Thursday, September 27, 2007

My Mother

Lois Greiman

This was my mother and her brothers as children. I’ve always loved this picture--her glossy mop of wayward hair, the impish expressions of the boys in short pants. Trying to justify the former her with the her I’ve always known has been intriguing, because it seemed to me that Mom has always been a strong, practical woman. One who reused anything that retained an infinitesimal amount of value, who made her own soap, who just recently abandoned her wringer washer.

Her frugality used to bother me a little when I was a kid, but the longer I live, the more I appreciate the fact that she was never quite in-step with the modern world. I realize now that she’s smarter than I’ll ever be. She’s lived forty years longer and learned a million little things I’ll probably never understand. She survived the depression. Survived it, grew up in it, conquered it. She knows what it’s like to make do, to make amends, to make lives.

There were six of us. Lives that is. Four girls and two boys. Six is about four more than most of us can handle, but she somehow managed to make each of us feel special, all the while plowing the fields and feeding the cattle and harvesting the wheat. I’m not sure how well you’ll be able to see her in this picture, but she’s the one in the overalls. She was a farmer. Not a farmer’s wife. But a farmer. The up before dawn every day of the year kind. Not complaining or making excuses or begging for help. She just did it. Raised the first four kids in that little house in the picture. If you glanced in the front door, which was kept closed with a knife, since they couldn’t afford a knob, you’d be looking right into the kitchen. I believe there were three other rooms. That’s my sister Jan and my brother Jon sitting on the steps.

When Jon was thirteen, he was killed in a farm accident. It broke my mother’s heart. But there was no Prozac, no Valium, not even any over-priced therapist to listen to her grief. So she carried on. There were still children to raise, still cattle to feed.
A few years ago my father became ill. Dad wasn’t always the easiest man to live with, not even when he was in perfect health. But you’d never know it by Mom. She cared for him incessantly, no regrets, no whining, just love--the real kind, the kind that gets you through the tough years, the kind that makes you stay when leaving seems like the only sensible thing to do.

The last year of Dad’s life got pretty difficult, but he kept hanging on. My sisters and I thought, in fact, that he was only living because of his concerns for Mom. That he was willing to live through the pain just to spend one more day by her side. It was agonizing to watch; when I got a moment alone with him I promised we’d take care of her, that he didn’t have to worry. He looked at me from the corner of his age-weary eyes and said, “I’d like to go today then.” He died in my arms that afternoon.

Mom was heartbroken. Again. But she’s still carrying on. Still on her 2000 acres, still caring for her yard and her gardens. Still funny and lively and bright. I’m pretty sure I’ll never be half the woman she is. I can’t decide if that’s just because of who she is or because of where she’s been, what she’s lived through. Is it just her or is it that entire generation that makes the rest of us pale by comparison?


Betina Krahn said...

Oh, Lois, what a magnificent tribute to your mom. It swept my heartstrings. . . maybe because my mom was something like her. I think Tom Brokaw's phrase "the greatest generation" was dead on. They were and still are a powerful testament to the capacity of the human spirit to survive and to devote itself to great and powerful ideals.

They've given us an example that will carry us through the rest of our lives. And it's breaking my heart to see them go. . .

lois greiman said...

Thanks Betina. I agree. They have something we seem to lack, and it's scary to lose them.

JoAnna said...

That was beautiful.
I agree, whenever I am around my grandparents I just soak up whatever it is they have to offer me whether it is wisdom, attention, (always love), admonishments,ect. Because as much as it breaks my heart I know my grandfather is growing weaker as the years pass and all I can do is pray that they will be there to witness things like my college graduation, wedding, and children. There is so much we have left to learn from that generation and we are losing them so fast!

Playground Monitor said...

Amen. They are the "greatest generation" and I can only hope we all learned a thing or two from them. It'll be interesting to see what people 50 years from now will write about the current generation. Their idea of making do is a cell phone without special ringtones.

What a beautiful tribute to your mom. The part about your dad dying in your arms just made me cry.

Off to heard my Red Hat Ladies on a shopping trip. I'm qualified for membership, but still the youngest in the group. But I love these ladies and learn so much from them.


lois greiman said...

Marilyn, I want a Red Hat group.

Last year my son worked in a nursing home. He called one day and told me I had to interview a woman there, just because she had wonderful stories. So I took an afternoon and just let her talk. I think she felt kind of silly, because she didn't know what I wanted to hear, but I could have listened all day.

Give your grandparents a hug, Joanna, and kudos to you for realizing how special they are.

Debra Dixon said...

Lois-- That is such a lovely post. I hope you either email your mom to come read it or print it and send it to her.

I often think that we aren't even close to the 'greatest' generation. We're the 'whiny' generation. ::sigh:: I know I feel like a whiny baby when I'm reminded of what it's like to really have to create your life from whole cloth.

MsHellion said...

My dad is 85...he was 53 when I was born...and from the generation. Seeing the picture of your mom reminds me very much of my dad. It's hard to reconcile the impish looking kid in some of the pictures with the stoic man I know. Then again, there are pictures of him as a teenager, with the same stoic look on his face as he is now.

I agree with Tom Brocaw. They are the greatest generation.

My dad was/is a farmer. He doesn't live outside his means. He doesn't want things he doesn't have. He is grateful for the things he does have--and reminds us to be the same. He definitely wasn't the easiest man to live with (what man is)--but he took care of my mother when she was sick. He looks after my brother now (who's 57), whom I look at and think, "Shouldn't the roles be reversed now?"--but he never complains that he is looking after my brother, who doesn't seem to want to do what is necessary to look after himself. Not really.

He isn't as fast as he used to be--but he can still be pretty spry. He still does things that wigs me out--like climb on the roof of the house to check the roofing. Climb in our rickety attic to check the flue. He eats modestly; takes his medicine; does something everyday--and he watches baseball to relax. He goes to church every Sunday; God is his greatest strength.

Yes, I think we can learn a lot from his generation.

lois greiman said...

Ms, I know what you mean about the wigging out. Mom will be 89 in October. About three years ago, my daughter and I went home to spend a little time. We ended up watching Dad lift Mom in the loader of the tractor so she could throw feed down to the steers. This was an everyday occurrence. I'm lucky she's still around.

Debra Dixon said...

My mom's only 73, but even being young during the depression left it's mark on her. She's the most accomplished "make-doer" I've ever seen.

Christie Ridgway said...

Lois: Your mother sounds like a wonderful, resilient woman who we can all learn from! Two weeks ago I spent time with my mom and her husband and my aunt (my mom's sister) and uncle. I had so much fun with them. They're aging, but able to laugh like heck at themselves rather than being maudlin about it. It was refreshing and made me realize I come from some good stock.

But maybe not such smart stock...My mom told a story on herself. She counseled students on financial aid at Stanford University for ten years and admitted that she advised a certain athlete to stay in school instead of dropping out to go pro. She was sure he'd never make it without that college education...

That young man was Tiger Woods!

lois greiman said...

LOL!! Great story, Christie.

And don't you love it that people 'of a certain age' no longer care about a few wrinkles and bumps. Or a few mistakes made along the way.

I once heard that later in life we'll regret what we didn't do more than what we did do. Makes one think.

lois greiman said...

Debra, my mom has no email. No internet. No computer and doesn't care. She's still marching to a different beat.

JoAnna said...

Lois-my grandpa is the same way with computers. He just keeps telling us he is thinking about it. He is very methodical about purchases such as this. It took him about seven years to buy a dvd player:)

Helen Brenna said...

Lois, love the pictures and your stories. We've talked before about both of us losing a sibling. My sister died at 13, too. Don't know how my parents recovered, but I respect them so much.

I think our generation has come a long way, though, in making our own mark. At least I have that hope.

lois greiman said...

We have that tragedy in common, Helen. Losing a sibling changes a person forever, but it can't compare to losing a child.

Playground Monitor said...

Lois, you just go to and look for you a local chapter. Or start one of your own. We had a great time today shopping at a fantastic Goodwill thrift store about 30 minutes away. Among other things, I found a Land's End fleece vest for $6 (it retails for about $35).