Sunday, October 17, 2010

Through the Looking Glass - My Mum

One thing I am sure that we can all relate to is the wide difference between who we think someone is, and who we find out they are when we get to know them better.  This also becomes apparent when one realizes how other people view someone you thought you knew well is widely different from how you view them.  Enter my mother.

I am never quite sure why my mother was saddled with me, but I can only assume it was a life lesson for one of us.  She was brought up on a farm in South Dakota.  She loved school (it bored me to tears until I started my graduate work), she loved church (I never fit in), she loved playing the piano and organ (I became pretty efficient, but never relaxed enough to enjoy it), she never drank or danced (I did - in fact dance was an overwhelming passion for me for many years), and the list goes on.  The day she realized the beautiful, blonde baby girl she had been dreaming of was really an opinionated and difficult child must have made her reconsider her life-long hate of alcohol for at least a moment.  I left home at 17 and can truly say in this case, distance did make the heart grow fonder.  When we weren't in each others hair day after day, we began to find our common ground and all my family looked forward to her yearly visits.

Several times I have used my mother's story as an example of a woman who started her career late in life.  My father passed unexpectedly when she was only in her mid-fifties and she was left with no pension or support.  Despite a total lack of experience with computers and new office programs, she dug deep for courage and walked into the local private university where she landed an entry level position.  By her mid-60's, she developed a program for the women in residence that she was still running 20 years later.  In 2009, at the age of 85, she suffered a stroke while getting ready to go to work and passed away 2 weeks later.  I used part of her legacy to launch Fame'd Magazine's first print collectible.

On one hand my brothers and I knew our mother had a 30 year career starting at age 55 and we should have admired her for it.  On the other hand we tended to view her as a bit silly and uninformed.  She couldn't really talk politics.  As was common in her generation, God, Country (America - of course), Republicans and Fox News were all part of the divine plan.  She had an extremely poor understanding of how the rest of the world viewed U.S. policies and she towed the line of the religious right without question.  Many topics were avoided and we just humoured her if the subject got too serious.  Imagine our surprise when the family attended the university's memorial service.  She was honoured as a leader and someone who kept them on track.  Her bible was placed in the President's Garden (the first ever for a non-president) and a scholarship was established in her name.  To us she was just our kid's grandmother who helped them bake cookies. To them she was SOMEONE in capitals.

I wish I had seen her at work to understand that side.  My memories of her will always be of the woman who came to visit, loved my kids, baked cookies and just seemed very backward and uninformed when it came to the world in general. It feels a bit like Alice through the looking glass and I don't think I will ever be able to put these two images together.

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