… Actually, let’s start earlier than that. There was this girl. Full of the same hopes and dreams that any young girl had in the late 1940s/ early 1950s. She lived on a farm, had eight brothers and sisters, and was saddled with an incredible amount of responsibility before she’d even had her first kiss - minding siblings, cleaning house, working the fields, cooking for an army.
About the time she was getting ready to graduate from high school, she met this guy - not bad looking, paid her a lot of attention, the kind she wasn’t too used to getting. (With her strict parents and all the work that was expected of her at home, it was usually straight from school to the farm.)
She fell in love. She married. Years passed, during which her husband showed a disturbing trend for restlessness, for wanderlust. She was determined to stick it out, though. That’s what you did. Despite all the times she sat home, alone, waiting for him to come back from wherever he was, only to be disappointed. Again.
Years passed. She had four children, all boys. A handful to be sure. The guy decided being a husband and father of four wasn’t all that fun. He took to staying with his friends, leaving the woman and the kids alone. He took to sleeping around town with different, easy women. The kind that don’t think about wives and kids.
The husband began to not even bother to stop by home to offer any of his paycheck.
The four boys frequently fell asleep at night to the sound of the woman’s crying, as she laid in bed facing some realizations that had to be painful, terrifying, hopeless.
The younger boys would often get angry with their mother, when their father would occasionally stop by the house, grocery bags full of treats, such as soda pop. “Why do you have to start screaming at him all the time, Mom?” they would yell at her. “Why do you always have to be so mean, and always make it bad when Dad comes here?”
Eventually, after no particular last straw, she’d had enough, and divorced her husband. The woman was in her early 30s, a high school graduate with no skills, who had never worked a regular, out-in-the-world job, a single mother caring for four young children without support.
She got a job as a cashier at a local grocery. Money was incredibly tight. While she accepted some state aid, she refused to go on food stamps, out of pride, deciding instead to scrape and scrimp any way possible to avoid it. Many days it was truly a struggle to put together meals for her children, but to the woman’s credit, the children would later say they hardly ever noticed.
The woman tried dating for awhile, going through a string of forgettable guys, more than one of whom who used and discarded her. Things were going particularly well with one guy she’d been seeing for several months. But it became obvious he was having difficulty accepting her loud, dirty-faced brood of rugrats. Her heart was broken again – this time by herself, as she ended the relationship. (She’s been single, without a boyfriend or even dating, for more than two decades since.)
Once, this woman’s friends, feeling bad that she always worked and seemed to have no fun in her life, encouraged her to go to the community’s bingo night with them. The woman refused, knowing she didn’t have the money. But her friends insisted, and she took about $10 she couldn’t afford to spend and went to Bingo with them. (She would say later it was one of the worst feelings of guilt she ever had.)
The woman ended up winning a jackpot of about $100, and came home with grocery bags full of food, including treats her children usually didn’t get - soda pop, sweet cereals, potato chips. The kids would say later that they remembered that night as very special – celebratory, happy, like a Christmas morning.
The woman decided scraping by as a cashier wasn’t enough for her and her family. Eventually she got a factory job that paid much better. Later, she moved to another factory, an even better job.
And still she wasn’t satisfied.
At about the age of 44, she decided to go back to school. She took classes at the local community college (including a couple with her second-youngest son), continuing to work full-time as well. She got her degree, and, at the age of 47, the cashier with no skills became a nurse.
She eventually went to work at a local nursing home, working her way to the second-highest nursing position at the facility, a position of authority that she holds today, at age 60.
The woman could have given up. With her limited background, it no doubt must have seemed an attractive option. Her husband did it, after all. He’d left her in a much more difficult situation, one she didn’t deserve.
But she didn’t give up, instead deciding to work harder and face her fear of the unknown, of how to get through tomorrow.
When she’d made it to a plateau that wasn’t nearly as bad as what she’d left behind, she could have been content with that. She wasn’t. She went on to change her own life, make a different and better future for herself.
And, this Sunday, I will sit at her table, eat one of her fabulous dinners, kiss her, give her a big hug, and tell her again how much I love her.
For this woman, you see, is my hero.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.