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.
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