If I’m half as nice, kind, and caring as my mother is, I’ll be a very good man indeed.
She'd never say that of course, as she’s a very humble New Englander, raised in rural Maine, where she walked to school in the 1950s, through the snow, uphill both ways.
My mother started life in somewhat challenging circumstances in the early-1940s, in a rural Maine community, her father away at war. Sadly, when he came home, he fairly promptly divorced her mom, something very unusual in the early 1950s.
Fortunately, my grandmother was a strong woman (herself the eldest daughter of a farmer and military man), and a nurse. She was able to support my mom as a strong working woman and single mom, something very rare in those times. In this, she and my mom were ahead of their time.
Walking to school, and not
My mom indeed walked to school, through the snow along the train tracks, but in high school, she had fairly severe leg and muscle problems and ended up needing several surgeries.
That meant she got to pioneer remote learning, and mostly did her senior year in high school from a hospital, calling into classes by phone. In the late 1950s. Regardless of the circumstances, she still has several close friends from those days, nearly 70 years on.
Later, when I was a child in the 1970s, she had several more leg surgeries and has walked with a pronounced limp all her life, taking more Tylenol and related pain killers (never prescription) over decades than I’ve ever seen, then or since.
But not ever in my 50-year memory did she complain about it. Not once, not ever. NEVER.
That’s because my mom takes country music star Loretta Lynn’s song “Coal Miner’s Daughter” to heart, following the great lyric: “To complain, there was no need.” That’s a strong New Englander for you, as “complain” is not in my mother’s vocabulary. Quite different from today’s entitled youth.
Perhaps it’s also due to her wit and sense of humor.
From her dad she inherited the classic dry humor rather common in Maine, where jokes can be injected into any bad situation, and taking oneself too seriously is in itself a serious crime. Humor was everywhere in our family, then and, now, though in our own Maine way. Though even my Chinese wife gets the jokes, so they must be universal, too.
Life turned out all right for her, with two great kids (if I may say so), four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, a great husband, all the necessary comforts of home, and much more.
After graduating from high school, she was off to community college, learning shorthand and other things young women were supposed to do at the time, plus going out socializing from time to time.
At one such evening out on the town at a local ice cream parlor with the girls she met my dad, as a dashingly handsome young man just a few years out of the Navy, and very likely causing mischief around town (that’s a future blog post all its own). They were married a year or two later.
And four generations later, we still take their great-grandkids to that same ice cream parlor every summer:
My mom doesn’t often offer advice, but at certain times is critical of those who are perhaps on the wrong path. Especially being a conservative New Englander, she’s always good to point out when someone (like me) is putting on airs or getting too full of themselves.
My mother also often reminded us that the world needs all kinds of people, and as part of that, we should not judge others. This is not always a popular viewpoint, especially these days.
However, despite the fact that she’s from the whitest state in the nation and not very well-traveled nor met many diverse people, she’s always championed diversity and just accepting folks as they are. Progressive, mom is.
Live and let live. If there is one attitude Mainers have, it’s probably this. In other words, don’t worry too much about those people over there, how they live, what they look like, etc.
Be yourself and don’t criticize others, for surely those who live in glass houses shouldn’t be casting stones. As part of that, never say bad things about others, as she likely believes this reflects more on the complainer than their target.
She’d have done well in San Francisco:
My mother never worked, yet she always worked. Bringing up two kids, even as perfect as we were, was certainly work. But she also built and ran the back office for our family construction company for about 40 years, dealing daily with the endless backlog of customers, employees, vendors, and bills, along with cash flow challenges, making it all look easy. I certainly appreciated this later when I was managing these things for my companies.
We were fortunate to always have her home, to get us from bed, make breakfast, send us to school, and be there when we got home for snacks, etc. Increasingly rare these days, she was the ideal combination of the working stay-at-home mom.
Once my brother and I were off on our own, my mother looked for others to help, settling on short-term foster care for unwed teen mothers. That was an eye-opening experience for everyone, shepherding often abandoned (i.e. kicked out of their house by angry parents) young girls, supporting them through their pregnancies, deliveries, and then off on to their new lives.
She (and my dad) did this for more than a decade, helping a dozen or more teens and their kids along the way. It was not easy, sometimes far from it, but her commitment to these girls and their kids shone through each and every time.
Now all those babies are adults, most of them off into good careers of their own, in part due to the care and absurd amount of patience my mom poured into their mothers as their time of perhaps greatest need. Really giving back to the community.
As my mom reaches middle age (nearly 80) and starts to slow down (reducing her ATV riding, for example), she hasn’t changed, still injecting humor into things, still preaching tolerance, and helping us all get along.
I’m continually trying to mine her experience and observations for future posts, so we can capture her continued wisdom for the ages, so stay tuned.