Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day comes just once a year, but I pray for her twice each day—along with numerous other deceased relatives and friends. That’s not to say I think much about her. She has been gone now for over 50 years, since shortly after my 16th birthday. Truthfully, I could not claim to have been a devoted son—at least not for much of the time. Still, this is about her, not me—so rather than dwell on my shortcomings I should focus on the good influences I recognize receiving from her.

The daughter of Norwegian parents who arrived in America late in the 19th century, she went as far as the eighth grade in school. The same school I attended many years later. A very old school. Minneapolis and Minnesota in general have a reputation of a large number of Scandinavians. It’s true, but actually there were more German immigrants. The big immigration wave to the Midwest came in the 1870s. Norway and Sweden were one country until a division in 1917. But I am rambling on. Back to Mom.

Whether it was something from her parents or just her, I will never know. But she had a strong sense of equality; an emotional revulsion to racism. Minnesota, of course, did not have then and probably still does not now have a significant percentage of African Americans. Those that do live in Minnesota are predominantly in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. After the Vietnam War there was an influx of Hmong from the central highlands of Vietnam. But that was after Mom’s death. Anyway, the point is that she sometimes would read things in the newspaper that bothered her—such as stories of Ku Klux Klan depredations against African Americans. She talked—expressed visceral concerns really—about them to me. At the time, I was only six to eight years old. On one occasion she cried while reading a story about a Chinese man, a fry cook at a nearby diner, who was killed—possibly because of his race, although that is no longer clear to me.

So I took in her teachings about the evils of racism, from wherever her beliefs came. They became mine. It was difficult for her and for me when my father died. I was just seven. We had each other, and my two older brothers. One of whom came back to live with us to help us, as much as he could financially and otherwise. But the time he spent in Korea damaged him, I now believe, causing his alcoholism and inability to fulfill the dreams he had when he began college before that conflict. I became more self-centered, more of a brat, difficult to control and unappreciative of my mother as I approached and entered my teen years. As much as I may regret my own behavior now, the most that I can do is honor her memory—her efforts to give me as good as she could, going out to restaurants we could not afford or to movies that were not always age-appropriate but that she no doubt found enjoyable. It moved me, with my own children years later, to always have the best vacations we could possibly afford. With two working parents, we could, in fact, afford excellent ones.