I’ve been thinking about my mom a lot lately. She passed away 21 years ago this month and she’s been on my mind for a while. I think of my mom often, of course, but in the last few weeks the thoughts I’ve been having are far different than any I’ve had before.
A little background on my mom. She was an only child who grew up in a modest way until her dad became successful. Then they moved to “the city” where she went to a private high school and was lucky enough to go to college. She met my dad as a freshman at Auburn and married him at just 19. He was stationed in Hawaii at the time, so they started their life together far away from anything she’d ever known. I have never put a lot of thought into her life, but I wonder how the transition from country girl to city girl was? What was it like to go away to college in the 50’s? And that move to Hawaii. Was it terrifying or thrilling? I’d expect a bit of both. How did she handle it? I can’t ask her, but I’m pretty sure she handled it with grace and grit.
Twenty-three years and five kids later my parents divorced. My mother was on her own for the first time in her life and she had three kids at home to take of; she had to figure out how to provide. I’ve never given her credit, but it undoubtedly took a lot of willpower to get through that time in her life. She cleaned houses (a big change given we employed a maid while my parents were married) and did some clerical work. To supplement her income she started selling her famous rum cakes during the holidays for people to give as gifts. And from that my mom’s career was born. At 45 years old, she became a caterer and went on to run her own business until she died.
The truth is, my mother and I didn’t have a great relationship. I won’t go into details. Suffice to say we weren’t that close and I never felt that connected to her. If anything, I did everything I could to NOT be like her. I’ve always felt more connected to my father, and he and I were close. If anyone ever asked which parent I was more like, my answer was always that I was exactly like my dad. I look A LOT like him, and I have always thought I inherited all of his traits: I’m social, I’m gregarious, I can work a room, and I’m pretty smart.
Fact is, my mom had all those traits too. So, really, who am I like?
I’ve never had to pick up the pieces from a divorce, and I’ve only had to raise three kids, but there are a lot of things I do the way my mom did. My mother was a tremendous friend to anyone she met. I’ve had people tell me I’m that way. My mother was a prankster, and I love to pull a fast one on people. My mother never met a stranger and knew every person at the grocery store and the pharmacy. The same goes for me, and my kids make fun of me for knowing the name of the cashier at our favorite deli.
My mom had tenacity and grit. She dug in and figured out what she needed to do to survive. I would like to think I have grit as well. I started my current a job as a second career in a field where I had no experience and have flourished; I’ve recently taken on a leadership role and hope that I’m tenacious enough to succeed in it. My mom was stubborn and rarely admitted defeat, even down to her last day on earth. She was bone thin and sick from cancer but fought like the devil, determined to beat it. Once she realized she wasn’t going to, she faced it with grace and a little humor. Those qualities got her through the trials she faced in her life.
I guess that what I want to say is this: To my mom, thanks. Thanks for being a good role model. Thanks for teaching me so much, even though I had no idea I was learning. Thanks for the great qualities you gave me. I hope I will face life’s moments with tenacity, grace, and humor like you did. Most of all, I hope that one day my own daughters will realize that they are strong and capable and able to tackle their challenges with grace. I hope that when they take a look at themselves they can be proud of who they are and know that they are a lot like their grandmother.