I’ve mentioned Grace, my mom, in quite a few stories because she’s central to the life I’ve been so fortunate to lead – and how deeply appreciative I am – but she deserves her own story. What a force she has been working her child-rearing magic (really just common sense) as a stay-at-home mom. ”Kids are born fine, just don’t wreck them,” she says. Yes, she kept the Dr. Benjamin Spock book on child rearing right next to the telephone, but she claims whenever she consulted the book it only provided verification that using common sense was all it took. She was much more than just a common-sense mom to five kids – she had her own life too. Re-telling a few Grace stories shows she would have done fine balancing in a career as well, but like most moms in the 50s she didn’t have to work outside the home.
I doubt she’d have been a truck driver. When I was 6, Murph 4, Maggie 1 and Freddie on the way, she took us to the doctor’s office. It was 1956 and the earliest segments of the interstate highway system were under construction, including I-294, the beltway around Chicago. As we were making our way through the construction zone, one of those big Caterpillar road graders with 10 foot high tires was bearing down on us and Grace thought the worker waving the red flag was telling her “Speed it up lady!” Whew . . . that was a close call. When we got back home she parked the car and never drove again, although she kept renewing her license just in case. Years later she got a plaque from the Illinois Secretary of State for being such a great driver – 30 years no tickets, no accidents.
Maybe she would have been a brick mason. About this last time she drove a car, a load of flagstones was delivered to the front of our house as Grace was terracing the back yard to make a rose garden. The new house being built next door was just about finished. The roofer saw Grace, big-time pregnant, lugging a flagstone to the backyard and insisted she put it down so he could come carry it. Grace protested and protested because then he’d see there were 100 more he’d feel obliged to lug. When he came off the roof and saw the whole picture, he said, “Oh boy, and they say our Black women are strong!” Grace, in fact, could beat all my friends in arm wrestling all the way through high school.
Besides raising us, her passion was gardening. Still is to this day. She’s 93, living independently on 3 acres, with a brook, a pond, a woods and a garden. She raised us with a healthy life-style, home grown vegetables, no fast-food meals, no soft drinks, liver once a week, and so on. Most important, she raised us to be independent and not feel like we had to fit-in (keep up with the Jones). So, for example, although it seemed peculiar to all the neighbors, and even to us kids, every January we dutifully dragged home all the neighbors discarded Xmas trees so we could have a fragrant pine-needle gravel driveway rather than an asphalt one. And we were the only kids in town who had to pick dandelion leaves for our salad. Didn’t have friends wearing hand-me-downs. Plus, of course, as you have read, we had no TV and we weren’t allowed to go to the movies.
Tomorrow: A Typical Day Growing-Up