“My mother … she is beautiful, softened at the edges and tempered with a spine of steel. I want to grow old and be like her.” ― Jodi Picoult
My mother was not a cookie baking, stay at home, mom. In my neighborhood, growing up in the fifties, everyone else had that kind of mom. A little part of me wished my mom was there when I got home from school…chocolate chip cookies with warm melty chocolate at the ready. But mostly, I was just proud of who she was.
I had a witty, bright, pull herself up by her bootstraps kind of mom, who succeeded through the dint of her strength of will. She had natural gifts of leadership combined with a kind of mothering nature that worked well with young men and helped her succeed in the very masculine world of Air Force Civil Service. She was the only woman in charge of her own branch at Griffiss Air Force Base, the only female employee who was not a secretary, but had one herself.
And she really did have a spine of steel, but a tender loving heart, covered by the thick hide she had to grow to survive in a man’s world, a proudly self-proclaimed “tough nut” and a great “old broad” with a wicked sense of humor.
I have shared a number of her “wisdom sayings” in different blogs posts I have done over the years. She had a saying for every occasion.
One of my favorites had two variations she used interchangeably. The more Americanized version was: “If you make a doormat out of yourself, don’t be surprised when people wipe their feet on you.” The more European version was: “No one can make a doormat out of you unless first you lie down.” I used this second version with the women in the support group I ran for battered women. We talked a lot about how to stand up for yourself…instead of lying down and taking abuse. And as you might guess my mother wasn’t a doormat…nor did she raise me to be one.
Another of her sayings I used in the group came from Polish wisdom and was a fit for these women as well: “Beware,” my mom would say, of someone who “promises you earrings, but only pierces your ears.”
But the most important aphorism Mom taught me was a guiding principle in her life. She taught me I should “not expect life to hand over to me a gold, engraved invitation.” By this, she meant I shouldn’t hold back waiting to see if what I wanted came my way, but actively pursue my dreams. I should “seize the day” and “Give it everything you got” and “Never quit…NEVER ever, ever, quit.” Achieving in life, for my mom, was something you worked at, hard. She did. And I think I have.
As my husband, who deeply loved her, says about Mom, she was a force to be reckoned with. She was a woman with Crypto clearance who had the launch codes that could have sent SAC bombers to start a nuclear World War III. She wasn’t a “full-bird” colonel, no one saluted her, but man, she could give an order no one could refuse, or walk into a room, and with just a look, quiet dozens of my rambunctious cousins.
Yet, for all that, she brought home airmen for the holidays if they couldn’t make it home, and she gave hugs that made you feel treasured and loved. She was as loyal “as the day is long” to her friends and her family, and as fierce as a lioness to protect those she loved.
Miss you, Mom…I hope I am half “the tough old broad” you were.