Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More lessons from my fearless - fear-filled mom.

My mother grew up in Boston. She was a debutante (somewhere we have an invitation for her to go to The Tuileries in France for a Debutante Ball. She was a bit of a rebel and didn't - thought it was stupid. She went to Belmont Day School - a rather hoity-toity private elementary school and then to Concord Academy, which boasts graduates like Caroline Kennedy. One of her classmates was the daughter of Archibald Cox, the first special prosecutor for Watergate. She was afforded every opportunity to live the high life.

She was an only child. Her father was head of printing at Harvard University and they rented the carriage house on land owned by the treasurer of Harvard. Somewhere there are adorable pictures of me as a very little girl at 'tea' over there.

She started her college at Duke University - flunked out in a big way because she spent WAY too much time partying, then went to Tufts and managed to flunk out of there - still partying.

Before she met Dad, she was actually engaged to a young man studying to be a dentist. We drove by his house when I was older - ummm ... whoa! Lots of money. He had gone away for the summer, begging her to be there for him when he returned.

Mom was working as a summer camp counselor and met Dad one night at a carnival. He was a poor, poor student at Boston University - seminary. She went home that night and told her roommate that if he invited her out on another date, that was the man she was going to marry. Obviously, he did.

With all of that wealth and grand upbringing, mom was absolutely miserable. Both of her parents were alcoholics, she told stories of being out on a date, her date was drunk, the tire blew on the vehicle and she literally had to kick him to keep him awake while he changed the tire. She didn't believe in herself and didn't understand just how talented and brilliant she was. When Dad offered her marriage and a chance to move away from everything, she grabbed it.

They moved back to Gravity, Iowa, a tiny little town in southwest Iowa - population 200. Everything she knew, everything she was comfortable with was gone. They had no money, she had no friends, she barely knew Dad's family.

But, she thrived. Given a chance to be herself and no longer have to measure up to all of the craziness that was surrounding her in Boston, her talents were unleashed! She wrote poetry, painted paintings, created sculptures, began studying the Bible and was soon teaching kids everything she could cram into her mind. She and Dad took adventure trips with youth groups and she learned how to deal with really tough womens groups within the church ad still remain grace-filled.

In the late 60s and early 70s, she started going back to school. She took a few correspondence courses from the University of Iowa and all of a sudden, professors were praising her for the way that her mind worked. Every paper that was returned to her had long, long notes of praise and adulation. She was so excited.

Over the years she worked to finish her degree, bit by bit. She learned to speak Spanish, even taking a month to live in Mexico in her early 40s so that she could communicate clearly. This was done so that she could teach ESL in a small community where the Mexicans were working at a turkey processing plant and could not seem to integrate with the town.

For her, everything became an adventure - a chance to try to achieve something new. All she had to do was leave what was comfortable behind and go forward. She didn't have any idea what would happen when she reached Iowa, but this is where she became the woman that she was. She was given freedom and a challenge.

I started thinking about Mom tonight and her life in Boston when I was talking to Carol. We had gone back out to visit Grammy and Mom took us shopping at Filene's. When it came time to check out (this was the early 70s), Mom asked the clerk if they would accept a check from Iowa. The clerk looked at her and in her very best snobby, Eastern voice said, "Out here, we pronounce that Ohio." Mom did her best to remain gracious, but informed the woman that there were actually states west of the Mississippi and Iowa was quite different from Ohio. She wrote the check.

Mom went through quite a bit of culture shock when she moved to Iowa, but it wasn't anything that she couldn't handle. She faced challenges and had to face down some incredible fears to achieve all that she wanted to achieve.

I think back to my story about the impala and how it won't jump anywhere if it can't see where it will land. She jumped without a clue. How can I do any less?

1 comment:

TN said...

I think I would have liked your mom a whole lot. :)