Mother’s Day reminds us of our dependency.
On every second Sunday in May, we take a few steps back in time to give thanks, not to the unseen Providence of Thanksgiving, but to one unique woman, the one who housed, fed and protected us, all within herself, until the day we emerged and started making demands. That some mothers didn’t get the title biologically does not reduce the honor they deserve.
In contrast, Independence Day celebrates our separation from “the Mother country.” It’s a revelry of fireworks and parades. The Fourth of July is a lot of fun, something nobody ever said about childbirth.
My own mother, née Marion Mergenthaler, was not Italian, as you may have guessed. There were no DNA tests to prove her lineage, but the family tree had roots in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Her father was Dutch. She was raised in upstate New York, near Herkimer, on a small farm. She had a pet pig, though as an adult she didn’t mind putting pork sausage on the shopping list.
Like her mother, Maude Alice Mergenthaler, Mom became an elementary school teacher, a job she kept until World War II, and resumed with occasional gaps until her retirement.
I don’t know how far back the teaching itch goes in our family, but it’s at least three generations. My sister, Linda, continued the tradition as a classroom teacher, school administrator and, after earning her Ph.D., educational consultant. I was bitten by the teaching bug three years ago, and now teach at a San Francisco law school, though, looking back on my 43-year career in the law, I now see that much of it was spent teaching by another name.
Mom met my father, George, when they served in the Marines in World War II. (According to his birth certificate he was Giorgio, but he and his siblings anglicized their names.) They were an odd couple, in retrospect. She was soft-spoken, used immaculate grammar and spelling, rarely using any swear words stronger than “son of a b,” without the “itch” to say more. She often asked me to grade her students’ papers, which in first through third grades wasn’t asking much. I hope her students still appreciate their writing and spelling skills, which surpass some licensed lawyers’ abilities.
Mom was the driving force in our educations, though not on the streets. She had a used car to get herself to work, carefully avoiding any left-hand turns, which made her uncomfortable. She made three right turns instead. During much of this time our grandmother, Maude, whom we called Gram, lived with us, giving us a double dose of compassion, propriety, and the “three R's.”
Pop, a product of Brooklyn schools, was, shall we say, less strict in his grammar and usage. He more than made up for that with being the funny guy in an extended family, on his side, of unpaid humorists. (Hmmmm ...) But we’ll save Pop for another column in mid-June.
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