I Am Because She Lived

In the year 1926, a baby was born who would come to be known as Mom.  She was given a name that would be forever misspelled and mispronounced…Le Ella Belle.  This was my mother.  She was raised outside a small Nebraska town on a farm with her mom, dad, sister, and brother.  She was the oldest of the three children.  And it wasn’t long before she had sailed through her school lessons and become the teacher herself.

She started teaching school in a one-room schoolhouse because being a schoolteacher was of course a proper job for a woman.  As for my mother, she had bigger dreams.  She wanted to become a nurse.  As the story goes, she was met with resistance from her father.  He had very strong feelings about how “nice girls” would never go into a profession like that and do the things that nurses would have to do.  But my mom had a mind of her own.  And when she got something in her head it was really hard to change her mind.  Saving what she could during her years teaching school, she finally had enough of her own money to pay for her nursing education.  Off she went to South Dakota to make her dream come true.  She received her training from Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton, SD where she earned her RN degree.

In between her studies in Yankton, she met the man who would become her husband and the father of her four children, my dad.  Together they would create a home where their children would be raised with love.

When my mom passed away eleven years ago, I was running an errand with my dad to pick up some things for her funeral.  He was chatting with the salesclerk who was expressing her condolences.  Dad pulled out his wallet and showed her mom's picture and said, "this is my wife".  And this is the photo that he showed...

That was one of the sweetest moments I have ever witnessed.  In my dad's eyes his wife was still the nursing student he had met all those years ago.

I have often thought of my mother as being a woman ahead of her time.  In so many ways she was so independent and showed such courage.  In the 1940’s, it was a rare occurrence that a woman would defy her father and find a way to make her dream come true?  She left home without his approval and paid for her education all on her own. In the end, her father was very proud of her and her choice to become a nurse.  I see my mom as taking an active role in the evolution of women’s rights whether that was her intention or not.

Growing up I can remember my mom coming for visits to my classroom.  She would make one visit each year.  It was always such a special day for me.  Not only did it make me feel special because she was taking time out of her day to come and observe how I was doing in school. But it was also so awesome to be able to tell my classmates that she was my mom.  I was so proud.

There was one school conference where I was graded less than average on the neatness of my written paperwork.  My pages were always smudged from the pencil.  After my teacher explained how we would practice our writing skills in class, they then had me show them how I would write.  My mother immediately spoke up and said, “well, she’s holding her paper wrong”.  I was a leftie. And sure enough, being a rules follower, I would be holding my paper the way the class was told to hold it.  For parents of left-handed children, this does not lend itself to clean paperwork.  While everyone else had their paper tilted to the left, I needed to be tilting mine to the right and readjusting the grip on my pencil to accommodate.  After that conference, my mom would get me started each night for what seemed like hours (it was probably 10 minutes at the most) practicing my handwriting holding my paper and pencil in the correct position until it became second nature to me.  And to this day, I pride myself on my penmanship.  And I love trying my hand at calligraphy and italic letter writing.

My mother was also quite good at pulling teachable moments out of thin air. If the opportunity arose, we were learning something new.  And the best part was she made it fun. Both mom and dad were exceptional in this area. It was an upbringing filled with discovery; with opportunities to learn about the world that we live in, ways to be kind to others, and so much more.

Mom was always very active in our church. Her faith in God was very dear to her.  She taught Sunday School, was in Bible studies, ladies Circle, and later taught the Bethel Series – which is a two-year program where you learn about every book of the bible. This series fascinated me.  Every week’s lesson came with a full-page colored picture that had to do with that week.  These pictures captured my attention, and I can remember talking about them with mom as she was preparing her lesson.  Decades later, I had the opportunity to go through the same program in my own church.

My mom put her education as a nurse to use several times as we kids were growing up.  She worked at the local hospital in Austin for several years. Later, she was the lead RN at an area nursing home.  She loved that work and the residents loved her.  She was highly regarded by her co-workers.

Later, when I was in college, we would have some tense moments. Me trying to find my independence.  And mom trying to let go a bit.  But we managed to get through those years without too many difficulties.  Although, there was the one time I came home for the weekend.  And like all college kids I had brought home my laundry.  I told my mother not to worry, I would take care of my dirty clothes. But you know how moms can be – on that Saturday after having had a fun day catching up with friends and hanging out, I’m sitting in the living room with my family when mom comes and stands sheepishly in the doorway and says, “oh, Becky, I’m so sorry” and she holds up my favorite pink woolen sweater that would now fit a baby doll.  She had put it in the dryer, and it had shrunk!  As I’m writing this, I’m surprised that I was not more upset at the time.  But it must have been the look of horror on my mom’s face or something and we all just busted out laughing.

As I became a more mature adult the relationship between my mom and I became a great friendship. I would even say that she was my best friend.  We would talk about everything, we were shopping buddies, and we would always have the best conversations.  Occasionally I might even get her to see things a little differently. 

She was my best chiropractic patient.  She was my biggest cheerleader. And when I started teaching for a few years in Rochester I would call her every Tuesday night as I would begin my fifty-minute commute home and we would catch up on what had been happening that week until I pulled safely into the driveway. 

Even in death, my mother was creating teachable moments.  I was able to witness what It’s like when a soul leaves this physical world, how one soul can bring people together for a common goal and how powerful love is.

This Friday would have been my mother’s 95th birthday. I think of her every day and the lessons I’ve learned from her.  She is the one who taught me to take pride in a job well done, that learning is fun, to believe in a higher power, to reach out and help others and to speak up for those who don’t have a voice, to own my mistakes, to be a good friend, to remember that you’re never too old to look at things in a new way, to find the lesson in all things, and to love.

Mom has always been there when I’ve needed her, even now. I am because she lived.

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