Looking back at the important role of mom…

May 8, 2011

I’ll be having lunch with my mother on this Mother’s Day 2011 at the assisted care place where she lives. She does not get around quite as well as she used to, but at 100 she still does get around.

It occurs to me mom had a child or children at home for a long time. She had her first child, my oldest brother, in 1929, and then came my sister in 1941, and my other brother in 1945 — and then, surprise, surprise, me in 1949. And I did not leave the house until 1967 — 1929 to 1967 — that is one heck of a lot of mothering, I‘d say.

While I’m sure mom wishes she could be more active now, I’m equally sure she is thankful she is done raising kids and done with full-time housekeeping.

Now to be sure, mom knew how to pace herself. I recall when I was little and the other siblings were in school (my oldest one in the Navy) she would take a nap in the middle of the day. Having me lie down too, this settled me down for a time and allowed her to rejuvenate.

But mom’s day began early, for many years at 4 a.m., when dad was going to work real early, but at least by 6 or 7 a.m. throughout those child raising years. She fixed breakfast for him and then for the kids.

I’m compressing time here because we lived in different places, but being the baby of the family I have a lot of memories of being alone at home with mom. I recall walking with her or maybe riding on my tricycle while she walked to a grocery store many long blocks away from home. We only had one car, for much of the time, and dad had it at work. She would walk back from the store with two full bags of groceries under her arms.

Mom cleaned house, did laundry, hung the clothes on the line, ironed them, cooked meals — from scratch, not the box, and this was pre-microwave days. She was nurse and even doctor to us when we were sick — my folks only took us to the real doctor in emergencies. My folks were frugal, and this was before most people had medical insurance (okay many don’t now too or have lost it).

Mom was always a room mother at school and baked cookies for PTA meetings and back-to-school nights — and she baked them; she didn’t just run by the store and pick up a package of Oreos.

Right about now any modern mother who holds down a full-time job might be saying, “and you don’t think I don’t do all of this and work outside the home too?” No, in some ways it must be much harder to be a mother today if you try to meet all the obligations the stay-at-home moms did or do. But I’m just writing about my memories and thoughts of my own upbringing and mom. I was brought up in that mythical or not-so-mythical 1950s era of the Leave it to Beaver (television sitcom).

The world has changed, as we all know. The economic and social demands put upon women are far different now.

But I miss the stability and comfort and security of my mom’s time as a mother.

My late wife did both, the old method of stay-at-home housewife and later something more similar to the modern method of going to work and then coming home to work.

It’s all hard work and it should be appreciated.

So today, let’s all show our appreciation if we are fortunate enough to have our mothers still with us.

Here’s to Mom!

Watching local western color where things are black and white…

May 9, 2010

Here’s a Mother’s Day joke from God Bless America country:

The rodeo clown told the announcer that he was afraid of three ma’s, my ma, your ma, and ObaMA.

And that was after a singer had sung a song that said something about the Pledge of Allegiance being taken out of school, something that I was not aware of.

(Of course I do know there is an ongoing controversy about praying in school or school personnel led prayers, and about the use of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and the fact that since the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, there is a line of thought that contends then we can hardly have the government, in the form of the schools or whatever, leading us in one type of religion.)

But anyway my wife and I attended a local rodeo, called a Mother’s Day Rodeo, on Saturday — they’re having another performance today (Mother’s Day).

And the theme was kind of Motherhood, apple pie, retaining our way of life and so on.

I have no problem with that. I’m all for it. I often wonder, though, why politics even has to be mentioned — the slight of President Obama, an example, along with the possibly exaggerated remark about the Pledge of Allegiance (and there was the now obligatory mention of the tea party by the announcer).

That having been said, I enjoy settling back into something that is at once a real part of my background and maybe an imaginary world at the same time, and maybe a kind of comfort zone, to some extent anyway.

In this world there are no grey areas to trouble you, things are black and white. You either are an American (a citizen of the USA) or not. You either believe in American values or not. You eat steak with no guilt feelings about cruelty to animals. You support the troops in their wars against the infidels without question — of course who would not support those who are on our side? — and therefore even though you mistrust the government, you support its policies that sent the troops where they are, because if the USA is doing it, it has to be right, otherwise why would we be doing it?

You value family. And who could argue with that?

(In reality, we all know that each family has its own trials and tribulations and it is not all harmony and good feelings, but there is an ideal we aspire to or long for.)

You value hard work and don’t expect something for nothing.

You appreciate your heritage, those pioneers who left everything behind — first coming over from the Old Country and then making the trip across the plains and mountains and deserts to settle in the West (oh, I live on the West Coast).

To be sure, not everyone who came out here was a cowboy or a cattle rancher, but for some reason the cowboy heritage seems to symbolize all that is good and right in the Western way of life.

The setting for this rodeo seemed authentic, amid the oak trees and right next to one of the major livestock markets on the West Coast, the Cottonwood, Ca. Auction Yard.

The arena itself is rather modest, simple if you will, and I think that adds to the down-home atmosphere.

And the whole time I watched the events from the grandstands, I kept looking at a saddled horse in the back parking lot tied to a horse trailer amid the oaks.

It was either a bad day or a lot of amateurs, for there were a lot of no scores in the various events, but it did not bother me. I always try to take in the local color at these types of things.

 Add 1:  Now that I think of it, the best entertainment was when the outgoing rodeo queen was handing over her official queen regalia to the new queen. The outgoing queen was wearing some wide blue chaps that were too long for her. She was walking bowlegged around the arena. Lucille Ball could not have done a better comedy act.

For my part, I thought the women’s barrel racing was the best event. While I know next to nothing about horseback riding, it seemed to me most of the contestants looked comfortable in the saddle and had a fluid motion with their horses.

And it sure takes team work with horse and rider. One horse was too skittish — something must have upset the creature — and would not take off, so the contestant was disqualified.

The day was perfect, in that the sky was clear, but the temperature mild. Today started with rain, so it may be soggy out there. But I’ve been to rodeos in the pouring rain, and sometimes that adds to the fun — if not the comfort — what with all the mud flying.

(Didn’t get this posted as soon as I thought, so I can now report the weather has apparently cooperted today after all, so no mud for the rodeo, unless some was left over from this morning.)

And as I watched the rodeo I thought of my own tenuous connection with it.

Okay, here goes:

When I was a little boy, the only thing I knew about cowboys was that they carried six shooters and went after bad guys. I was relying on TV. Then I went to a local rodeo of sorts — I think what they call jackpot roping and some steer riding — and asked my dad why they were not wearing guns. My dad explained to me that what you see in the movies and TV was not necessarily the same thing as in real life and not in modern life, anyway.

Though the years I found out that my dad had been kind of a cowboy wannabe as a youth growing up on a dairy farm. He raised his own horse and did quite a bit of horseback riding, but he left all that behind for other pursuits (although he never did quite get it out of his system).

I also have a mysterious grandfather (my father’s father), who I know only by an old photograph of him sitting atop a horse, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, gloves with gauntlets, and a mustache. The photo, I believe, was taken out in an area that is still cattle country today. My father was born on the ranch where the photo was taken. Apparently my grandfather was is some type of business with some investors but somehow lost the spread or something, and took off for parts unknown.

I read a letter he wrote to his family back in Nebraska, in which he told of good grasslands out in California.

I really do not know what his usual trade was. I’ve was told that he worked on ranches and was kind of a horse or mule trader.

My only direct connection with cattle ranching, other than dealing with some ranchers when I worked as an agricultural news writer, was when I was in high school and raised a few head of beef cattle.

I purchased a heifer calf from from an old man who was the last cattle rancher in these parts and maybe the West Coast to actually drive his herd in the old-fashioned manner, with men on horseback, between summer and winter pastures. In fact, the day I met him he had just returned from a drive to his home place. I was in a pickup truck with my ag teacher and we had gone to his house where his wife had said he was down the lane a bit. We went down there and this little old wiry man came walking up with a saddle over his shoulder. He threw the saddle in the back of the pickup and jumped back there with it and motioned for us to drive back up to the ranch house and beyond it where there was a corral with that calf in it.

His dad had been a butcher and then I guess went into the cattle business and this man carried it on. He knew his way of life was dying out — he did things the old way — just as he was dying out himself. But he seemed to enjoy every minute of what he had left.

Once when I had become a news photographer, I did a photo story about his cattle drive. And I used this line in one of my past blogs, but it summed up his attitude: He came through the dust on his horse and grinned (a metal tooth shining) and said, “it’s a great life if you don’t weaken”.

He also at one point advised me about my chances of getting into the cattle business:

“You either have to be rich or marry into it.”

Neither one of those apply to me.

But sometimes I venture back into that world, such as I did Saturday.

Appreciating Mom on her day…

May 10, 2009

It’s Mother’s Day and I’ve never thought of myself as a mama’s boy, and yet I realize that as the baby of my family I may have spent more time with her growing up than my next two older siblings, the oldest, I don’t know. He’s 20 years my senior. He did not have to vie for attention. But my mom and dad always told me he was an independent sort and likely to be off on his own doing something.

But my earliest memories are spending long days with my mother while my next older brother and my sister were at school and my dad was at work.

I often pedaled my tricycle down the sidewalk as she walked to places, such as the supermarket, many long blocks away. That was in the Sunset District in San Francisco back in the early 1950s. My wife and I were there not long ago in a car and it surprises me that mom walked that far to the supermarket. I was too young of course to help. My mom would carry two large grocery bags under each arm back to the house.

Later when we moved to the interior valley of California she left me crying at kindergarten – well, okay, maybe at that point I was a mama’s boy.

One day in first grade the teacher gave me and several other children balloons (the kind that are not inflated yet) as presents for good reading, I think. It was later speculated that I was so excited that I ran toward home with my prize. All I recall is that instead of crossing the busy street in front of my school where a teacher served as a crossing guard I ran down the sidewalk until I was directly across from my house, on that same busy street, and the last thing I remember is stepping down off of a high curb to cross the street when everything went black.

I awoke later in a hospital bed. Mom, who was sitting in an armchair beside the bed, informed me that I had been hit by a school bus.

I went back to sleep, and the next morning mom was still there in that chair. She had stayed the whole  night.

Mom served as a room mother and always baked cookies for after-school events, such as Back to School Night and PTA meetings.

She served a stint as a Cub Scout den mother too.

Once not long after we had moved to another town and lived in a small housing tract several of my new friends informed me that they had voted my mom the best mom in the neighborhood because she always baked cookies and served Kool-Aid to all the kids.

When I was in high school and a friend of mine and I experienced the painful after effects of sharing a bottle of Old Crow whiskey mom didn’t bother to tell dad – as far as I know.

Mom helped babysit my two daughters at times.

Already into her late 80s or early 90s, she took care of my sick wife when I was out on the road truck driving.

Still carrying on at 98 years old, she is a great-grandmother.

Although my father was a newspaperman,  it was my mother who introduced me to reading novels which put the idea in my head that I wanted to write. I never really wrote the way I had imagined, but having worked as a newspaper reporter myself and now doing this blogging thing, I’m still at it. And I still like to read novels (and try to write on some of my own from time to time).

Mom has always been an adventurer. She often talked dad into taking the family on weekend drives to interesting places and had input on where we would vacation. She has always been interested in people, not as a hobnobber, but as an observer of characters and of eccentricities and of ethnic customs. Late in life I think she discovered a talent for writing herself, but it came a little too late perhaps, with no time to polish her technique and not in time to beat her failing eyesight. But she still listens to recorded books.

And mom had a major influence on me in my interest in current events and politics. She has always kept abreast of the news, and although I proclaim myself to be middle of the road in politics, she proudly proclaims herself to be “a bleeding heart liberal”.

And she disdains the notion that there is anything good or noble about poverty or that things were really simple and fun during the Great Depression. “It was terrible”, she will tell you.

Mom has her opinions and is apt to spout them off to anyone at any time. She can be blunt.

My favorite example is the time fairly early in my marriage when my wife and I were looking at a duplex to rent and had taken mom along with us. The prospective landlady was showing us the kitchen stove which to my eye seemed clean, but the landlady saw a couple of smudges and did that little tsk tsk thing and criticized the previous tenant, to which my mother responded:

“Maybe you’re just too picky!”.

We didn’t get that duplex.

All the time I grew up mom cooked and cleaned and did the wash and the grocery shopping for her family. She never worked outside the home during my growing up time except seasonally for peach and prune harvests when I was in high school.

Mom often wished that she had an occupation other than housewife so she could contribute more to the family (and I suppose get outside the house). Personally I think she had the right occupation and did it well. And I’m glad she is still here today and doesn’t have to clean house anymore.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!!!!!