Thank you all for coming today. We have been so touched and our hearts so warmed by all of your love and support.
It was never in my mother's plans to become a wife and mother at the age of 19. Her plan, in fact, was to become a social worker. Instead, she found herself with a young troubled husband and a baby. It is true that the start of our little family was a rough one. However, that has never colored my life, it only tinted it and that is because of my mother.
She took motherhood and made it her own. She figured out the aspects that were the most important to her and left the rest behind. Many of the traditional "mother-type activities" confounded my mother. She didn't bake. As a matter of fact, the one time she did try to bake me a birthday cake, one of our dobies climbed onto the table and ate the middle of the cake. Mother replied, "Well, I won't be doing that again." She was not know for her culinary skills (chicken covered with canned pineapple still in the can shape) or sewing ability (my pants were hemmed with Elmer's glue). There is an infamous story of an argument I had with her when she was getting ready to go into my Kindergarten class. I put my hands on my hips, took one look at her patched bell bottoms and faded Crosby Stills and Nash tee shirt, and demanded the she "dress like a mommy!" After she stopped laughing at me, she asked "How does a mommy dress?" I replied "she wears dresses and skirts." Mom went to my kindergarten class in her patched jeans and faded concert shirt, she also added some aviator sunglasses.
I might have longed for June Cleaver, but what I had was so much better. My mother would do anything and everything to make sure her kids had what they needed. Often times, she made sure we had things that we didn't even know we needed. My mother was our cheerleader, except instead of pom poms she wore boxing gloves. We were her everything. When my brother was an infant he ended up in the NICU with bronchial pneumonia. Mom stayed with him the entire time. I truly believe that it was the force of her will that made him better. I imagine she scared the hell out of the germs.
Her love wasn't limited to us. We grew up in a household were you "take in strays." It could be animals (there were always dogs, cats, sometimes birds and fish, and once briefly a rabbit and gerbils). You also took in people. If someone needed a place to stay, be it just for a holiday or for a temporary home, they had it. Our home was their home.
Recently, when I spoke to my moms' friend and former boss, Connie, she said "Your mother was the best employee. She just got things done. She never talked about it or asked questions; she just did it." That was my mother to a tee. If it needed to be done, she got it done. You had two choices, help or get out of the way. When teachers and administrators saw her coming into a building they hopped to. It meant that her kids needed something and she wasn't leaving until it was done. I am one of the best examples of this. I was diagnosed with a Learning Disability at the beginning of second grade. At the time, I could barely read, didn't speak in school, could not write, and was confounded by numbers. I had amazing teachers who helped me and by fourth grade I had made a great deal of progress. When we moved to Virginia at the beginning of my fifth grade year, she thought the stigma of being labeled and pulled out of the room would be too much. I was already in a completely new place without much of my family. So she "lost" my IEP and enrolled me as a regular student. She figured that she could make sure I got extra help at night. The rest of elementary school and middle school went like this: Mom would work all day, come home, make dinner, and sit with me at the dining room table to go over my work. She would persist, I would resist, she persist a bit more, and finally I would knuckle under. By doing that she taught me that I could do anything that I wanted. I might have to work a heck of a lot harder than most kids, but I could do it. That lesson gave me the confidence to ask/demand that I be switched into advanced classes in high school. Much to the surprise of many of my teachers and classmates, I did very well. I went onto college and earned my master's degree. I am doing my best to pass this same determination onto my girls.
My mother wasn't just a fighter. She loved us very much. You don't realize until you have your own children how much their heart is your own. You can't separate the two. When I was 17, my first boyfriend was too afraid to break up with me, so he had his mother do it over the phone. I was on the phone crying "Ok, Mrs. Anderson..." when mom walked through with a basket of laundry. In a matter of seconds she had thrown the basket, channeled her inner track star and hurtled over the couch while yelling "Mrs. Anderson?! Give me that goddamn phone!" I had the sense to hang up the phone before she got there. That night, while I lay in bed crying like my heart would break, my mother's heart was breaking. She didn't know how to make it better. She paced and cried and quietly threatened the boy, until Chris sent her to bed and stayed up with me rubbing my back.Later that night he told her that this was just a small drop in the bucket of my life. He was right, I went onto date other boys and it is a very funny story. But in another way it showed me how very much my mother loved me. I could stand here all day and give you example after example of that love.
Later, after we'd grown up and left, Mom was able to use that fierce love and practical organization in other ways. She volunteered at church and the woman's shelter. She also got the chance to put herself first and have some long overdue fun. She and Chris found an awesome group of friends and became known for throwing some fantastic, over the top dinner parties. They also got the chance to travel. Mom really enjoyed exploring her spirituality. I also think she secretly enjoyed how much her ideas befuddled my gramma. Mom had never really rebelled and here was her chance.
I think one of my mom's happiest stages was becoming a grandmother. Many woman feel torn at the idea of becoming a grandmother. They might feel old or like a stage of their life is ending. Not my mother. She embraced it. This was during the period when she was learning about female based religions. Upon hearing that I was going to have a baby she gleefully proclaimed "I can't wait to enter my crone stage!" Being a grandmother gave my mom three little girls to love without needing to worrying about fighting for them. That was their parents' job. As far as my mom was concerned what her granddaughters needed was what ever they wanted. For the first time, my mother had extra money to spend on things like music lessons, instruments, American Girl doll clothes, full fancy back to school wardrobes etc. The first time she returned from taking Caroline shopping, I was floored. All my life my only clothing choices were what was practical and on sale. For Caroline, it was only the hippest and coolest:) The look on my mom's face when Caroline put on a fashion show for gramma and I was one of pure joy. My mom wanted to make sure that her granddaughters knew the importance of creativity. She took them to countless plays and concerts. This had a profound effect on them. My mom also loved to crochet. She made scarves, funky hats, matching girl and doll blankets, and the most amazing baby layette ever for Willa.
I know that my mom was hoping for a grandson. I think that it was perfect that she ended up with a gaggle of granddaughters. She has left behind a legacy of women who will carry on her lessons of strength and compassion.