Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mom's Memories Matter

Mom, Then and Now....
  When you have a parent with a serious illness, life becomes smaller. You begin to decline invitations, reserving your energy for just the essentials. Over the years, you spend so much time managing his or her needs, while trying to pursue your own goals , you forget that indeed, time is marching on.
Recently, I was jolted into realizing just how much time had passed since I first became the sole advocate for my parents. A notice arrived announcing my mother's 60th college reunion. I still remembered her participation in her 50th. She was young then; now she was old, with advanced Alzheimer's. It was painful to think that she would not be going this year. I wanted her to be represented in some way.
And so I wrote to her college Alumni Office:
Dear Alumnae of the Class of 1952,
My mother is a member of your distinguished group. All my life, she talked about her college years as wonderful, reminiscing about lots of good times with her girlfriends, especially the summer she and three others piled into a car and drove across the country on an adventure.
She was born in New Haven in 1930, and her father owned the hardware store in the neighborhood. They were a poor family – it was the Depression – but Mom expressed a desire to go to college, the one in her town. A kind uncle helped her navigate the admissions process and Mom very proudly joined the freshman class of 1948. She lived at home and worked every afternoon, either at her father’s store, or at a local factory sewing shower curtains.  She spent every summer at one of the hotels in the Catskill Mountains, waiting tables. She told me the tuition was $100 then, and she made it on her own. She loved college and, though challenged by circumstance, she made the grades to succeed as well as lifelong friends she never forgot.
When she was a senior, her dream of living in Hartford came true when she was offered a job for the coming fall as a second grade teacher in one of their public schools. I have the kind but formal letter, dated January, 1952, which states that her starting salary would be $3,700. She was so proud of this opportunity and continued to teach, on and off, in three states, for more than 35 years. She finally retired at the age of 67, back once again in the Hartford schools. 
I have vivid memories of Mom, always dressed in a blazer with a bowed blouse (skirt in the early years; slacks in the feminist era!), going off to work in the morning, and spending every night grading papers. On weekends, she would again be at the kitchen table, writing by hand the required week’s plans that were to be given the principal on Monday mornings. Can you imagine having to do that today? I also remember the endless work of report cards three or four times a year. But she loved the kids, and had wonderful stories of the things they said and did. It was tough to be her child – she had very high standards – but I know she was hard working and hard driving because she cared so much about her students, and about me, and later my brother. She would be proud that my daughter, a recent college graduate, is interested in working with children.
Mom moved back to her beloved Hartford later in life, and began to enjoy the fruits of her labor. Sadly, not long afterwards, she was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and now lives in a nursing home near me with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. I know that if she were well and aware of this reunion, she would be there in a heartbeat. It is so sad she cannot join you. She would love reminiscing and looking at pictures, many of which I still have that tell her story. I hope that Mom’s friends and acquaintances are well and happy, and will feel comfortable enough to be in touch with me with stories, pictures and reminiscences of their own. I don’t remember all the names of the gals she knew, but please remember that she was always appreciative of your friendship and kindnesses.
One small coincidence: When I was engaged, I was perusing the high school year book of my fiancé (who grew up in West Hartford) when I came upon the picture of a girl whose name seemed familiar. I asked my fiancé if he knew her, to which he replied that he’d lived next door to her. She had been a student in my mother’s class in 1955, and when it came time to name me two years later (my mother had married by then and moved away), she decided that this was the name she wanted for her “smart, sweet girl.” Fast forward, I was able to meet my namesake at my husband’s 25th high school reunion, a few months after my own daughter was born. This woman had no idea of the impression she had made on my mother, her teacher …but we discovered both she and I have daughters named the same. The tradition continues!
I calculate that there are over 1000 adults today who can read because my mother taught them. Your school can be proud that they launched one of the most devoted teachers ever. She was a grateful student and alumna, and I thank you for this opportunity to share her life with all of you on her behalf.

Shortly thereafter, I received a beautiful picture postcard with a kind note from the alumna who had organized the reunion. The snowy winter scene, in sepia tones, was of the old wrought iron gate, with the initials of the college's name, which my mother would have walked through every day of her college career. Now refurbished, it stands at the entrance of the expanded university.
Seeing this evocative memory made me cry. My mother's lost memories, forever captured in a single view.
Courtesy of the SCSU website.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You wrote a loving post, one your mom would be proud of. Of course she wouldn't be happy that I ended my sentence with a preposition, but sometimes that is allowed these days.