Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mother's Day

Our visitor noticed blue jays nesting outside our bedroom window.

Since then we have had many rainy days. The mother blue jay does most of the nesting. I have seen her sitting there in the gloom, rain pouring down, her wings spread over her nest. The outside is cold and damp, but her wings and downy feathers keep the eggs warm and dry.

My window is only 20 inches from her nest, so she glares at me when I look at her progress. If I walk around the outside of the house, she distracts me from her nest by flying nearby and calling out "Jay!"

The blue jay is endowed by her Creator with a self-sacrificing love for her children. A philosopher would advise her, "You should serve your own needs first. Blue jay eggs are a dime a dozen. Take wing and find yourself." But her DNA code, like software, dedicates her to a nobler task.

I have been gathering photos from my high school graduating class, 1966. Some of our mothers are still alive, but many are not. My mother taught in the public schools, so she knew hundreds of parents, many of them fellow teachers.

That was the classic age in public education, when the children were safe. The teachers watched over us and made sure we were prepared for higher education. When I see photos of various students, I remember, "Their mother was a teacher too. I saw her at our house, or PTA, or community functions, or all three."

I just finished scanning our high school yearbook, when we were seniors. We are seniors once again, in a different sense. Instead of getting student discounts we are angling for senior discounts based on age.

Now that we have a world-wide financial crisis, my mother's comments about the Depression make more sense. She mowed lawns and cleaned houses to get through Augustana College, which took a long time while she was teaching in one-room country schools.

My mother grew up on a farm and remembered when electricity was brought to their farmhouse. She would say, "You don't know how good you have it." She was right. We did not. That generation learned frugality during the Depression and self-sacrifice during WWII and Korea. We benefited from both and took the advantages for granted.

When we asked Mom how she accomplished so much, she said, variously:
1. Grew up on a farm.
2. Went through the Depression.
3. Taught in a one-room country school.

I thought about that while I was trying to trim old newsprint. Mom could cut out articles with precision and file them methodically. Many of her books had a review from a major newspaper, taped into the front cover.

One of her many photo albums included a Mother's Day card, which I crafted in class, around fifth grade at Garfield. I wrote: "Congratulations for having a genius son." She must have enjoyed that card, because she kept it for 80 years.

My mother went through a long-term crisis as she lost her short-term memory. Many times she was agitated, angry, and confused. We moved her to our house in Minnesota and then to our home in Arizona, where she died at the age of 90. She turned into the ultimate mother at the end, happy and loving, still active, creating poems on the fly as we wheeled her around the care facility. She led us and the staff in a spirited rendition of "God bless America."

The hospital said, "The nurses all love your mom."

Our neighbors said, "All the children love your mom."

I lost count of the students who came up to me and said, "I had your mother as a teacher. She was the best teacher I ever had."

True genius comes from picking the right parents. As Lincoln said, "All I am, or can be, I owe to my angel mother."

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