Discovering Mama

Blessings all the day long in the small things are often discounted or never considered. It is all too easy, and justifiable, to pay homage to the big things, like a new and much needed job, or recovery from a deadly illness, or the arrival, finally, of a baby longed for across decades of trying.

Caught up in the press of the day, keeping up with the schedules of kids, staying faithful to the many programs and institutions we serve as we commit to way too many needs, we miss out on the payback promised with the doing.  We run out of steam.

I’m chasing a book. I’ve almost caught it. The shaping and the telling of my childhood story consume me. When I think I’m finished, my eagle eye editor says not yet. And back I go to recapture life in an orphanage, release after the end of WW2, learning to live within the parameters of unrecognized normalcy, recounting the phenomenon of a mother and her bigger than life siblings. Life is mostly about discovery against the background of location and circumstance.

Writing my mother was and continues to be filled with revelation about her. She was the embodiment of women in the war and post war era, realizing that the women’s movement in America began there, pouring right out of my fingertips as I typed her story.

They left their aprons and kitchens and sometimes school books to do the monumental work of service to their country, not because they were noble and altruistic, but because the men who ran the engine of the nation were off to war. They stepped right up, and in the doing, discovered they were multidimensional. They became the national sorority as they gave themselves to the national need. And at the end of the day, when the government padlocked their factories of war, they went home to what was no longer enough. Without knowing it, they had outgrown their designated place.

Mine was a front row seat to the sea change for women. As some of them wrote to their men at the front, they bluntly stated that “Johnny” had a big surprise to return to: “I’m not the same woman I was when you left. You might not like who I am now.” Fair warning, to be sure. These women were now large and  in charge.

Lookit. The bulk of the female population moved on and in the doing, found a whole new reason for being. They were not going back. Sure, lots of them welcomed their soldiers with open arms, married them and became fabulous homemakers, happy in their work. But there were many more women like Mama who sat in their kitchens feeling empty and frustrated. Is that all there is, they wondered.They had a better sense of who they were and what they could contribute. They  had learned to build and test pilot airplanes, tanks, Jeeps, and  bombs. They wowed even themselves. A callous country wanted their normalcy back. They wanted wives and mothers back in the kitchen where they belonged. To be told they didn’t know their place was an absolute truth. They were carving out their new definition. There was so much more to them now.

And so began the Women’s Movement that culminated in the life of women today, free to be whatever they could make of themselves. To dream and fulfill it. To choose, not either or, but many choices. To be all they could be if possible. Or not. To know the difference.

I had no abilities to sort all that while I watched it happen for my mother. Not until I had gained my own footing in the rapidly changing world of the survivors. Looking at it, I recognized their enormous contributions to success. The groundbreaking progress they made changed both genders forever. None of it was easy. Men were threatened, jealous and resentful. They returned home expecting the world had held still in their absence. Prayed for it. Who were these unrecognizable  women? It took a generation for them to catch up to what had actually happened. Those normalcies were gone. I watched it all, not knowing what I was seeing.

It took this much time and distance to distill and evaluate and finally value who my mother was and how she got that way. To know that I came from the dynamite she was is the culmination of a life lesson I’m still learning. And it is laid out in a book I didn’t know I was going to write. The one you didn’t know you are going to read.

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