On the eve of Mother’s Day, I have to pause to pay tribute to the many strong and feisty women in my family. I come from a long line of fine women, and I’m proud of all of them. It bodes well for my adventures in aging, since both sides of my family feature classy, long-lived women who enjoy life to the fullest, whether they’re in their 70’s, 80’s, or near 90.
I stopped by my mom’s apartment a few weeks ago to pick her up for dinner. At 84, she handily qualifies for her apartment at a “55-and-over” complex. She found the place on her own, arranged her own move, and settled in very nicely last year. She drives (and drives very well), but evening driving isn’t her favorite thing. So I swung by after work, and called her on her cell phone as I neared her place so that she could meet me in the parking lot.
As I pulled in, there she was. Striding out with confidence, looking trim in tailored trousers, a fitted corduroy jacket, bright green top and a brilliantly patterned silk scarf. Every inch of her was stylish. I was reminded of a former pastor who once told me that my parents had forever redefined the term “senior citizen” for him, because they refused to fit the stereotype of the “little old couple”.
Back in the day, when I was but a child (yes, that was back in the late-1960’s, as difficult as it is for me to admit), my mom was one of the first working moms in the neighborhood. My big brother had gone off to college, and that was long before every kid in the world qualified for student loans. Tuition had to be paid, and dad’s income wasn’t going to cover it easily, so Mom was off to work full time. She worked for a printing company, out in the physical plant. And she wore dresses. Every day. Dresses. Sitting next to a huge printing press – in a dress. It was actually forbidden for women to wear trousers of any kind at most companies in those days. Can you imagine???
Anyhow… as fashions went topsy-turvy that decade, polyester pantsuits became all the rage. They had long tunic tops over bell-bottom pants. Mom’s employer came up with a creative dress code: it was okay to wear trousers, as long as you were wearing a tunic top that was long enough to be worn alone as a dress. Seriously. It was like saying “sure, you can wear pants if you want – just wear them under your dress.” Mom made most of her own clothes, so it was easy for her to comply. But as time passed, her tunic tops got shorter and shorter. Enough so that Big Brother and I used to tease her that she’d be in a whole heap of trouble if they ever made her take her pants off and wear the top as a dress.
Mom made it work, and set an example for her daughter. By the time I started working for the same printing company 8 years later, I was heading to work in jeans. Mom came from good stock – her own mother was a feisty, hard-working farm wife who raised three strong daughters in the middle of Depression-striken Iowa. Mom and her older and younger sisters still get together every summer for a “sisters’ reunion” in Iowa, and she travels regularly with her younger sister, including a trip to Ireland last year.
In fact, as I think of my aunts, I realize that both sides of my family provided me with fine examples of strong womanhood. My aunts on both my mom’s and dad’s sided are each independent, active, positive ladies. Like Mom, they are all widows now. My dad’s mother was the toughest of them all. Her husband died when Dad, the only boy, was around five years old. They were poor farmers in far northern New York State, near the Canadian border. A single mom in the 1930’s, raising four kids on her own on a rocky scrap of farmland? It was unheard of, but she did it. Not only that, she lived to see all of them successful, happily married, with families and very good lives. She knew several of her great-grandchildren, and her great-great-grandson is being raised in the house where she once lived. That’s quite a legacy.
What’s the moral of the story? The best gift a mom can give her children is to set a fine example. To live a good life, full of responsibility, love, fun, and security.
As I stumble along trying to figure out how to negotiate my way through the aging process, mourning the loss of a little memory here, or fretting over a new wrinkle there, I just need to think of the stubborn, funny, strong, and thoroughly modern women of my own family tree to gain a little perspective. I don’t have children to teach their stories to, but I hope I can be a “cool” Nana for our grandchildren, and perhaps show them how to age well.
Aging gracefully is for wimps – aging well means having lots of laughs, being well-seasoned and sun-kissed, having good friends and close family. My two departed grandmothers and one deceased aunt knew that. My four surviving aunts know it and live it. My mom personifies it with her own unique style. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
And to all the moms reading this – please set the right example for your daughters (and sons) by living your own life well. Happy Mother’s Day!