her in this post, for having written about her in my memoirs, From Our House and Turning Bones, for having posted her photo on my Facebook page today because she was such a private person, and I’m not sure that she’d approve of any of this if she were still alive. In the past, I’ve written about her to try to understand the story of our family. Today I write about her (and I post these photos) because she was indeed a person that folks might have barely given a second thought, unless, that is, they happened to be the recipient of her kindness. I write about her to know that her life mattered. Even now, all these years later, I carry her with me every day. I wonder how many of her students over the years have been glad that she was their teacher.
I know this: We’ve all been blessed by the presence of good, loving women. May our Mother’s Day be filled with memories of the ones who have made a difference in our lives. Peace and love to everyone.
Hi Lee, just read your comments and have to admit I was very moved. Your parents were very quiet people, but I can’t help but think that your Mom is watching down on you each day and is very proud of your accomplishments. I know she would never take any credit for having a hand in it, but you and I know we are what we are because of our parents. My Dad died in 1987 and Mother in 2009. I miss them very much and always think of them with great fondness around special occasions and remember all the family get togethers. There was rarely a weekend went by when one of her brothers and family would stop by for one of her home cooked meals. Thanks for posting some of your memories. She still loves you.
Nona, thank you so much for your kind words. I know how bittersweet holidays can be once your parents are gone, but I hope your day tomorrow will be filled with many wonderful and loving memories of your mother and the rest of your family.
What did you want to say, what would she say, today? I was wondering, because so few seem to know, today.
Rita, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I understand your question.
Beautiful tribute to your mother, and affirmation that all moms are teachers, regardless of credentials. I’m guessing it broke her heart to lose her classroom experience like that.
Byron, I remember that after my mother had been retired for a number of years she still talked about how melancholy it made her feel each autumn to see the children passing her house on their way to school. After she quit teaching, she worked in the laundry and in housekeeping at a local nursing home. I remember one winter morning when she was to be at work at 5am, the snow was so deep that my father couldn’t get the car out of the driveway. Instead of calling to say she wouldn’t be able to make it to work, she called to explain why she would be late. Then she and my father set out on foot to walk what must have two or three miles to the nursing home. That was my mother. She had a job to do and she meant to do it. My father was the same way in that regard. Both of them taught me how to put my shoulder to the wheel. Thanks for your comment that reminded me of all of this.
That must be one of the very sweetest things I’ve read from a son to his mother. You have articulated the feelings that each of us as mothers hopes our children will some day feel. In addition, what a remarkable woman and teacher she was, sounds like years ahead in her thinking. We need more women like your mother!
Julia, thank you so much for reading the post and for taking the time to comment. I believe I’ve always enjoyed the company of women so much because of the love and gentleness I felt from my mother.
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