Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sundays with Steve - Mothers Day

These Sunday's segments are written by my husband, Mr. Jenny. Here's what he has to say about his posts:

I’ve been writing these weekly stories about life in Northern Idaho, as a youngster and as growing into a young man, primarily for our family. And I'm delighted to share them with you. Just between us, I’m anticipating being cranky when some whipper-snapper who may not even be born yet harasses me in 30 years or so with 'Grandpa, tell me about when you were a boy.' That will probably be after the mad cow disease has set in and erased whatever memory is left. So these are the not-so-dramatic adventures of a Baby Boomer in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Mother’s Day

My mother has been gone for some 35 years now, although it seems like just yesterday she was sending me off to school along with my brothers; then she was packing virtually all of my clothes into my tiny Volkswagen to make the 500 mile drive to college in the fall of 1967, and then just a few years after that she pinned lieutenant’s bars on my shoulders when I was commissioned into the Army in the midst of the Vietnam years.

The last send-off was a few years later when I was 26 years old, and I and had just been named the editor and publisher of a community newspaper. Friends of my parents were hosting a cocktail party on the deck of their summer cottage at McCall, Idaho, a house over-hanging the beautiful mountain lake there. Mom – she was never called mother, or ma, or momma, it was always “Mom” – Mom had had a few cocktails at that point, as I recall, when she told me that I would do just fine at the new job. “Just don’t screw it up,” she said. I was a bit shocked, and that very pointed advice it still sticks with me.

My mother, Alice, died two years later. She died at the young age 58 of a brain cancer that suspiciously resembled many others in our community. We were just 70 miles from Hanford, Washington, the site of the U.S. plutonium bomb development lab that operated in the 1940s and 1950s. There was a lot of noise about radioactive leakage and effects on people located “downwind” from Hanford, and there were a lot of cancer clusters in our town. In the end, the government said our town did not receive enough radioactivity to be significantly impacted. Many families disagreed.

I think that my mother enjoyed life for the most part, but I think she had a great frustration as well, a frustration she kept secret virtually all of her adult life. She was a bright girl, “smart as a whip”, one of her life-long friends told Mrs. Jenny and I just a few years ago. She was the valedictorian of her high school class, then of her university class a few years later in 1938. She married my father shortly thereafter, and she stayed at home during the war years while my father fought in Europe.

Those war years may have been some of her most challenging and rewarding. As women did everywhere in the country, she entered the job market. For her, it was at the family business, first as a news reporter, then as the editorial writer for the local, daily newspaper.

She, as so many women of the era did, gave up her war job to become a wife and mother when her husband returned in 1947. I don’t believe she gave up her job gladly, although I have never heard anything to the contrary.

She tried homemaking, and she was fairly successful at it, but it was not her first love. She worked hard at being a mother, and she was fairly successful at it, but it was not her first love. She was a kind, supporting wife who adored and loved my father, but it was not her first love. She did everything right in life, the way a woman in the 1940’s and 50’s and 60’s was suppose to do, but I don’t believe she was ever really happy at it. I think her true joy occurred in those war years when she could publicly and loudly state her considerable opinions, when her interaction with news-makers was daily, when she was a public force to be reckoned with.

The joy I observed in her came fully to the surface when entertaining news-makers of the day. I’m not saying she was unhappy, not by any means, but the depths of her frustration at the lack of a professional career were sometimes apparent when she was in the presence of others.

I recall well that night in the 1960’s, a Friday-after-work-martini-night that my parents sometimes hosted, that was graced by my mother’s old college roommate, the liberal Democrat Dixie Lee Ray, who had been elected governor of Washington State the previous year. My father dragged home the very conservative Republican Bob Smylie, then governor of Idaho. My mother was in rare form and at the top of her game that night, discussing regional and national politics in depth with the politicians, and then with my father long after the politicians had left.

Those political “discussions” were frequent in our household, with all of us expected to develop, research, and defend our positions. Friday night guests were fairly frequent as well in those years, with some of the most amazing people walking virtually unannounced through our kitchen. My father was operating one of the town’s two radio stations in those years, and as such, the news-makers were always wandering through his office looking for free publicity. You just never knew who my father would drag home, or who my mother might have grabbed down at the newspaper that day, to invite home for Friday night martinis.

As my brothers and I grew older and moved into high school, my mother’s avocation shifted from raising children to playing bridge. She played bridge twice a week, Monday and Wednesday afternoons, rotating among the bridge club members’ homes. By the time I left for college, she was traveling the region playing in bridge tournaments. In later years, she traveled the world, playing in professional bridge tournaments. I suspect the challenge of professional bridge not only put that incredibly sharp mind of hers to good work, but took the place of the profession she had given up in the 1940’s to have babies and to allow the returning men to have their old jobs.

My father tagged along on some of those bridge trips, but not on all. He was working at his second career then, after he sold the radio stations and retired, after all of us kids went off to college. To my father’s surprise, his retirement lasted about two weeks before boredom set in, and four weeks before he had to go back to work, this time at my mother’s family business, the local newspaper.

Life had changed pretty dramatically for my mother in those years – her children were all in college or were graduating into their own careers, her husband had started a new career based upon the failure of retirement, and I think she finally gave up her secret dream of returning to the newspaper, substituting it with her own new avocation that she tackled with a vengeance, right up until the day her headaches started, and didn’t stop.

On this Mother’s day I recall the sage advice she gave me years ago, “Just don’t screw it up.”

I wish I could tell her that I always followed that advice perfectly. I certainly tried to.

I wish I could tell her that I love her, and that I wish she was still with us.

And I wish I could share the ton of stories I have about the times when I didn’t exactly follow her advice.

(c) 2010 Stephen J. Matlock
This publication is the exclusive property of Stephen J. Matlock and is protected
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Auntie sezzzzzz... said...

Wishing you a lovely Mother's Day.

Deb said...

awesome post...I bet your Mom was alot of fun to be around....

Splendid Little Stars said...

Stephen, most interesting! My mother was probably around the same age as yours, as the times were similar.
Thanks for sharing!

Judie said...

Steve, just think what she could have done with her own blog!!!!!
This was a wonderful post.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful lady and she sounds like she was a lot of fun to be with. I am so sorry she passed at such a young age. I know where your writing talent came from now. She would be very proud of you Steve. I really enjoyed reading this. Hugs

Ames said...

I miss my mom too Steve. There isn't a day that goes by that I wish I could ask her things. I think you mother gave you sound advice, probably just re-enforcing the morals that she raised you up with! This was a lovely tribute to her. Thanks for sharing her with us!~Ames

FarmerFamily5 said...

I enjoyed reading about your Mom.

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

Oh Mr. Jenny, I so enjoyed readin' about your beautiful Mama! She sounds like a gal who loved life and knew how to live it. Thanks for sharin' your memories.

God bless and I sure hope ya spoiled Jenny rotten this weekend! :o)

H said...

It will be 7 years this summer since my mum died. Academically, she was capable, but not a high flier. Creatively, however, she excelled. She was also one of the most caring and down to earth people I have ever known. Sunday wasn't mother's day over here; we had ours a couple of months ago, but I miss her often.

Personalized Sketches and Sentiments said...

Steve, this was a wonderful post full of memories! Thank you for sharing these memories with us of your mom. My mom passed away in 2004 and I think all the time, how I would love to just pick up the phone and talk with her...ask her about so many of her memories...just to hear her voice...

Blessings & Aloha!

Personalized Sketches and Sentiments said...

Oh! No! I had commented here right before the Blogger Maintenance thing!

This was a wonderful post! Thank you Steve for sharing this one about your mom. I am sure she loved the interaction with the many people that were guests to their home.

Mrryingi miitary and moving all over, didnt allow much one on one time with my mom that I wish I had...My mom passed away in 2004 and I still want to reach for the phone and talk with her...just to hear her voice!

Blessings & Aloha!