Written early this summer when I began thinking about some of the family stories and how we can preserve them. I hope you find this a bit interesting.
Mom was born on April 25, 1931. She was not the first child born of her parents; she was the second. The first was a son, but he died before she was born. I know this because every Memorial Day we drove to the Millersburg Cemetery and lay flowers on the graves. Her brother’s was one of them, and this cemetery records her birth mother’s family.
Maybe thinking about Mom’s birthday and the cemetery is not logical, but when talking about family the trips to the cemetery kept me connected to the generations before me. These were Mom’s people and very few of them did I meet except at their headstones. There I learned when they were born, when they died, sometimes who and when they married, and most importantly their stories.
Mom was born at the beginning of the depression. Her earliest memories of her mother are almost non-existent as she died when Mom was only two and a half. Yet there was a memory that Mom repeated to me many times.
On the Christmas before Mom turned three, so that must have been 1933, her mother called her into the kitchen where all her sisters were gathered. She asked mom who she would like to have be a mommy if she could not.
Only two years old and your mother asks which aunt you wanted for a mommy. I always marveled at that story, but the story does not end during that Christmas celebration. The story ends a few weeks later when Annie died of double-quick pneumonia—at least that is the diagnosis that was handed down through the years.
Mom was suddenly living with a young widower who had now lost not only his first-born son, but his wife, too. Grandpa Worsham, during the depression, had a toddler daughter to raise and a home to maintain. Mom did not share very much about that time, but she did have a day-care provider who lived across the street.
Mom’s story, which began on April 25, 1931, was not filled with lots of joyful, childhood memories. She spent her days with Fannie and Papa. She could not pick and choose the life she wanted. She did not have the wealth so many kids have today. At two years of age, she already lived in a broken family unit.
All conventions of American culture during the 1930s were not as dramatic as those portrayed in Hemingway novels or historical reports, but the convention of raising a family during that era did call for two parents—one to make a living and one to take care of the family and home.
Shortly after Annie’s death, Grandpa asked Fannie and Papa’s daughter Grace to marry him. She was a couple years older and had been living and working in Florida. Now Mom was a stepchild. She now had a step-mom. The conventional American family was re-created.
Mom’s birthday began the life journey of a little girl who faced loss and family changes that today are red flags to social workers and educators who see how important family dynamics are in the development process.
April 25, 1931: a very special day in my history and in the history of my family. Mom defied the odds of living in a non-traditional family. She did have a brother who was born five years after she was. She did graduate from high school and even entered college—for a short time.
This birthday is one of the holidays I celebrate because it is the birth of a remarkable mother who provided a model of Christian living. She was a model of the parent who valued education, who encouraged being independent, who taught lessons about nature, who cried, who broke but healed, who loved.
This birthday is a holiday because she knew that loving one another was the simplest way to live. She knew that loving even your enemies was better than hating. She knew that all young people needed love and teaching. And she lived her love.
Mom’s birthday was April 25, but mine is April 24. I was born the day before she turned 23. And my brother was born April 30 just two years later. We certainly interrupted her birthday celebration, but she made us know that we were the best birthday gifts she ever had.
Mom’s legacy is one for the generations to know, even if they did not get to know her personally. Her life is a model worthy of note for any young person, but maybe even better for those who feel threatened by loss in their own life.
The stories Mom shared with me may not match others, but for me they hold lessons to preserve. Probably the most important one is to learn who you are and then stay true to who you are.
Mom did not have everything given to her; she was a stepchild. She did not get to finish college, instead she went to work as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse on an emergency teaching certificate—there were not enough teachers during the Korean Conflict.
Teaching was a joy for her, but meeting Dad ended her teaching career. When she married him on June 7, 1953, she changed roles to that of a farmer’s wife. She wanted lots of kids, but she had just two.
And even though she gave up her classroom, she never quit teaching. My brother and I were the students, but when we were in college, she worked with young people through the church’s youth group and through 4-H. The community knew her and trusted their kids to her in all different ways.
Mom’s birthday serves as an annual reminder that loving one another develops character than is unforgettable. Loving one another is a lifestyle, but it shines through family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers who feel touched by that agape love.
For most of us, our birthday is just a quiet day for us to mark off another year along our life journey. For me, April 25 is a day to celebrate Mom’s life even though she died July 19, 1991, because she is what I hope to be when I celebrate my birthday.