Sunday, September 22, 2013

My mother and her generation of women

Today, September 22nd, is my mother’s birthday. Had she still been alive, she would have been 93 years old today. I wish she had made it to that age. Sadly, she passed away in March 2001. There is not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and miss her. She lived her life her way and did things her way (like Frank Sinatra whom she liked a lot) and while that could be amazingly frustrating at times, I think it’s what kept her going through the hard times in her life. And there were a number of them, as in the lives of most people. She was not an aggressive or self-seeking person, nor a particularly talkative one. You had to pull personal information out of her about her formative years, her childhood, and even young adulthood. What I did learn from her is that her mother (my grandmother) went blind, probably in her late sixties/early seventies. My best guess is that her mother had glaucoma that was either too far gone when it was discovered, or that there were not very good treatments for glaucoma at that time (1940s). I actually searched online for an answer to the latter and found it here: I never had the chance to meet my grandmother since she died before I was born. My mother put her own life on hold for a number of years to take care of her mother, including postponing her ambition to go to college. She had to work and she did so, probably supporting the two of them on her salary as an assistant librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. It was there that she met my father in the early 1950s, and they were married in 1955, a year after her mother died. Whenever my mother talked about her own mother, it was always in a kind way. I never heard my mother utter one unkind word about her mother or about having to take care of her. She did express regret at not being able to finish college; she started but then had to quit. Once married, she had three children and raising them became her life. And when my father became ill with cardiovascular disease, she took care of him too, without complaining about her lot in life. She just did it.

Her birthday today reminds me of all of the older women in my mother’s generation whom I’ve had the privilege and honor of knowing, and they are not few. Most of them are dead now (had they lived, most of them would be over 85 years old): the women in my childhood neighborhood; the mothers of my close friends; my aunts; some really wonderful teachers in grade school and high school; the women I got to know in the different jobs I’ve had through the years. They inspired me with their values, sense of responsibility, commitment, loyalty, and charitable behavior. They were women of faith, many of them. They credited their faith with getting them through the hard times. They also believed in the value of family. They had their imperfections and faults, but they tried to live up to their ideals. That’s all I could really ask of role models when I needed them. I only hope that I can be half as good as they were when it’s my turn to be a role model for young women starting out. I certainly don’t feel as though I’ve got it all together. But I do look to my faith to help me through the hard times. And I remember the supportive natures of most of the older women I’ve known. If I can hang onto my faith and be supportive of others when they need my support, I guess I’ll be alright. Plus I know I’ve got my mother in my corner, rooting for me.  

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