by wjw on May 13, 2012

It’s Mothers’ Day here in the States, and Fêtes des Méres in Canada.  Mexico had Dia de las Madres a few days ago.

Just like everybody’s got a Mom, it looks like every country has a Mothers’ Day.

Here’s a photo of my mom before I ever knew her, in the years just before the Second World War.   She is a newly-minted schoolteacher embarking on a career of teaching in one- and two-room schools in northern Minnesota.

(You can tell it’s Minnesota by the piles of snow in the corners.)

I have to say that I’m impressed by her style.  It was nothing I noticed at the time, but in all my pictures of her, she’s always the best-dressed person in the room.

She never had the money to buy swank clothes or expensive jewelry.  But she always knew how to wear what she had.

She’d worked hard to get this far.  Her father died when she was young, and the house in which she lived was never completed.  She was raised in a cult, which she always described as full of bigotry, superstition, and righteousness, but (along with her brothers and sisters) managed a successful escape.  (She hated religion all her life.)  Schools in her area only carried her through the eighth grade, but she found one of FDR’s educational programs that allowed her to board with another family so that she could go to high school.   She worked as a domestic in order to get through college.

School teachers were among the few positive influences she had when growing up, so of course she became one.  Some of the rural schools had a “teacherage,” where the teacher lived, but some didn’t, and my mom boarded with neighboring families and slept on straw mattresses.  At Toimi, one of the schools where she worked has been preserved as a museum.

She met my father after the Second World War and married him shortly thereafter.  Most teachers of that period were forced to resign if they married, but my mom was allowed to keep her job only because there were so very few qualified teachers willing to work in the area.   Years later, when she became pregnant, she was forced to resign.  Because schoolteachers weren’t supposed ever to have had sex, or something.

As a result of this policy, I was partly raised by a whole gang of schoolteachers, friends of my mother, who had no children of their own.  Where did I find the models for the intelligent, practical, independent women in my books?  I didn’t have to look very far.

My mother was a deeply practical person, which is why it was so surprising that she supported my eccentric choice of career (which I made when I was something like four or five).  Since my literary journey was so far outside her own experience, she had nothing to contribute by way of advice or counsel, except that she made me go to summer school in the sixth grade to learn typing.

My father was struck in his mid-fifties by an aneurism, and never fully recovered.  My mother devoted twenty-plus years of her life to looking after my semi-invalid father, and kept him happy and stress-free and in reasonable health.   After he died at the age of 78, my mom essentially retired from life.  She didn’t want to go anywhere, see anybody, engage in any activities.  It was a life that would have murdered me with boredom, but it suited her, and she lived just as she liked until she passed away a few years ago, at the age of 92.

I can’t send her a card today, or take her out for prime rib at her favorite restaurant.  Consider this post a thank-you to the ambitious schoolteacher who bore me, and who made me take typing in the sixth grade.

Kathy May 14, 2012 at 3:23 am

I’ve been thinking about your mom lately, too. Eva, you did a great job! Raising Walter, among other things. Thanks.

Patricia Mathews May 15, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Since you mentioned her being well dressed on little money, I looked at that picture with a woman’s eye. First: her clothes fit perfectly. That means excellent tailoring, unless she was one of those rare people whom off-the-rack clothes fit perfectly. Considering the period, I’m going to assume she had very good sewing skills. And help measuring the hems, because it’s physically impossible to her a hem the right length while wearing the garment! And those hems are proportioned very nicely to each other and to her. The skirt is a very becoming style, and the shoes and skirt length are exactly right for each other. The collar style saves the coat from drabness. Thus the externals.

The rest is all in how she carries herself and the angle at which she wears the hat. And in, I assume, a strong degree of physical fitness and health. Those are even more important. And the attitude which says “Of course I will be well put together. Anything less would not reflect who I am.”

At any rate, blessings on your mom and her long, productive life.

wjw May 17, 2012 at 2:24 am

She did make many of her own clothes, though I doubt she ever made anything as heavy as that coat. And fitness and health seemed to come to her naturally, especially as she died at the age of 93.

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