My mom is 95 years-young, fiercely independent, lives on her own and drove until at age 91 her car hydroplaned on wet pavement into the rear end of a police cruiser. Giving up driving was then an easy decision.
My parents divorced little more than a month after my sixth birthday. Dad was a staunch conservative Republican. He was also a very self-centered, selfish man. At home he saw his family as objects to serve him. In the community he was very active and a force for business progress and change. He believed government was good for building roads, schools and other infrastructure otherwise it was at best a nuisance.
He left my mother with two young sons and no means of support. He pleaded poverty thereafter and paid little child support, was never there and never expressed any interest in our lives while my brother and I were growing up.
At the time of their divorce in 1951 my mother was a meek person, but the world soon discovered how wrong it was to presume her weak. She had a mission to raise and educate two sons with or without help and she did. Both her sons graduated from college and earned advanced degrees. She succeeded by gritting her teeth and working 25 years for Minneapolis Honeywell Regulator Company (Honeywell) where her experience taught me why we need an equal rights amendment. I saw how women are exploited, not paid the same for the same work and harassed.
I remember how she once accepted a wager from an obnoxious door-to-door sweeper salesman who arrogantly boasted in a condescending manner about his sweeper being vastly superior to hers and bet he could prove it. She smiled politely and after allowing the salesman to demonstrate his sweeper, showed him hers was better by picking up the dirt his “superior” machine left behind, then graciously accepted the man’s money and respectfully showed him out.
In 1975 mother retired due to health issues acquired by virtue of her years of employment and loyal service. She wasn’t ready to stop working, but was more than ready to put the past quarter century of her life behind her. She left Honeywell and moved from the small stagnant town of Wabash, Indiana to Fort Wayne to live closer to her youngest son. She earned a pension with Honeywell, but was forced to forfeit a significant portion of it as a penalty for “retiring early.” With an okay Social Security supplemented with the meager Honeywell pension she had enough to get by.
Mom was and is a political independent. She last voted in a presidential election in 1972. That election combined with Watergate and the Vietnam War left a bitter taste in her mouth, and she decided she was through with politics and vowed never to vote again. “It’s a meaningless waste of time,” she said and from then until this day she has kept her pledge.
But presuming she does not pay attention because she has decided not to vote is a mistake. She avoids watching much of the political carnival on TV. “I hit the remote,” she declares, but toward the end of August something about this race began to grab hold of her. Over the course of her long life she has acquired quite a reputation for being able to make a judgment about a person’s character in little more than a glance. And sometime around the first of September she happened to see Barack Obama and John McCain side-by-side. Afterward she confided to me she had an uneasy feeling about McCain. “He’s
shifty,” she said. “I don’t like his eyes. I don’t trust him.” She felt quite the opposite about Obama. “I like him,” she said. “I trust him.”
In mid September I delivered the speech I have been repeating for 25 years about why she should register and vote. This time mom didn’t say no. To my surprise, she took and filled out the registration form and handed it back to me with a girlish smile. “I want an absentee ballot; I don’t want to go to the polling place where I will have to use one of those computer things.” Today at 95 she is registered and has applied for an absentee ballot to cast her vote for Barack Obama.
I admire my mother’s character, honesty, strength and gritty persistence against overwhelming odds. She taught me to respect others without prejudice to their race, color, creed, sex, wealth or any of the other superficial things that divide us. I respect her judgment and insights of others-even if I sometimes disagree. All my life, but especially since I was a lost and confused six-year-old boy, she has been my hero, modeling her strength and determination while standing tall even when I knew inside she was devastated, crushed and frightened by events. I have learned a lot from her.
More importantly, today she is an inspiration to her grandchildren. They all look at her with deep admiration and respect and shake their heads. She makes them smile, laugh and fills them with love.