In memory

Winter’s been kicking my butt this year.  January and February are always difficult times for me, and this year is no exception.  So forgive my wander from my original intent this week.  This week I’m going to blog about one of the most inspirational women I ever knew, my mom.

Carolyn Sue, 1968
Carolyn Sue, 1968
Carolyn Sue, 1968
Carolyn Sue, 1968

One of the biggest things to happen in my life, and the lives of many people I know, happened this week 24 years ago.  At the age of 43, my mom died of breast cancer (she was first diagnosed in her mid 30’s).   This gets harder and harder each year, because, it sounds silly, but I’m quickly approaching the age my mom was when she died.  For most people that’s not a big deal.  I mean think about it, two of my Grands are still alive, and most people live well into their 70’s and 80’s.  But 43 isn’t old.  The closer I get, the more I wonder, have I really lived up to my potential?

My mom was not a larger than life figure and I’m not going to get all sappy on you and tell you that I lost my best friend that day, because she wasn’t my best friend, she was my parent.  And as my parent, she was an authority figure and a role model.  Had she lived longer and been around during my adult life, we may have become friends.  (Please don’t misunderstand this.  I loved my mom.  But I don’t understand this modern thing in parenting where the parents want to be “friends” with their kids.  Isn’t that what other kids (school mates, neighbors, siblings) are for?  Aren’t parents supposed to be “in charge”?)

First of all,  My mom was super smart.  And I don’t mean that in the way that most everyone who looks up to their parents means it.  I’m not sure my grandparents or her teachers knew what to do with such a smart little girl in the 1950’s.  She was the first member of her family to go to college.  She studied abroad and graduated from Bowling Green University Cum Laude.  The scrap book made by her mother is full of certificates and awards to merit scholar organizations from her high school and college careers.  Later, when she started her second career, she passed her CPA Exam on her first attempt. 

She firmly believed in education, and the education of girls.  Mom went back to college in the 1980’s, for her second degree.  My sister, mom and I would do our homework together.  My sister and I made our flash cards on computer programming punch cards from Mom’s college classes.  We had a home computer in the 1980’s because she often said they were going to be important tools in the future, and she made us take typing classes so we would be proficient on a keyboard.   She frequently told us that if we could read, we could do anything.  I still believe that.  And I also believe very strongly in public education and the education of girls in 2nd and 3rd world countries.  From my early childhood I’ve been told that women can hold positions of authority, run businesses, and that someday we would have a female president.  That’s still a bit radical, and today often labeled as “feminism”.

Mom was also and avid gardener.  She understood the importance of growing organic foods in an era of chemical manufacturing and mass production.  We had a huge garden that included blueberries, cherries, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, apples, pears, peaches, plums, and the usual annual type stuff (tomatoes, peppers, corn).   She didn’t want my dad spraying the garden because she didn’t want the kids in the neighborhood to not be able to just walk by and munch on goodies.  She wasn’t a “hippie”.  We didn’t live on tofu, sprouts, and granola.  As a matter of fact, we were pretty far from that lifestyle, but she just wasn’t convinced the chemicals where NOT harmful.  And to be fair, Dad did spray on occasion, it depended on the year, the infestation, and the crop damage.  But as a rule, it was to be avoided if possible.  Mom also canned and froze much of our  annual bounty.

And now, I grow as much as I am able to on our little city lot.  Strawberries, they aren’t doing so well.  Blueberries, when the dog doesn’t eat all of them.  Rhubarb, it does exceptionally well in our climate.  Elderberries, if I can beat the birds to them.  And when I am able, the annual stuff too.   We also belong to a CSA and I try and preserve the extra stuff each year.  Canned peaches for lunch today!  Again, growing up with homemade food and canned goods wasn’t that radical during the time I was growing up.  But I’m amazed at how many people find it curious that I learned to appreciate it from a successful business woman.  Why can’t you be a successful business woman and be concerned about you food sources?  I’m also amazed at how many people in my generation have forgotten about canning, preservation and home cooking.

The loss of my mom left a huge hole, that should be a given.  Like I said, she was a role model.  I didn’t realize that at the time, because she was busy being my mom and I was busy being a stubborn kid and a highly spirited teenager.  Over the years I’ve picked up a number of her hobbies and beliefs and because of that, I still miss her.  But each year as 43 gets closer, I have to remember that I’m still here.

My sis and mom.  1989
My sis and mom. 1989. A few months before Mom died.