I’ve written on this blog about my dad, who gave me the competence to do things. Today I want to write about my mom, who taught me toughness and respect. These are my memories. I realize now that they may not all be perfectly accurate, but that’s what memories are. At this point, I’m applying a little fixative.
Mom grew up a loving, tough, unsentimental atheist. She grew up in a dirt poor in a family of Ukrainian immigrants on a farm in Saskatchewan (we never knew her true birthday because her dad and the doctor got ‘looped to celebrate, and so the official record disagreed with her mother’s recall).
She taught in a one-room school and married a weird Jewish student named Shapiro who studied lakes. She put up with living in Seattle, New Haven, Baltimore, Haifa, St. Paul, La Crosse, and Jacksonville, earned an MS in biology, had children at 37 and 39 and raised a doctor and a lawyer.
She kept a spotless (and I mean spotless) house: I seem to recall her cleaning the toilets daily, and the dishes were sterilized before they went into the dishwasher. The latter, in combination with the electric range, tried to kill her once (thanks to poor electrical work by our Minnesota home’s former owner) but she survived.
She took me to Cub Scout meetings and swimming lessons in St. Paul. As long as Hove’s existed, she was a faithful shopper there, often giving my brother and I money to head up the mall to Kresge’s or Snyders, where we’d buy comic books and candy.
She taught school occasionally (I think she was doing what was then called “special ed”) when I was young (she had a box of gifts (that I envied) to hand out to students). Helped diagnose my diabetes before I went to the hospital. Once I was diagnosed, she took me to Donnell Eitzweiler’s Diabetes Education Center, which may have saved my life. She stopped getting whole milk and bought skim (which my brother called “blue water,”) and did everything she could to make sure that I would thrive.
She took me to the Hobby Shop in Har-Mar Mall and waited patiently while I bought model car kits and rocket parts. She drove me out to Stillwater, to the one shop in MInnesota that carried not only Estes but also Centuri rocket parts. She drove me the launches almost every week. She tolerated my taking over the dining room table as a factory floor, so we all ate at the counter. For decades, she sat on the kitchen side of that counter, while the family males sat on the other side, to be served.
She and my dad became American citizens so that she could vote against Richard Nixon, and remained lifelong Democrats. With my dad, she traveled all over the world, but I think she loved Portugal best.
When I was in high school and became a foaming-at-the-mouth end-times Christian, she was patient with me. She came to concerts where I sang or played guitar, and plays where I performed.
In a time of rampant disrespect, she taught me to respect women, but also that being a gentleman meant you held the door for everyone, regardless of gender. When I was a high school junior, she taught me, my best friend, and our prom dates how to dance.
I remember her smiles when I graduated from high school, and then from college.
In 1982, when I got a research assistant job that would have me interviewing lawyers in Washington, she took me to a big & tall store and bought me a pair of size 13B black French Shriner oxfords that I still wear when I go to court (they’ve been resoled and re-heeled many times).
When I met T and brought her home for a visit, Mom (in spite of her atheism) told me that if I was going to marry T, I would need to start attending her church. I took her advice, and it’s been good ever since.
Mom never lost patience with her kids who, before they became (my brother) a doctor and (me) a lawyer, rode motorcycles, fought with their father, drove school buses, worked on a fishing boat in Alaska, got drunk and parked the family car in the front yard, joined the military, failed out of graduate school, worked as an engineer, broke many bones, deployed in the Middle East, and had (some of) her grandchildren.
She made quilts for each of those grandchildren, and for her great grandchildren as well.
She died yesterday morning–three (or four, depending) weeks shy of her 95th birthday.