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.