My mother in law, Marilyn Jean Smith, would have been 93 today. She left this world twenty seven years ago, “gone too soon” as they say. By then, had retired from a career in teaching that spanned more than thirty years. In her retirement, she became a master quilter, and an art docent. She hoped to travel, she hoped to be able to watch the growth of her grandchildren, and the happy lives of her children. All of that was cut short by ALS. Her last two years were marked with suffering such that not even the love of her family could assuage.
When I think of Mom, I remember a story Scott told me of her youth. In high school, she had wanted a summer job, one that could help her pay for college and a path to a new life. Her father, an emigre from Bulgaria steeped in patriarchy, was not supportive. Mom got a job anyway, driving the candy truck that wove through her upstate New York area and bringing joy to children wherever she went. Crossing paths with her disapproving father one day, she beeped, waved and called, “Hi Papa!” and went on her way.
Mom knew what she wanted her life to be, and she worked to make that life.
She was a feminist: a woman who raised her son to value women, the work they did, the sacrifices they made, and their right to demand the respect they deserved. Her boy knew how to cook, sew, do laundry, and (above all) think of marriage as a co-equal contract among two independent souls.
I was young when I first met her, in the earliest days of courtship. I had known no mothering, my own mother having absented herself from my life when I was barely out of infancy. But, I was aware enough to understand that the influence that Mom had made upon the man I loved, and how much that love was dependent upon the values she had nurtured.
I am not too far removed from the age Mom was when she succumbed to her illness. I am now steeped in stories of who she was and what she did. Our home is filled with antiques she bought, art she fancied, quilts she made. We often enjoy the recipes she collected for a book she gave my husband when he first went off to college, with the expectation that he would be self sufficient, a man who could be an equal partner to someone some day. The man she had raised.
And I, sitting at a table she’d purchased, looking upon the portraits and federalist mirror she had selected in some long ago antique shop, am grateful.