I am a middle-aged teacher. Some would say I’m a successful teacher; I have received teaching excellence awards. What I have come to realize in recent years is that much of my success stems from a role model called Gertrude.
Gertrude has five children, twenty-three grandchildren, and over thirty-six great-grandchildren. Most of these tree sprouts would talk about Grandma’s pretzel can, Christmas at Grandpa and Grandma’s, the toy bag, the card games, and remembrances at birthdays . These are certainly traditions in the family home . Gertrude,who turns eighty-five this June, seems to be a traditional mother.
I teach communication courses and now realize that Gertrude, who had only a fourth grade education, leaving school to help support her widowed mother’s family, knows everything that researchers tell us. How she came to know,
I am not certain . Iam certain, however, that she is totally unaware of her contributions to her family and community and that she didn’t get her knowledge from research studies!
That Gertrude is a nurturer is obvious . My ninety-two year old Father has outlived all of his siblings. There is a direct relationship between Gertrude’s care and Dad’s longevity. He is the first to boast about his wife . “Mom always looks good.” “Mom is the best friend a person could have .” He usually is referring to her female friends, most of whom she has outlived, so they get younger as time passes.
My Mother remains a “working mother” in the traditional sense. She worked making a home and birthing and raising children . She helped in the family business when holidays meant preparing poultry orders. She continues as a volunteer for her church groups, the local hospital and other community activities. And of course, she has clocked thousands of unpaid baby sitting hours. My brothers and sisters could add examples, but this is my essay.
I have come to recognize that Gertrude is truly the “wind beneath my wings .” Teaching about relationships, I realize the research reflects what my Mother lives daily . She claims not to understand this generation, yet she is there for each and every one of us. She is the model listener I teach about. She withholds judgment and listens with empathy . She provides insights if asked, buy only then. There is no price to pay if one doesn’t agree. When conflict occurs, her advice is always, “Give it enough time; it will be okay.”
As I teach my students the problems stereotyping presents, I see Mom lecturing Dad on why it’s not nice to use those labels to talk about people. When I teach methodology related to gerontology, I hear my Mother telling my cousin how she has Dad do this or that to keep his mind active and alert. As I plan for a special workshop on intercultural relations, I hear my Mother telling me about her new neighborhood in our small white town. A black parolee is living with a minister directly behind my parent’s home. A neighbor told Mom about the teacher across the street who “lives” with another woman . Mom’s reply, “I don’t know if she does or not, but it’s her business. She ‘s a good neighbor to us; on snowy days she puts our paper in the door so we won’t go out and fall on the ice.”
As I talk about the need to treat all human beings with dignity and respect, I can still see my Mother fixing a hot plate lunch for the “transients” in late depression days.
She and I would listen to their stories. Images flow from my past of a Mother who always treated me with dignity and respect. I wasn’t physically punished; I wasn’t loaded down with expectations to achieve so she could be proud of me; I wasn’t frightened out of living by over-reactions to my behaviors. There was one time I remember her being extremely stern with me . My sister and her children were living with us. I resented her not disciplining them. I felt my Mother’s home was being destroyed. Gertrude told us that her Mother was dying in the hospital and that was what was important; she would have no more of the bickering. I suspect some day I will make a similar statement to my daughter.
I’ve always known I could do anything I wanted to do. I’ve managed to walk with dignity during trying times. I try to respect everyone for the human being he\she is. I always know everything will be okay if given enough time. The reason I know and do these things is because I was raised with something else I teach about. The researchers call it unconditional love. My students say I’m a role model.Well, maybe so, I studied under the greatest one I know, a woman named Gertrude. By the way, she loves all flowers but roses are her favorites.
Written previously and recently posted
There was a mother and she was also a grandmother. As a mother she had raised a free thinking, liberated daughter. Shejust didn’t know what that really meant until much later. But when the time came, she saw her early seeds burst into full bloom and explode.
The daughter at age twenty, had decided at long last to divorce her husband who simply had never grown up. She was tired of supporting him, listening to his great promises that were never kept. When her children had been born, she realized it was time to be responsible. Living on the edge in rebellion against authority figures had been fun and probably necessary in some respects. But now, she was beginning to see things differently. Having allowed her husband freedom to try many jobs, pursue many plans, none of which worked, she made the decision to return home and complete her college degree. She knew she would be the sole support of these children and she knew they deserved better.
At times people come into Clare’s home when they are so emotionally wrought, they don’t know what to do. So, wherever they are, they seek Clare’s light and guidance.
This is what the grandmother found herself doing. She helped out with childcare and finances. She was there to help get everyone back in balance. She was good at that; caretaking seemed to be her second name.
The separation and eventual divorce was bitter. Of all the destructive things that occurred, the grandmother told Clare of the one scene burned into her memory and her heart.
The father had the boys out for a few hours as part of his visit. When he returned with them, the older boy rushed into the house and his room. This child was actually more bonded with his father, but he was one who kept things inside.
The younger child was different. He was very young, maybe two, but he always knew what he wanted and demanded just that. He clung to his father to the point that the mother had to pull him away. She brought him into the house as his father screamed.
..Don’t worry, son I’llbe back to get you and she’ll never see you again.”
He jumped into is truck and left much rubber behind as he drove off. Grandma witnessed all of this. As her daughter brought the two year old in,
kicking and screaming, she closed and locked the door. The boy cried and screamed hysterically all the while kicking and beating at the door. In a few moments the daughter crumbled to the floor holding herself as she cried.
“Maybe I should just let him have them.”
Now Grandma knew that would be the worse thing that could happen to those little boys. She watched the two year old still screaming and kicking at the door. She watched her daughter emotionally wrenched on the floor. She heard the soft sobbing coming from the older boy’s bedroom. For one of the first times in her life, shejust didn’t know what to do. So, as tears ran down her face, as her body churned with suppressed emotion, she asked Clare to help because she knew she needed to be strong especially now, and…she simply didn’t know what else to do.
The piece I wrote on my Mother was when I saw a contest in some magazine about writing articles on our Moms for of course Mother’s Day. So I wrote this but never won anything. And that’s okay, because I won the biggest gift of all… having Gertrude as my Mother.
Having written on Mom figured I had to write something for Dad, so the “Storyteller” piece I wrote and gave to him.
Both pieces were written years ago when they were both alive. I sit here now retyping to enter on my blog. And yes, the tears are trickling down my face as I type. And yes, I would give anything when I’m caught in problems to hear my Mom say once again, “Just give it time,” or to hear Dad ask a waitress that stupid “Did you have to go to school to learn how to do this?”
Retiring from teaching for the second time in her life, she sat down in her office to survey the many things that needed to be completed before she could return to her old passion, writing.
She viewed the trunks and boxes of “saved” things which she had been meaning to take care of for over ten years. Then she thought of her current projects: Re-write three film scripts, continue with the novel based on fact and the other book of facts about students in her life; develop the three or four other scripts she had put aside for way too long; get back to information on the children’s book and becoming a publisher for it; flesh out the basics for three others in the series. And then it happened.
This feeling from deep inside began to swell and blossom into full bloom. “I don’t want to do it!” “ I will be 80 in less than a month and why do I feel the need for all the hustle and bustle?” Her thoughts continued trying to analyze this sudden feeling. It should be noted here that she was someone who always had to analyze the whys and wherefores of anything in her life. Was it because she always spent time with younger people? Was it because currently she was spending so much more time with writers of all types? Was it because this becoming a publisher herself entailed so much research, interviews, planning? Was it because she was still after the dream of success? She made the decision. “I don’t want to do it; I won’t do it!”
It was as if the weight of the world fell off of her body…too bad it wasn’t some of those excess pounds falling off. But, no matter, she felt a freedom inside. She knew some would say she was a quitter, but over the years she had grown a great deal when handling the critics. She also knew that her way was not necessarily their way and that was okay. And so she made decisions.
The film scripts would not be redone nor new ones started. Instead of becoming a publisher, she would get back to those publishers who had been interested in her children’s book. Completing that book and seeing it manifest into the final product was a must. It had been her way of trying to gift her one granddaughter who was complaining that Grandma had never taken her on all the trips her older brothers had been a part of. So what if this granddaughter was not happy with the rough cut she had seen. Well, she is a teenager and while she knew everything Grandma had in the book was true, it was difficult to think you as a toddler were being put out front to the world. She also knew that after she was gone that granddaughter would treasure the book and all the love that went into it. What else? Well she would complete the one novel based on fact which she started so many years ago when she first moved to Santa Fe. Her search for St.Clare in the Southwest. And yes, the book on students from her past and present, “The Story of My Life” would continue. She did hope Neil Diamond would give her permission to use that title from one of his songs. But these two books would not be rushed. She would write them on a different time schedule. She now realized how important it was “to be” and not so important “to do”.
Oh my God. A past memory like a shooting star raced through her mind.
She had been invited to a luncheon at Ellie’s home. It would be a gathering of people who didn’t necessarily know each other, but all knew Ellie who knew that these people would get along. It was interesting. Ellie bragged about making the hummus herself from scratch. There was a mingling of people and pleasant conversation as each went through the buffet lunch line. She filled her plate and sat next to a younger interesting looking woman. They bonded quickly as she took a big bite of what she thought was a slice of cheese but was in fact a big pat of butter. They laughed and introduced themselves. Funny how the universe takes over and gives you answers. For years she wondered what had happened to one of her favorite high school drama students. She had heard that this young woman had been on a popular soap opera for years. She had never been able to verify that. Well now she could. This woman who laughed with her about the butter incident turned out to be a half sister to that student, and she said the soap opera career had ended but her sister was now back in St.Louis and provided a phone number. Ellie then asked the group to settle down, form a circle and introduce themselves. Making a mental note to call the long lost student the very first chance she had, she along with her new found friend, moved chairs into the semicircle.
To her right sat a much older woman. As the introductions of self proceeded, she began her litany. Yes, she was 60 and taking early retirement from her University position. She would help her daughter, now a single parent, raise her two young boys and she would at long last write . She gave the list of film scripts, novels, articles, and oh yes, a script someone she met had written, a sort of science fiction kids thing. She loved it and planned to make a film from it. On and on she went, getting more excited with each project. She was like a whirlwind. Finally she stopped. Next was the older woman to her right with a demeanor calm and serene in contrast to her. She said, “How wonderful all of the things you have planned. But, perhaps you will discover over time that “being rather than doing” is what it’s all about.” That was all the woman said.
And over time….yes, she finally gets it.
She continues to encourage others who are still seeking something but for her it is a new type of living. She will continue writing because she relishes the process and has no need to be concerned about outcome. But she now takes time “to be”.