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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

Tulips 2006 for Gran ellengwallace's Tulips 2006 for Gran photoset

Sunday, May 14, 2006

What I learned from my mother

Happy Mother's Day, Florence Wallace!

Orange tulips blooming in my Swiss garden today: for Florence Wallace

My mother, Florence Wallace, with her father, RA Lonergan, 1966, I think

My mother is 94 years old, living in a home in Kansas City. I can't get there to see her, but I know the staff in the home often find her witty and fun, even though her memory is weak and she has bad spells that cause difficult times for her and everyone around her.

I hope that one or two of the staff will find their way here and take a minute to read a little bit about Florence, the old lady in the chair. She spent so many years breathing life into her philosophy that one of the best things you can teach children is that life is always worth living. Teach them to believe in themselves, and respect and consideration for others will follow: these are the grains of hope and peace we are all born with but that need to be nourished.

When I was growing up I saw my mother as the guardian of the moral code. My father might have given us a strong example of morality that we could study, but my mother was the one who often chased us to observe the code. She was a great believer in modesty, for example, at a time when it was not exactly fashionable. My last week of high school I decided to shorten my school uniform skirt so that it ended just below the top of my legs. It was gray wool, pleated, and must have looked very peculiar that short, barely covering a short me, but I didn't care - Twiggy and mini-skirts, that was the look I was after. My mother, without a word, retrieved the wool strip and stayed up all night stitching the chopped skirt together again.

A year or two later I went to Chicago to see the musical Hair with my college boyfriend and we watched long-haired people without clothes leaping and dancing and singing for two hours. The concert hall had a distinct smell of marijuana. Not long afterwards I discovered that my mother, finding a swimming suit of mine that I certainly didn't consider risqué, decided to sew a bit of lace to the top, to my horror. Definitely not fashionable.

My father was an extraordinarily honest person, and from him I inherited a strong sense of indignation when others take the lazy path of dishonesty. But from my mother I learned not to let indignation tip over into righteousness and zealousness: she could be scathing if we forgot to look at things from the other person's point of view. Ambition, she believed, needed to be tempered or it would lead to self-centeredness. When I rushed around too much, trying to do to much, she would chide me to take time to smell the flowers.

In my late twenties I came across a photo of my mother, beautiful and coquettish, sporting a snappy cap at a sharp angle, with my father, dashing and handsome. I realized they must have been younger than I was, looking at that photo, and for the first time I really studied this woman in the picture, not as my mother but as a young woman filled with hopes and dreams.

Columbine, blooming in my Swiss garden today: for Florence

She has had a mostly good life, with a husband who was a good man, four daughters who all turned out well, grandchildren, financial and physical comfort for most of her life. She has also had hard times - she lost her first baby when he was three months old, her husband fought in the Pacific for two years during the second world war while she managed alone in a small town in Iowa with two very small children. Her two brothers died too young and her baby sister disappeared behind Alzheimers before she was 70, dying two years later. Bob Wallace, her husband, died 12 years ago, leaving her a widow to grow old alone.

Florence has always kept looking ahead, focusing on all the things she wanted to do. She took up painting when she was about 70 and pursued it with energy. She still enjoys the occasional art class at her home, and critiquing the paintings of others.

If I learned anything from her it is this: don't let your life be defined by loss, don't let it be determined by the past. It is what you make it. To hope is to embrace the possible.

What a wonderful thing, that she was able to teach children how to do this!


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