My Mom was one amazing woman. I wrote a bit about her in “How My Dad Became My Dad,” but I need to tell more about her.
She was born in Virginia during the Great Depression. She was the last of eight children to an at home mother and a coal miner. Yep, Mom was a coal miner’s daughter from the heart of the deep south. Sounds like the beginning of a country song.
She told me quite a number of stories about those days. Ringing the necks of chickens for dinner, slaughtering hogs, and doing odd jobs to earn an extra penny here and there. She worked hard to get out of those hills. She did well in school and eventually got enrolled at Furman University in South Carolina. Her ticket out.
My Mom is no longer with us, having passed June 15, 2005.
There are a myriad things I admire about Mom. She was loving, caring, fun, and intelligent. But what I think I admire the most were her strength and willfulness. She was not a deeply personal individual. She did not open up about a lot of things and tended not to share personal thoughts. I guess I got those same traits from her. But what she lacked in openness she made up for with raw will.
When I was a teenager, Mom was in an auto accident that shattered her left forearm. Mom was a lefty. It took surgery, a large pin through the ulna and a large plate and seven screws in the radius, to get her arm back together. Even after two years in a cast the bone and bone fragments refused to knit. She went to Duke University for an experimental procedure. A battery pack and electronic unit was placed in the cast, with electrodes attached to parts of the bones, sending a small continual current through the arm. It was so experimental, she was written up in a medical journal. About six months later the bones finally began to knit, and another six months and she was finally out of the cast. Years later, you would have never known except for the surgical scars.
At the time, Mom was the Administrative Services Manager for IBM. She had pushed the envelope and bumped up against the glass ceiling that existed for women in the 1970’s. During those years in a cast, Mom continued work as well as taking care of me and my sister, the house, and all the things the rest of us do. She could have said, “Hey, my arm’s been in a cast for more than two years. I’m not doing that.” Anyone would understand that. But she didn’t.
When I was in my early thirties, Mom was going to give a speech at some big IBM function. When she got to the podium, things went fuzzy and she passed out. The doctors messed up all around on this. The doctors first thought it was some sort of epileptic seizure. Then they thought it was a heart attack. Finally, after several days in ICU being treated for the wrong things, they realized it was a bone spur on her spine near her neck. The spur had caused pressure on the spinal column. So it was decided to surgically remove the spur.
When she woke from the surgery, her left leg wouldn’t work. It wasn’t paralyzed, but she couldn’t control it; a condition called ‘Drop Foot.’ They told her she would never walk without a brace or crutch. Never ever tell my Mom what she cannot do. She said, “Oh yeah. Just watch me.”
A walker became crutches, which became a cane, which became no assistance at all. It took several years but she literally willed and worked herself into normal walking when doctors had said she never would.
When she and Dad retired, they began traveling the country in an RV. They started out small at first, with a small Winnebago and taking trips that lasted only a few weeks. With each sojourn they would mark their map, learn new tricks, maybe upgrade to a larger RV for the next go ‘round. Eventually they spent more time on the road than at home base. Dad took up roller-blading, in his 70’s. Mom was having breathing difficulty, being asthmatic, but took up riding an adult sized tricycle so she could keep up with Dad, keeping an oxygen tank in the trike’s basket.
It was never wise to tell Mom what she couldn’t accomplish. She could accomplish anything. She clawed her way out of depression-era, coal mining Virginia to the top of regional IBM. She overcame injury after injury, and illness after illness. She was one hell of a coal miner’s daughter.