I had originally written this article for The Write Room blog, but some peculiarity of my e-mail caused it not to send. Since I was out of town and didn’t have access to it, I wrote something else related to this. I think both are equally good, though this goes into a bit more detail than the other. I finally found it and decided to share it with you here. I felt sharing it on my birthday was auspicious.~ Dellani
As you get older, you learn to appreciate the little things: a special party celebrating birthdays and Mother’s day, Potatoes Anna which comes out perfectly the first time you make it, a piece of music that makes you laugh or moves you to tears every time you hear it. These aren’t necessarily things you notice as a younger person, at least I didn’t.
Today, I’m one step closer to 60. I don’t mention this to brag, or complain, but to give you a bit of perspective. My mother turned 96 on September 14. She didn’t marry until she was 36, had my sister at 38 and didn’t have me until she was 40. Born two weeks premature, I was only 4 pounds and 5 ounces. Had it not been for the invention of the incubator, I probably would have died.
But I digress. I want to talk about my mother. She absolutely amazes me. Born in 1919, her life has spanned the mass production of the automobile, a telephone in every home, electric appliances, man on the moon, Desegregation, motion pictures—with and without sound, and a movie star as president. Not to mention computers, cellphones and microwave ovens. She lived through the Great Depression, WWII, The Korean War, Vietnam and countless other conflicts. She’s seen 9 decades and a new century.
Mom grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and has many fascinating stories about it. The youngest of four children, she’s another miracle of modern medicine. As an infant, she developed an infection in both ears. The doctor did surgery and scraped the infection from the mastoid bones, leaving only a small scar behind each ear. By some amazing turn of luck, she didn’t lose her hearing as a result. In fact, like me, it was extra acute. I attribute my superior hearing to her genes.
At Western Reserve College, now Case – Western Reserve, she studied to be an elementary school teacher. She made a long cable car ride there and back, in all kinds of weather. Fairly often, she took a detour, if there was a good movie in town.
“I don’t know how I passed my classes,” she admitted a few years ago. “I never went. I was always at the movies.”
This is another connection we share. I am a movie junkie, and it’s one of the reasons I write.
My mother taught elementary school for several years. Once, she had her class write letters to Laura Ingalls Wilder about how much they loved her books. She wrote back to them and my mother treasured her letter for years! I remember it neatly written by hand on lined paper. Mom eventually donated it to one of the Wilder museums.
By some chance, Mom and her older sister, found out about Pine Mountain Settlement School in Kentucky, not far from Harlan. The school was in need of a bookkeeper and secretary. Though neither of them had any experience, or talent, they applied for the jobs and were hired. The big move from Ohio to Kentucky, big city to small mountain community, would have been quite a culture shock. Rather than being overwhelmed by it, they embraced the rustic setting with enthusiasm and started work. Eventually, Mom became a representative for the school and drove all over the country to present a slide show (with slides she’d taken herself) and talk about the school, asking for donations. She traveled alone all over the country, as far as Orlando, Florida and as far north as New York City—before interstate highways, by the way. She drove her blue Studebaker, which she named Bonnets So Blue, that she bought with her own money before she even knew how to drive it. One of the men at the school taught her how to drive and she took the test in her new car, impressing the fellow administering the test, with her skill.
My parents met, by quirk or fate, at the Harlan bus station. They were both there to drop off friends, and decided to chat over a cup of coffee, and were totally smitten. My father was unable to join the military, due to a heart murmur, so he had pursued his education instead. He was a brilliant man, thirsting for someone to talk to who had even a slight chance of understanding him. He found that in my mother. Though 10 years apart in age, they married November 5, 1955.
Even after they married, my mother continued to work at Pine Mountain, until they eventually moved to Tennessee, where my sister and I were born. They lived near his parents while he worked toward his Masters degree at University of Tennessee. When I was three, we lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while my father got his PdD at Harvard. Eventually landing his first teaching job in Lubbock, Texas, we moved again. With the same indomitable spirit, my mother made that long move from Massachusetts to Texas.
I was always amazed by the way my mother could find a circle of friends wherever we lived. She kept in touch with people she knew from Cleveland, Pine Mountain, Cambridge, Lubbock, Scottsbluff and Hattiesburg sending out monthly letters via e-mail, until it became too much of an effort. She always loved to read, sharing her favorite books with my sister and me as we grew up. We spent hours learning to knit, crochet and sew while Mom read Little Women, House at Pooh Corner and Alice in Wonderland. It’s because of her strong influence early in my life, that I became enamored of the written word. Because I loved to read, I made the transition to writer and never looked back.
Mom’s eyesight has faded now. She can’t knit or crochet as she used to, nor can she read. She lives a quiet life in a nursing home not far from my sister. It wasn’t an easy decision putting her there, but neither my sister, nor I, have room or the means to have her at home with us. Since she’s in a wheelchair, it makes getting around difficult.
I have hardly touched on my mother’s incredible life. She’s done so much more than I have and she gave me so much. I know that my independent spirit and optimistic view of life is due to her. She never saw the gray clouds in life, she always saw the rays of sunshine and the rainbows.