She was born on St. Swithin’s Day, a day I’ve never heard mentioned except in the context of her birth. That’s July 15 and it’s said that rain on the day will be followed by 40 days more of the same. Conversely, if it’s fair, then beautiful weather will ensue for the next 40. I used to check it out and found little truth to the forecast.
My mother was an amazing woman who was my staunchest advocate. She encouraged me in everything. She had a blind spot, thinking everything I did was wonderful. It wasn’t. When things went bad for me, she assured me the disappointment would pass and something better would come along. It annoyed me at the time, but even more so when she turned out to be right!
She was born in Massachusetts. Her mother died in childbirth and her father was unable or unwilling to take on the job of single father. So mom was handed over to a string of aunts and other relatives. I think it developed in her a survival instinct that taught her never to make waves—unless it was to protect me. It influenced her actions her entire life.
Like my father, mom was a musician, a violinist who often played concerts with my dad, his twin, and a woman who would become the twin’s wife. She must have been outstanding because she was able to snag a member of the Boston Symphony as an instructor.
She taught violin at what was known at the time as Colby Academy, a school for girls in New Hampshire which transformed into a junior college and preparatory school for women in 1930. I believe it is now known as Colby-Sawyer College.
She was an acceptor of the age in which she lived. When she married, she adopted the role of wife and mother, a full-time job that precluded her bowing. She must have missed it, but there never was any hint of resentment for the change in her life.
Music wasn’t completely absent in our home. On Saturday afternoons she tuned in the Metropolitan Opera. I often spent that time listening while building a model airplane. It was the only music I heard in our house except for the popular songs of the day I played on the radio. She had a small book containing the stories of 100 operas. I don’t know what happened to it, but I’d give anything to have it now. I didn’t become an opera buff. But over 70 years later I discovered I love listening to it on my Sirius/XM radio and even more attending live performances, either the Live on HD at a local theater or productions of our local opera company. I’ll never be an expert, but so what! A few weeks ago I bought a model airplane kit and now I work on it while listening to whatever opera is playing on satellite radio.
I bet I was a surprise to both my parents. My only sibling, a sister, was 12 years older. Some would have been upset to suddenly be saddled with an infant at what was then an old 37 years of age. Never was there any indication of that.
Mother was a good cook. She claimed not to have known anything about the process when she married, but the role of the woman was to cook and learn to cook she did, especially red meat and potatoes. I thought of this as I recalled the pivotal part our dining room table played throughout the years, and not just because it held food.
Mother never asked for much. But she wanted a pad to place over the wooden table so it would be protected from hot plates and spills. One day her wish was granted. The table was round with the possibility of inserting up to two leaves. I remember the pads, so beautiful to my mother’s eyes. There were three pieces: one for each leaf and a round one that folded in half for storage.
At another time, when I was young and my sister was still around, I had committed some indiscretion and my mother felt obligated to discipline me. I exhibited no inclination to cooperate and took a stand on one side of the dining room table. My mother approached, and as she circled the table, so did I, matching her moves in the opposite direction, always keeping us 180 degrees apart. Finally, she could take it no more and burst out laughing. My sister, disgusted, said, “You’ll never be able to control him now.”
Mom’s life ended in 1952 when my father died. It was only years later when I fully appreciated the agony that must have given her. But she was a stoic, trained by those early years of “getting along” to survive.
I was to leave for college a month after dad’s death, wondering if I should. Mother would not have it otherwise. Dad’s work provided a year’s salary, what passed for a magnanimous pension in that age. I had a scholarship, but that year of salary and dad’s insurance in no way would cover my other costs and her living expenses. Mom found a job running a duplicating machine and somehow got me through my undergrad and master’s degrees.
She had suitors, but never considered remarrying. I think that was a mistake. But then, she and dad had something special.
Life wasn’t through with her yet. In her early 70s she went blind. She always dreamed of her sight returning but it never did. She relearned how to cook, dress, and survive the affliction. But she needed extensive help, so when I moved 1000 miles away we had to bring her, removing her from the community in which she’d spent so much of her life.
She did adjust to yet another change in circumstances, making friends, volunteering at a crisis intervention center, and returning to the violin with lessons from a local symphony member. She never enjoyed it because, in her words, “I can’t play like I used to.”
She lived into her 90s.
Happy birthday, mom, two days late. I hope you and dad are having a great party.