Sunday, July 5, 2009
A purple finch family visits the half orange filled with grape jelly adjacent to the hummingbird feeder. First Dad and the kid, then Mom and kid and finally the finchlette boldly sneaks up to the orange for a sweet taste of grape. At eight in the morning we're fogged in, typical for a July 5th. Cold air settles in the coulees. As the sun rises higher in the east, it'll clear. Today is my mother's birthday. She would have been 100. Everyone save for serial killers thinks their mother is special. Mine was a saint.
She first learned to drive when she was forty something. She had two masters degrees and taught high school for 43 years. After retirement she went back as a substitute. Substitute teaching for one who taught in a working class neighborhood of Milwaukee's south side was an awakening. Fires in the classroom, unruly students who cursed her under their breath-this only a sample from the east side high school designated as university prep in Milwaukee's feeble attempt to bring up the standards of public education in a highly segregated city.
She raised me as a single mother. In her days she could have been burned at the stake and tortured for being a single parent. To keep her status as a teacher, she boarded me with a Polish family on Milwaukee's west side at $50 a month. She kept her maiden name, yet lived a double identity teaching English literature and visiting me weekly. She made sure I visited the dentist, kept routine doctor appointments and provided me with everything I needed.
When I was older I asked her to tell me about my father and the circumstances surrounding my birth. I knew it was a painful time in her life. My grandparents didn't approve of my father. I asked her to put it in a letter if she felt more comfortable than a face to face, emotionally draining
experience. The letter went on for 44 pages. I was aghast. Rather than read it, I did one of the most regrettable things in my life. I asked her to condense the original document. She did. Two handwritten pages on lined school paper. Forty four pages of her life and my early beginning are somewhere in a landfill.
Happy birthday, Mom.