Fortunately, for me, it is a good one. I couldn’t always say that, of course. We fought during my teen years. As the oldest of five children, I got the unlovely experience of breaking away into adulthood first—oh, those times of angst!—when confusion, anger, and misunderstanding ripped our love into tatters of tears and frustration.
It wasn’t easy to repair those ribbons of love, but as I entered my thirties, forties and beyond they were repaired. And every day, sometimes minutes at a time, I give thanks for someone I think I am going to lose this year. My mother.
When Gillian first asked me to name my heroes I came up with two names: Eleanor Roosevelt and Edith Cavell. And they are heroes. Personal ones, but public ones as well. I admire them for what they accomplished. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized my truest hero is Mom. Not because she is my mom—though I am fortunate in being able to say she is—but because she has run her life in accordance with the social dictates of her generation—becoming a wife and a mother, supporting her husband and raising her five children, all without complaint despite the fact she would have had a lot of legitimate complaints.
Mom was born in 1923 and brought up in the era of predetermined societal roles for women. Despite the interruption of World War II when she became a Rosie the Riveter for Douglas Aircraft Company, she followed those dictates closely.
She and Dad had been high school sweethearts, and when he returned from the war they married. I was born a year later. Because they were Catholics, my four siblings (plus two miscarriages) followed in rather close succession. Dad worked at AT&T, and for a number of years a second job at night at a gas station in order to make ends meet.
For Mom, making ends meet was no less hard. Today, there is so much more opportunity for connections and support for mothers but back then in the 1950s and 1960s you had only your neighbors to talk with—when you could get away from the endless rounds of meals and diapers. But I don’t think it was the tedium as much as the small humiliations that I didn’t learn about until just recently. The time she was taking on a housecleaning job to earn needed money and the woman of house wanted her to use her bare hands instead of a brush to clean the toilet bowl. (She refused.) The time the small neighborhood grocer commented to her that she only came to his (more expensive) store when she needed credit to buy food. (She elected to serve oatmeal for dinner rather than take the credit any more.) The time the family was using her brother’s vacation cottage at Lake Arrowhead and accidentally sat at someone else’s picnic table and were confronted with a woman who screamed that she didn’t know my uncle and to “get out.” (She and Dad offered a heartfelt apology for the misunderstanding and shepherded us to the sandy beach.)
I only found out about those from her sister, and I also found out this: never once during any of those awful times or other difficult times did she lose her temper or strike back. She may have felt terribly humiliated or embarrassed but she never responded in anger. She stood straight and tall—at least as tall as her 5’2” would allow her—and looked life in the face. She had dignity.
Today, Mom is 87 years old and increasingly frail. She is physically bent because of lifelong asthma but in my eyes she still stands tall and straight. Mom is one of my heroes not because she is related to me but because someone who can accept life without being defeated by its difficulties is a hero of magnificent proportions. And someone upon whom I base my own life.
Lauren Roberts is the founder and editor-in-chief at BiblioBuffet, an online literary salon. Her passions include books (and more books), reading, cats, swimming, occasional gourmet meals, friends, and quiet times. One of her few regrets in life is not yet winning the lottery because she has her eye on darn near every Penguin Classics book available and can't otherwise afford them. She can be seduced with quality champagne.