(March 28, 1925 - August 21, 2015)
This picture of my mother, Margaret, was taken a couple of years before I was born. She gave it to her fiancee, Joe, who was going off to war. They would marry a year later when Joe was home on leave. That was the beginning of my family.
My mother was the youngest of eight children. When she was five, her parents divorced. Because her mother could no longer afford to feed all of her children, she had to send my mother to live at the Children's Home. She lived there for five years.
I grew up the oldest of five children. My father was an engineer and worked at various aerospace plants over the years. We moved to a different city and a different state every four or five years. My mother never let on that this was something bad or difficult. We just moved and she would join a church and make new friends and it was considered normal.
My mother was a homemaker. She cared for all of us, she cooked every meal, sewed most of our clothes, ironed our clothes and kept our house spotless. She was the disciplinarian and made sure we followed the rules, but I remember that we had a lot of fun, too.
My mother was very social and nurturing. She was always inviting lonely college and foreign students over for dinner. It seems we nearly always had an extra person sitting down at our dinner table. We often had cousins living with us for months at a time when their families were struggling.
We took vacations each year - crowded into our station wagon and driving cross country from wherever we happened to be living at the time. Extended family was important and most of our social life revolved around family and church friends. If we visited family, bedding was pulled out so that all the kids could sleep on the floor. Bedrooms were scarce in those days.
During college, I lived on campus but in the same town as my family. Nearly every Sunday I would bring friends home to eat dinner with my family. My mother never acted like she minded the extra work and welcomed anyone we brought home.
Once I graduated, married and started teaching school in another town, I would bring some of my seemingly shy and insecure elementary students to visit our family for a lively weekend.
While I was raising my own family, we had many exchange students and would always include them in visits to my parents' home.
Most of the time that my children were growing up, my parents lived in Arizona and we lived in Texas. When we visited grandparents there was flat land and empty streets good for bicycle riding or skating. There was an association swimming pool for summer or winter swimming. There was a neighborhood playground for releasing energy. There were desert mountains to climb via hiking trails. And there were orange and grapefruit trees in the yard. If we picked the oranges, my mother always made us fresh-squeezed orange juice. Plus she would always have home made biscuits for breakfast. And there were pallets on the floor for the kids.
My parents never missed any of their 12 grandchildren's graduations or weddings. They would drive from Arizona to Texas for our high school graduations. They would drive or fly all over the country to attend college graduations and weddings of their many grandchildren.
During the 1994-95 school year, our son spent a year in Spain as an exchange student. In March of 1995, my parents joined us on a week-long trip to visit him. It was quite the adventure and we all had a great time.
My father was diagnosed with early Alzheimer's in 1996. My mother cared for him at home for over four years. But after he began having such difficulty walking that he would fall and bring my mother down with him, she finally realized she needed help. He was moved to a small home with 24-hour care a 15-minute drive away. My mother still visited him and tried to help with his daily care until he died in September 2001.
His death was very hard on her, but she continued to volunteer and care for other people like she had always done.
In March of this year, all forty-four members of my mom's family (kids, grandkids, great grandkids) assembled at the Arizona Golf Resort in Mesa, AZ to celebrate her 90th birthday. Granny got to stay at her home, but everyone was able to walk from the resort to visit her in small groups. The last night of our celebration we reserved a private dining room where everyone could gather together to eat and show our love and respect for our treasured matriarch.
How do you distill someone's life into a short blog post? My mother had 90-year's worth of experiences, so of course, I was only able to highlight a few of the times I remember. It has taken me three months since her death to be able to do this. The last fourteen months of her life were so painful and difficult for her, which made it difficult for the rest of us to stand by, unable to do anything but watch over her and ask her doctors for help. But, that's why I needed to go back and remember all of those years of good times.
RIP Mom. I love you.