I sometimes feel as though I was born with a desire to be around people with kind hearts and a sense of fairness. Perhaps I simply observed my mother and then believed that everyone should be like her. People often boast that children in my Baby Boomer era learned how to properly conduct themselves from strict rules that included paddling, but I don’t recall ever being spanked by my mom. She had a gentle way of modeling the behavior that she expected from me and my brothers. She set limits and sometimes even lectured us, but brute force was not one of her tools. Whenever we had disagreements during the day she made sure that we understood that all was forgiven before we fell asleep at night. She had high exceptions for all of us but her demands were gentle and always couched in unconditional love.
When I ventured out from my home even as a very young child I set high standards for the people that I encountered. I suppose that I unconsciously compared them to my mother. If they were just and compassionate I liked and admired them. If they exhibited even a hint of cruelty I lost regard for them, although I did so in a respectful way because my mother had taught me to defer to my elders unless they were abusive or immoral.
I watched my mother quietly nurturing the people in her world. She rarely brought attention to her charitable nature but I witnessed it often enough that I understood how wonderful she was. The only times I ever saw my mother being combative was whenever she felt that some person or some group was being bullied or hurt. Then she became ferocious in her defense of them. She was not one to simply sit back and look away from injustice.
Mama had a disturbingly low income in the final years of her life and yet her generosity even for complete strangers never waned. After she died I found countless letters from charitable organizations thanking her for her donations to their causes. Given that she sometimes sat in the dark or without heat to save on her utility bills it amazed me that she had been so giving and yet it was all in line with her character.
My mother truly loved people and she never understood why they would want to hurt one another. She cried at the thought of man’s inhumanity to man, a topic that she often discussed. She abhorred violence and even though she often boasted of her generation’s efforts in bringing down fascism in World War II she was opposed to the war in Vietnam because she did not feel that it was a worthy endeavor. She wrote papers defending her views and became more political during that time than I had ever known her to be. I have no idea how she voted or what her beliefs were other than loving her country to the point of becoming emotional. She kept such things to herself unless she saw a moment when someone or some cause needed her voice.
My mom took a fancy to Madeleine Albright because she was the first female Secretary of State who also happened to be from Czechoslovakian ancestry just as she was. Mama delighted in comparing Secretary Albright to her own mother and noting how proud she was that someone much like her had risen to such a noble and important role. She also found it fascinating that Ms. Albright collected pins to place on the lapels of her suits. Eventually Mama would begin giving me and my daughters delightful pins each Christmas, a tradition that we have continued over the years. I suspect that this was my mother’s quiet way of letting us know that she wanted us to be as dedicated to the protection of all people as Madeleine Albright was.
My nature is to blend into the woodwork. I don’t like drawing attention to myself and I certainly don’t like controversy. I prefer to be a peacemaker, a diplomat. I like bringing people together with a common goal. Nonetheless my mother showed me that there are indeed times when I must find the courage to speak out. I’ve found myself in difficult situations time and again because I knew that being silent was being complicit in unacceptable behavior. I’ve gone on crusades for justice more than one time and while my mother cautioned me not to be too outrageous I suspect that she was proud of my willingness to take risks to improve the lives of others.
I often tell my daughters that they come from a long line of very strong women with their Grammy, my mother, in the forefront. I have urged them to stand up for what they believe to be right just as she always did and I have also tried to do. I’m happy to say that while they would prefer to live quietly and without notice they are unafraid to speak out for what they believe to be true.
My mother once told me that there was a time when women asked their husbands how to vote and sometimes even how to think. She was thrilled that I felt free to be myself and to have my own beliefs. She taught me how to be strong without being unkind. She showed me how to gently and respectfully create change. She was a woman of the highest character who had learned the importance of putting people first. I could not have had a better role model if I had chosen one myself. She was truly a woman of distinction and a gift to all who knew her.