All about Mother
First of all, Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there, doing their work, quietly and with pride, of looking after our little ones.
This is my own mother, age twenty-two, in 1950 (approximately). She was single here, hanging out at Rock Rimmon Pool in Manchester, New Hampshire, where she often competed in city and statewide swimming trials.
In the following year she married my father, an ex-marine from the Korean War, and went on to have eight children.
She ran a tight ship. The house was always immaculate, and she prepared three meals a day for us, including lunches we took to school. She taught us all how to knit, crochet, embroider, and sew. She brought us to piano lessons, chorus, and cheerleading practice, and countless baseball, soccer, softball, and hockey practices. She had six siblings of her own, all pretty close by, and we had tons of family events with cousins and aunts and uncles, constantly.
In 1976, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and at that time, it was unheard of. Later we learned that doctors were prescribing high doses of estrogen to menopausal women in those years, and eighty percent of those women went on to develop breast cancer.
Nine months after her diagnosis, and a radical massive double-mastectomy, she opened her own business, a small shop downtown that focused on three crafts: quilting, rug-braiding, and tole painting, all traditional New England crafts.
She worked at the shop all day and taught classes in these crafts in the evening, four nights a week. She never missed making any of those three meals a day for all of us, ever. She outlived her prognosis of only having 3–5 years left to live, and went on for another seventeen years.
The shop became a beacon for women all over New England, who would drive for hours sometimes just to come to the shop and listen to each other. They would sit around the quilting table upstairs, while the classes were going on, and talk about their lives. They hadn't anywhere else to go to talk about these things. The shop was called "The Heritage House," and my mother would come home and say, "It's the Therapy House." I know she helped so many just by being a cancer survivor and moving on toward her dreams, no matter what any doctor said about anything.
When she died, the Catholic Church—St. John the Baptist in Manchester, New Hampshire, where she was baptized, and all her children were baptized—was filled to the brim with people whose lives she had touched. I never knew this about her. I didn't know that part—that she was the head of so many craft organizations, had started the Quilting Guild of New Hampshire, and so many other things.
She had to keep her accomplishments quiet at home because my father, coming from his generation, thought she should never have left the house, that she should have stayed there, continuing to prepare those meals and keep the carpets vacuumed. I'm glad she followed her will and did what she wanted to do in her lifetime.
I will always honor her. Times were often tough, but like so many women of that generation, she had certain things expected of her by society, and that very narrow vein of acceptability was not always entirely satisfactory.
To this day, when I hear "Claire du Lune," the Debussy piece which was always her favorite, which my sister was playing on the living room piano when she finally died, letting go of the battle, I will come to tears. I love you, Ma. I feel you in heaven, and I'm so happy you're finally at peace and happy now.