Our Mothers, Our Angels

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I recently participated in a podcast dealing with the question of how to form meaningful relationships. As I told my own stories I realized how much I had learned about compassion, gratitude, courage, loyalty, trust and other important morals from my own mother and those of my friends and cousins. I suppose that in many ways I lived a kind of unblemished childhood with the exception of my father’s untimely and unexpected death. From the many women that I encountered, the mothers of my peers, I learned the lessons of being someone on whom others might depend. These were wonderful women who opened their homes and their hearts to me little realizing what an impact they would have on my own development and worldview.

I have sadly been reminded again and again of what these ladies meant to me as they one by one die from the diseases of advanced age. Just last week I learned of the death of the remarkable mother of one of my high school friends. I had only met this woman once, but in that brief encounter I was taken by the way in which she welcomed me and made me somehow feel quite special. I would tell people about her and that brief encounter from time to time as the years passed. It was only in reading her obituary that I realized what a truly stunning life she had lived, and I felt proud to have known her no matter how fleetingly. 

The women who were my role models were children of the Great Depression. They were young and on the verge of beginning their lives as adults during World War II. Their early years were often punctuated with sacrifices that few of us born in the second half of the twentieth century will ever completely understand. In spite of varying hardships they all maintained a strong sense of optimism and can do spirit that followed them into their roles as mothers. They passed down their love of family to all of us, both male and female. They were devoted to their children without hovering like helicopters. They worked hard to maintain a sense of peace and contentment inside their homes. They rarely complained, instead celebrating the blessings that they had, regardless of how small they were. They were an exceptional group, and it pains me to see their generation slowly leaving our earth, because they were living breathing angels who gave their all to be certain that we would have good lives.

These were not women who were always barefoot, pregnant and under their husband’s thumbs, even though many of them never worked outside of the home. They were strong and able to overcome incredible challenges. They worked for the betterment of their little corners of the earth through jobs, volunteer work, keeping their families safe and happy. Often their responsibilities included elderly parents for whom they lovingly took into their homes. I used to enjoy visiting with the old ones who became part of the big extended families of my friends. It was not until my own mother came to live in my home in her final year of life that I realized the difficulties of caring for an adult day in and day out. The women I had witnessed had always made it seem so easy.

The women who continue to inspire me thought it natural to pitch in whenever someone was in need. They’d bring food, condolences, and a helping hand to any tragedy. They were not the least bit afraid of long hours of back breaking work. They did whatever needed to be done with little fanfare or need of accolades. 

If I were to make a list of the women who taught me how to live a purpose driven life it would begin with my own mother but then continue almost endlessly, for I always found something remarkable about the generation that came before me. Mrs. Barry showed me what love and loyalty really meant when she stepped forward to help me during my mother’s first mental breakdown. Mrs. Daigle taught me how to be the consummate hostess regardless of who came to my door. Mrs. Bush demonstrated courage over and over again, even in situations that might have overwhelmed a lesser soul. My aunts showed me how to keep family close. Mrs. Janot helped me to understand how to balance the daily toil of living with fun. Mrs. Frey demonstrated how to fully utilize my own talents and creativity. Mrs. Wright helped me to discover my own worth. Mrs. Loisey was my teacher who showed me the impact of a great educator. Mrs. Pryor helped me to understand the possibilities found in giving myself to the community. Mrs. McKenna brought beauty and music into my life. Mrs. Martin showed me the new worlds to be found in books. Mrs. Brochtrup seemed to be a living saint whose faith inspired me. Mrs. Caldwell, Mrs. Gallerano, and Mrs. Cash made my life more fun and interesting by spending hours  guiding me in Girl Scouts and on our school’s drill team. Mrs. Mandola was elegant and made me feel that way as well. All of them had a way of making it clear that they genuinely cared for me. They listened to me and valued what I had to say. They understood the importance of every relationship, but probably never realized what an enormous impact they had on me.

Our mothers were our angels on earth, and now so many of them are our angels in heaven. I do miss them and the calmness that they always brought to me. When we speak of women’s rights and the roles of women we would do well to look to these wonderful ladies for examples and guidance. They were far more amazing than our society gives them credit for being. From them I learned what it really means to be a woman.

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Honor the Young

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Every single time that I  hear some older person calling young people “snowflakes” I go into a slow burning rage inside my head. It is an epithet invented to cast aspersions on the thinking of  teens and twenty somethings who hold progressive points of view. The idea is that the youngsters are so fragile that they simply can’t bear critiques or differing ideologies. The insinuation is that they are silly, close minded and of little substance.

While there may very well be some young folk who are a bit spoiled and unwilling or unable to accept philosophies that run counter to theirs, the truth is that there are also middle aged individuals of more conservative bent who have the same trouble. Some of them are actually in high political positions and they often tweet their discontent. For the most part, however, I find the current crop of young men and women to be exceedingly hard working, earnest and determined to make a very positive difference in the world. The fact that they are a bit more liberal than their more aged counterparts has little to do with their level of courage or good intent.

It has long been a trend for young adults to be on a kind of search for truth and meaning in their world. It is in their natures to question the status quo and seek changes that they deem to be fair and more just.

 

Socrates once said, “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority: they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in places of exercise.” This of course was noted about four hundred years before Christ walked on the earth, and I find it remarkable how it might have been said last week by some pundit making observations about today’s kids. In fact there are many such quotes that are part of our discussions of the young versus the old in political matters. We’ve all heard the quote, “If you are not a liberal at twenty five, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at thirty five you have no brain.” It is a bit audacious in its sweeping assumptions, but we laugh at it because it bears a grain of truth. Indeed we often become more cautious as we grow older, but that does not make us wiser or more righteous. Thus, I find it beneficial to show more respect to the thinking of our younger generation than we generally do.

In 1776, when our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence their average age was forty four. That being said more than a dozen of them were younger than thirty five and among those some were still teenagers. In fact, the American Revolution as with all such sweeping changes was much more of a young man’s cause than that of older men. James Madison was only twenty five when he penned his name on the Declaration of Independence and the current hero on Broadway, Alexander Hamilton, was a mere twenty one. Young adults are more often than not as passionately concerned about the world as those thought to be more mature.

I enjoy the conversations that I have with my former students and my grandchildren regarding the political conditions of the world today. I prefer listening to them and asking them questions rather than challenging their ideas. I find it enlightening and quite hopeful to hear just how much they have considered the various issues with which we continually grapple. They are far less likely to simply accept a particular way of thinking without considering many different possibilities. Their beliefs are mostly based on a great deal of thought and research. They are involved in internal debates as they search for the best ways of doing things. They have the audacity to think outside of the box and come up with ideas as radical as revolting against the most powerful government in the world to create a new nation conceived in liberty.

I find myself spending hours listening to young men and women who are more than ready to do their share of the heavy lifting in the world. Of course they differ somewhat from me because many of their experiences have been different from mine, but they are not unpatriotic or inconsiderate or lazy or spoiled. They simply look at the challenges that we all face from the vantage point of having an entire lifetime ahead of them rather than having walked through a lifetime. Their youthfulness does not make their thoughts any less valid than mine or any other older adults, but it does tend to make them more inclined to envision new and exciting possibilities. I find that when I listen respectfully the favor is returned when I speak. A rational and fruitful discussion ensues. It is when we disregard the fervor of a young person’s enthusiasm that we create an emotional impasse.

Each of us longs to be heard, to be understood. All we ask is that we be accorded an opportunity to speak our minds with impunity. All too often we create situations by dismissing certain forms of speech before they are even uttered, leaving us in a “them or us” kind of division. Hurling insults without thought only further inflames the situation.

During the height of the Vietnam war when so many of us were protesting what we believed to be a terrible mistake, far too many adults treated us as though we did not love our country. They did not seem to understand that it took great courage and much patriotism to speak out against what we saw as a wrong. There was a great divide that lead to unnecessary violence and clashes that might never have happened if only each group had been willing to sit quietly and consider each point of view. The frustrations came from all of the misunderstandings that came from assigning insulting labels to each cause, and pitting young people against their elders. Sadly we did not seem to learn from those mistakes.

The next time you find yourself wondering what a young person might possibly be thinking, instead of writing him/her off as a snowflake, try encouraging a true conversation with the intent of learning rather than judging. I believe that you will find that we are all seeking most of the same things, we simply have different ideas about how to achieve them.

Honor our young. They will one day be taking the reigns of leadership and helping us in our final days. I for one feel comfortable that we will be in very good hands.

The King Center Drive In

37400793_10204729964807004_1633942547380305920_nA high school friend posted a photo of an empty lot that is for sale in Houston, Texas for $1,975,000. The raw land located at Martin Luther King Drive and Loop 610 was once the home of the King Center Drive In, a glorious place that served up entertainment to the folks who lived in southeast Houston for most of my childhood, teen years and early married life. Eventually the place closed down and went the way of other outdoor theaters, attracting fewer and fewer customers as we became less acclimated to the heat and mosquitoes over time. Nonetheless those of us who saw the image of the long gone movie mecca were filled with grand memories of good times with friends and family.

I have to admit that there was nothing more exciting to me as a kid as going to the King Center Drive In on a Friday or Saturday night. I’d check the newspaper to see what was showing, and if it was fit for family watching I’d connive with my brothers to work with me to get our mother to take us. We often used my youngest brother as our secret weapon because Mama somehow never seemed able to turn him down. He’d go to her with all of his cuteness and hint that he’d love to spend an evening at the movies. Since our mother enjoyed such outings as much as we did it was never really that difficult to get her to say yes to our proposals.

There was always a snack bar at the theater but we were on a fairly strict budget so our mom made sandwiches and iced down bottles of coke to satisfy our hunger. She also made enough popcorn in her iron skillet to fill a grocery bag. We’d stow away our food and a few pillows inside the car and head off for what was sure to be a fun evening.

Mama always wanted to get there early to secure a prime spot. She’d test the speakers before settling for a specific place and then while she set things up in the car we’d run to the playground located just in front of the big screen. We often saw friends from our neighborhood or made new acquaintances as children seem to so naturally do. Mostly though we were eager for the sky to grow dark so that the movie might begin.

Mama always kept something called a Pic in the glove compartment along with a box of matches. The incense like coil was supposed to discourage mosquitoes from entering the car, but we still had a few of the brave pests nipping at our skin. I suppose that it was actually quite hot in the summer, but since we didn’t have air conditioning at the house we never noticed the temperature. Instead we munched on our sandwiches, sipped our cokes and topped off our feast with the popcorn while glorious films of the fifties and sixties played out larger than life right before our eyes.

The initial feature was always a first run film, but it wasn’t always our favorite of the movies. After an intermission designed to lure us to the snack bar there was a second feature that was older, a kind of rerun. If Mama was feeling flush she’d give us some money to purchase whatever we wanted at the snack bar before the next movie began. It was so hard to decide what delicacies to choose. There were donuts, chips, candies of all kinds. Since we never had sweets at home I almost always chose some chocolatey, gooey delight filled with caramel.

Sometimes one of my brothers would be unable to fight off sleep and surrendered to slumber in the back seat. I proudly fought off all inclinations to doze off if only to prove to my mother that I was worthy of the prime seat in the front of the car. Also the really cool movies with more adult content came in the second slot, and I enjoyed feeling a bit more mature than my little brothers.

As I grew into my teen years I began attending the movies with my friends. I was a dateless wonder in high school but I had great fun with big groups of girls. We went with whoever was able to get a car. We did a great deal more talking and giggling than paying attention to the movies. My favorite times were with Karen, a neighbor from across the street. She drove her mother’s big yellow Buick which held enough gals to qualify as one of those clown cars at the circus. At first I was embarrassed when my mother shoved a grocery bag of popcorn into my arms as we were leaving for one of the outings, but the yummy snack was such a hit that the girls always requested that I bring my offering along.

I often laughed at the antics of people in other cars. There were of course the couples whose only purpose in coming seemed to be to make out. Then there were the goobers who honked their horns whenever a love scene came on the screen. There were groups who hid some of their passengers until they were safely past the pay station since the cost was sometimes based on the number of folks inside the car. There were families that made way too much noise, and since we mostly had to keep our windows open that was quite annoying. Then of course there were the malfunctions of the speakers and projectors that drove everyone to honk in protest.

Eventually I was going to to the King Center Drive In with my husband and my small children. Those days didn’t last very long because by then we had become spoiled by the air conditioned comfort that was almost universal. It just seemed nicer to watch a movie at an indoor theater. Of course that meant paying way too much all around. Soon enough it became preferable to wait for the release of tapes and then DVDs to see our movies in the comfort of our homes. For little or no money we could watch while wearing our pajamas and munching on fabulous snacks. By then the King Center Drive In was long gone, but not our memories.

Perhaps we lost something special with the closing of those once fabulous places. Whole generations have no idea how fun it was to wait in a long line of cars anticipating an evening of make believe. The lot for the King Center Drive In may now be empty but our memories of being there are still as vibrant and colorful as ever.

When Two Beautiful Hearts Become One

37125721_10212650429280251_3292675091942342656_oThey were a cute couple, high school sweethearts who fell in love. Paul was a football hero, an all state lineman who was a beast on the gridiron, but a teddy bear off the field. It is little wonder that he was attracted to Shirley who was a real beauty with a warm and inviting smile. They found each other when they were still young kids, but they both understood that somehow their relationship was meant to last for the duration, and so they married fifty years ago.

Our world is overrun with problems these days. Divorce is on the rise, almost commonplace. Families are often torn apart by differences, disloyalty, and neglect. All too often relationships fizzle out before they have even begun to take hold. Single parent families are on the rise. Young people are wary of making promises to one another. Not so with Paul and Shirley. They not only pledged to honor and cherish one another till death, but they made good on their oaths to one another as their lives unfolded in one decade after another.

I knew Paul from a time when he and I were a young children. I met Shirley in high school. I was in awe of both of them even back then because they each appeared to be so genuinely kind and humble. Shirley was a particularly sweet person who rarely thought of herself, but always did her best to make those around her feel welcome. She was the kind of person who went out of her way to notice the one individual who was feeling uncomfortable or ignored. With her ever present calmness and inviting smile she took the time to say a hello or just to inquire about how someone was doing. I loved and admired her so, thinking myself quite fortunate to know her.

Paul was so handsome and gifted in his athletic prowess. I on the other hand was so awkward that he scared me just a bit, but like Shirley he had a million dollar smile and a way of being so open and friendly that I somehow felt okay around him. His innate sweetness was both charming and refreshing, and when he and Shirley began dating I thought that they were indeed a most perfect couple that somehow the angels had put together.

High school graduation came and I lost track of many of my classmates, just as always seems to happen. I went my way and Shirley and Paul went theirs. It would be almost five decades before I saw them once again and I learned that they had enjoyed a beautiful life together. As always both of them spent more time listening to the tales of others than boasting about their own accomplishments. They were as sweet as they had ever been, and it did my heart good to know that with a few ups and downs, they had mostly enjoyed the years.

Shirley was even more beautiful than ever, and her iconic smile still radiated the same loveliness that lit up her eyes and revealed the inner beauty of her heart. Paul was like a rock, one of those incredibly kind men who is unafraid to show just how much he cares about people. Together they had created  a loving family and worked to cement the relationship with each other that they had built so long ago.

Just about a year ago Shirley and Paul’s home flooded from the rains of Hurricane Harvey. Instead of complaining about the slowness of the recovery, the pain of losing so much, they instead smiled as they always seem to do, and worried about how everyone else was doing. In the midst of their own troubles they took the time to send me a lovely card expressing their hopes that my husband would fully recover from his stroke. I suppose that they never really knew just how much their thoughtfulness meant to me in that moment, but it was so typical of them to be selfless.

Anyone who has ever met Shirley and Paul Jauma knows just how much they love one another. Theirs is a union grounded in a deep faith that God is a partner in all that they do and endure. They have taken their vows to a spiritual level that is not often seen and have made good on the promises that they exchanged with each other on their wedding day. Their fifty years together have inspired the people who know them as evidenced in the many tributes that have come their way.  We find ourselves feeling so happy for them, and fortunate to number them among the people that we have known.

Shirley and Paul are quiet people who laugh at any suggestions that they are somehow icons, but I know differently. They represent the best of humanity with traits that are all too infrequently seen. I suspect that if there were more people like them in the world, we would be a much happier lot. They have much to teach all of us about love and what it really means to honor and cherish another person for a lifetime.

I’m quite delighted for Shirley and Paul Jauma, and I pray that they will be blessed with many more years together. We all need to witness their model of a loving couple, and I thank them for sharing the goodness of their hearts.

Still Young and Beautiful

14711048_10209517113076623_2425488735163912169_oI’ve often been told that my blogs about people that I know are my best. In all honesty they are also the easiest to compose. The stories write themselves mostly because people are innately interesting, and the ones who have been part of my life are particularly so.

I grew up in a little neighborhood in southeast Houston. At the time it was almost on the far edge of the city, just barely outside the area that now encompasses Loop 610 which was not constructed until I was a teenager. The enclave was part of the post World War II boom and it centered around churches and schools and family life. In many ways it was a “Leave It To Beaver” kind of environment in which children were generally protected from the troubles of the adult world.

I attended a Catholic school because back then parents were told that it was their duty to provide a religious education for their children. The tuition was minimal, so it wasn’t a particular sacrifice for my parents to pay the monthly fees, particularly when my engineer father was still alive. After his death it became a hardship for my mother, but the nuns who taught at my school hired her to work for them and announced that free tuition was one of the perks of employment. Thus my brothers and I spent our earliest years in classrooms together with other Catholic children.

In the fifties and sixties in seems as though adults didn’t change their addresses nearly as much as they now do. Once we moved into our home on Belmark Street we essentially had the same neighbors until we ourselves became adults and struck out on our own. The same was true at school. With only a few exceptions we grew up with the same set of kids and got to know them quite well. Their parents were friends with ours, so it was as though we all belonged to a huge extended family.

Many of us went on to attend Mt. Carmel High School after the eighth grade. I received a scholarship which made it possible to continue my education in familiar surroundings with friends I had known from the time I was six years old. Sadly there were those who opted for the local public high school which had one of the best reputations in town. I missed them terribly when they were gone, but I made knew acquaintances with kids who came from a variety of Catholic schools in the southeast and east Houston areas.

As is true with most high school students I foolishly believed that the people that I met during my four years would all be lifelong friends. I did not realize that graduation was a turning point at which time we went forth in far too many directions to remain as devoted to one another as we had once been. Over time I slowly lost track of all but a handful of the people that I had known and loved, often wondering where the others were and how they were doing, but too busy to take the time to track them down.

Decades passed and suddenly there was this thing called social media that allowed us to communicate with friends and family without leaving our homes. Little by little I found long gone but never forgotten friends and began to vicariously follow the routines of their lives. Through the extraordinary efforts of individuals like my friend Carol more and more of my former classmates were found and just seeing that they were still alive and well cheered my heart.

It’s difficult to adequately describe what we shared in those long ago years when the foundations of our academic and spiritual educations were being built on very solid ground. Our differences came in the years that followed, but in many ways they were only superficial. What bound us together was a long history of learning the importance of the one commandment that truly matters which is “Love thy neighbor.”

I am neither a republican nor a democrat. Instead I am fiercely independent, but many of my school chums are die hards in their political persuasions. My own philosophies often confound them and they have even been known to chastise me for what they believe to be unwise thinking. This sometimes angers people that I have met later in life, but it only makes me smile. What I know is that even in our differences there is a commonality of truly caring about our world and each other that was imbued in our very natures long ago. We were not so propagandized that we became nonthinking clones, but rather we were taught to consider many points of view before choosing our own. The one constant, however, was the knowledge that God is our protector and that we in turn must be protectors of His people.

From what I can tell we’ve done a grand job each in his or her own way. We run the gamut from  Paul who is as progressive as anyone might become to Ted who is a staunch defender of conservative ideas. What guides us is memory of those long ago school days when we learned and played and laughed together. Somehow those times glued us together even as we went out on our own to discover more of the world. We now come together with little thought of our differences because what we share is far stronger.

I feel blessed to have the opportunity of getting to know my old friends once again. There was a time when such reunions would have been unlikely. Now I have the privilege of sharing the ups and downs of their lives. I see the smiling faces of their children and grandchildren. I commiserate with them in times of stress, health problems or deaths. I celebrate their birthdays and marvel at images of their vacations. Mostly though I remember them when they were young and beautiful and full of boundless hopes and dreams. I see that like me they have survived the roller coaster ride and are doing their best to be the kind of people that the adults who guided us hoped we would be.

I am so proud of my classmates, my friends. They have worked hard to be good people, and all of them are. I hope they know how much I admire them, and how happy it makes me to know them. My heart fills with joy whenever I think back to our school days. I laugh at the stories that I recall and wonder if they realize how much they have meant to me.

As we all enter our seventies we can no longer claim to be young, but from my vantage point I see that we are all still quite beautiful and young at heart.