I am so glad my mother didn’t live to see this day. I say this selfishly, not harshly. If she were still alive, she would be making sure people had food. She would be calling and checking in on those who were disconnected or alone. She would be raging at a government that has so little concern for its citizens that it is putting economics before life. She would be acting from the heart and caring for others in every way she could.
No, I say this selfishly because I cannot imagine how I could bear to be across the country from her, worried that she would needlessly expose herself to a virus that does not care whether you are rich or poor, a person of color, or someone who believes in God or not. I would be a nervous wreck, not able to sleep for fear I would get a call saying she had been taken to the hospital. I would be nervous and guilty and angry at something that I had no control over.
My mother was a free spirit. She believed that there was only one life to live, and she was going to live it. She was born in 1919, a year after the Spanish Flu decimated the country. She was doted on by her mother and father, and although she didn’t have brothers or sisters, her cousins filled that role and she basked in the closeness of family.
The Depression impacted her only slightly, as her father’s profession as an electrical engineer remained in demand. She graduated from high school, went on to college, first to a small private school, then on to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She graduated just before World War II and ended up working during the war for the government in Army Intelligence, where she was stationed in Ankara, Turkey. Life was exciting.
After the war, she returned home to a changed country. She met and married my father, adopted me and then became a widow and single mother at the age of 48. Undaunted by this change of fortune, she took up secretarial work and eventually became the Executive Secretary for the American Red Cross Chapter in Watertown, Wisconsin. Although she was never licensed as a social worker, she provided these kinds of resources and cared for many veterans and others in need during her time with the Red Cross. But she wasn’t ready to retire, by any means!
One of her favorite part-time jobs in her later years was delivering the newspaper. She had a regular route that included businesses as well as residences. She was featured on the front page of the paper, as the “oldest paper boy”, something she was perhaps more proud of than her service to the nation.
She believed strongly in democratic values and served as a poll worker throughout her long life. She was an active member of the League of Women Voters and the Democratic Party. She marched for civil rights and voted for the ERA. Well into her 80’s before she had to give up driving, she did ‘get-out-the-vote’ activities that took her all over southern Wisconsin.
She loved her scotch, always ate her dessert, and never passed up a chance to meet family or friends at local restaurants. She was one-of-a-kind, and I miss her very much.
In her 80s, she had shrunk from her adult height of 5’7” to a hunched-over 4’8”. She could still give the best hugs. She whistled as she walked, more of an effort to control her breathing than a musical accompaniment. And she retained a wicked sense of humor. She was lonely and anxious in her old age. Yet she was content with knitting, her cats, and visits from relatives. But there were still long hours without contact.
While we would talk weekly, I would worry constantly. Worry that she would fall. Worry that she would get into a car accident. Worry that she wouldn’t be able to make ends meet. Not that the worrying did her any good. We would both put on a good front in our conversations. Finally, I did get the call that she needed to move to a higher level of care. And even then, I found things to worry about. She was beloved; I was anxious.
But I am so glad she didn’t live to see what is going on now, this Mother’s Day, 2020. I suspect she would be angry with me for wanting her to stay inside. I can only imagine her impatience with me as I would be reminding her, as only a daughter can, about the necessity for good hygiene and keeping distance from others. My advice would be acknowledged, but ignored. And we both would know that. Such is the love of a mother for a daughter, and a daughter for her mother.
She has been gone for 12 years now. And while I no longer have to worry about her, I miss having her to worry about. I am glad she didn’t live to see 2020 and all that this pandemic has wrought. Her values live on within me. Her modeling of what a good citizen is remains alive and well. Her legacy of what it means to be a human being continues to feed and nurture me, especially in these times where the immediate future appears bleak.
For those of you worried about your mothers, know that they are doing the best they can. For those of you whose mothers are no longer with you, may her memory bring you joy and be a blessing.
So while it is not a happy Mother’s Day this year, I celebrate my mother, knowing she would tell me not to worry, that everything will turn out okay.