It’s Women’s History Month; a time when we celebrate the progress, influence, and contributions women have made and continue to make in society. It’s kinda funny to me that we have to set a month aside each year in order to pause and recognize what women do and what they have done in history, rather than celebrating those accomplishments every day. I mean, just look around and it’s amazing all of the incredible things women are able to do, to share, to teach, and to create.
But I never realized just how much I learned from the most important woman in my life — my mom. And how much she did, how much she shared, how much she taught me growing up…until she was gone; and I couldn’t tell her.
People talk about hearing their mother’s voice in the words they find themselves repeating. Funny phrases. Directives to their kids. A discussion with their spouse. They laugh upon realizing that some of their vocal tone, actions, body language, and even reactions are things they saw or heard from their mother, and that they swore they would never say or do. There are so many things I find myself doing, and at times, stop and realize I’m doing them a certain way because it was the way my mama taught me. Or it was something I observed her doing.
Being one of six kids, I often shake my head in amazement that mom had the time, the energy, and the mental stability to raise all of us; and to do a pretty good job of it, I must say. Of course she had challenges, and I’m sure if she was still here she would talk about the things she might have said or done differently. But as I look back at the woman who married young, had two kids more than she and my dad had intended, and was twice forced to become a single parent for a year while my dad served two tours of duty in Vietnam, it is a wonder how she managed to keep it all together; to keep us all together.
One of the things that impressed me about my mom was how she was able to take care of her family on the low pay soldier’s salary my dad made. Even today, there’s much that can be said about the low salaries of our military, but back in the 1960s and 70s, it was even worst; especially for enlisted members. So retirement wasn’t much better. But in spite of that, we never went to bed hungry; never spent a night on the streets; and when it came down to it, we never went without the things we needed.
We shopped at Sears and other discount stores; always had shoes on her feet; wore clothes that were handed down; and while we may not have been the most fashionable bunch, mom often found a way to splurge on us for special events, like attending a concert or the middle and junior high school dance.
She had a way with making money work for her.
Growing up, I didn’t just watch my mom clip coupons. She made us cut them from all of the coupon fliers in the Sunday newspaper each week, and the numerous Army base magazines she picked up from the Commissary. I may have been too young to fully understand the value of a dollar back then, but I will never forget the value of the savings and her ability to stretch the dollars in order to regularly provide for our family. It’s a practice that I have replicated to keep me afloat during some financially challenging times.
Having been raised to live within my means; to not be embarrassed to shop at discount stores; and not worry about not making fashion statements; or to let pride keep me from making wise decisions about purchases and savings, it was an easier transition for me to re-adjust my lifestyle in my adult years, when after years of upward financial mobility, I was dealt an unexpected change in my job and financial stability. It was the lessons I learned from my mother that helped me to get through that time in my life.
My mom had such wisdom about her, even in her younger years. The youngest in her own family, with sisters who were much older, it is a wonder how she picked up on so much. I used to ask her about things, like where she learned about keeping a budget. She would say, “some things you’re just forced into learning how to do.” I guess that’s part of what made her generation so much different than ours. They worked hard for the things they needed; and put off many of the things they wanted, if it didn’t fit into the budget. We, on the other hand, work hard to surround ourselves with things we just want, seldom allowing patience and planning to direct our steps towards having them; even if it means going into debt.
So when I think about the purpose of celebrating women’s history month, and as I’m thinking about the woman who had the biggest influence on my life, I can say without hesitation that it was definitely my mom.