When my mother graduated from high school in 1950, she was the valedictorian, captain of the volleyball team, head cheerleader and homecoming queen. Granted, hers was a class of less than 50 students in a town of 800 in the empty farmlands of Central Texas. Her parents spoke German. Her father raised sheep. Her mother took in boarders. The family of seven lived in four rooms plus a parlor opened for Sunday company.
As valedictorian, she was awarded a full scholarship to a teachers college. I’m not sure if a desire to become a teacher preceded her enrollment in a teachers college, but that is what was available to her in 1950. It must have been impossible to imagine going anywhere else or becoming anything but.
Her father had to be convinced. He opposed the idea at first. He intended that only his sons would receive college educations, one by entering a seminary, the other by enlisting in the Navy.
But she left home and graduated from college in three years. The next year, she had her first child. Two years later, I came. She was a full-time teacher when my youngest sister was born in 1960, and she never stopped teaching or learning again.
She believed in people, and she believed in opportunity, even if the opportunity you got wasn’t quite fair or equal. She believed in working harder if you had to, and in charity, humility, and love.
She typed her master’s thesis on a portable typewriter that sat on our dining room table for months or maybe years, the same table where we ate the breakfasts and dinners she cooked every day. She did all that. She did everything, seeming to be made of steel.
For one very long stretch of time, she drove 70 miles round-trip several nights a week to take classes to earn a curriculum consultant’s credential, and then an administrative credential. With all her qualifications and after 37 years as a classroom teacher she still had to wait for every football coach in the district to be promoted to principal before she got a shot at the job she was most qualified for. When it came, it was at the worst-performing school with the least-skilled staff in the most run down building in the poorest part of town, a job that no one else would take.
But she did her best, and she made it as good as she could. She loved the kids, mentored the teachers, came early and stayed late. Having started out in life with nearly nothing, she cried for these little ones who had been given even less. She saw what the world was becoming.
And for all this, she took blows. Her own relatives ridiculed her as an educated woman, and worse, a liberal. They laughed at all her reading, writing and opinions. She served her critics Christmas dinners and sat at their bedsides when they were dying.
She loved every last one of them and they knew it. She never turned away from the opportunity to give, or do, or care. She showed up.
She raised three daughters who knew that they could do whatever they wanted to. Not because we had money. Hell no, we had none of that. But we had the opportunity to do our best. It wasn’t even an issue for discussion, and certainly not for brag.
So when I look at what is happening in our presidential election right now, I’m looking into a mirror. Yes, the face I see is my mother’s. A woman who works harder than everyone else. Who’s trivialized, marginalized and stigmatized. Who’s been told time after time that it’s not her turn because she’s too hard, or too weak, or too smart, or too this or that, or just not a man. When has it ever been different?
And if you wonder when the tired, old woman who’s writing this is going to stop giving a damn, the answer is never. There are so many who will hurt so much if we turn back in fear, stupidity, bigotry, and hate.
See what the world is becoming, and then rise up. Now.