A Personal Story
My mother died in August, 2014, at 97 years old. One of four children, her father died in the Great Flu Epidemic when she was 3, and she was raised by a single mother through the 1920’s and 30’s. Her family was so poor that her mother made her dresses out of flour sacks and she wore cardboard to cover the holes in the soles of her sisters’ outgrown shoes. She talked of being hungry all the time, with often only bread to eat for supper. Alone amongst her siblings, and against almost all odds, my mother graduated from high school and then attended Highland School of Nursing in the 1930’s. She passed her nursing board exams with the highest score in the State of California that year. She was exceptionally smart, and very creative, too. Yet, there she stopped. Her working class life with my father was a huge step up from her childhood, and she had absorbed the lesson of “don’t reach too high, don’t want too much.” She quashed her ambition, and never dared for more than a minimum, for fear of failing and losing it all – a lesson from the deprivation of her childhood.
Over the years I came to realize the two biggest gifts my mother gave me, although it took well into adulthood before I really understood how great those gifts were. The first gift was her enormous love for her children. She taught me how to love my own children and grandchildren fully, openly, without reservation, as she loved me. What a wonderful gift!
The other wonderful gift that I am left with is the courage to not be like her, to not hold back, but to follow my dreams, wherever they take me. Her gift was to inspire me to not settle, to go after an extraordinary life, no matter how frightened I might be. She was a living demonstration of dreams deferred, of a life not wholly owned, and regretted in the end.
When my mother died, I took a bit of my small inheritance, which she had worked so hard to save for me, and I had a ring made. I chose a very large stone for the ring, much larger than I am comfortable wearing. The stone is a deep, luscious red, her favorite color and mine, and the color of vibrant life. I wear my ring nearly every day*. It is my constant reminder of her love, and also my constant reminder to be bigger than I am comfortable being, and to live this Third Act of my life with courage, guts and gusto. It is my daily, my hourly, reminder to take a deep breath and be courageous.
*take a look at the photo on the first page