by F. Susan Harrison, 04/18/2020, Northport, MI
My mother was born in 1901. She was valedictorian of her Plymouth High School senior class and hoped to continue her education at university. Her father saw no usefulness in that and squelched her dreams. He was a farmer, an immigrant from England, and used to valuing things for their practicality, plus, it was 1919 and money wasn’t available for such an indulgence. She rebelled and went to work selling cosmetics with a girlfriend in Detroit. She then married young and had two daughters but her husband was an alcoholic and she kicked him out when my half-sisters were still young. She married a second time in her forties, to a man 18 years her senior; shortly thereafter my story commenced.
Our life as a family unit didn’t last long. My older (by 18 months) sister and I were six and five when my loving father died in 1949. He was only 66. He had been a bachelor before marrying my mother. I often joke that at his age to all-of-a-sudden become a husband and father of two young girls and surrogate father to one of my half-sisters was what probably killed him.
My mother had to persevere, as she did all her life. She lived through two world wars and outlived two husbands. She raised four girls. She worked as a secretary and then as an office supervisor. She owned four homes, selling and buying another; four different ones through my high school years. In her spare time she got her real estate license. She gardeded and sewed our clothes and taught us to sew our own, including my wedding dress.
Mother had learned during the war to save and not waste anything. That didn’t stop her from doing all she could to provide for her daughters and encourage their dreams. Her dream of a university education became reality for my sister and me, as well as trips to see other parts of the United States that we could reach by car during her two-week vacations: New York, New England, Washington, D.C., Williamsburg, the Appalachians, Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where I later realized she had honeymooned with my father. She always bargained for the lowest motel rates and we dined on her delicious fried chicken on the first leg of the drive. Along the way we read Burma Shave signs, were grilled on spelling and learned about geography and history. Then, as teenagers, she sent the two of us separately to Europe as summer Exchange students.
I’m not sure we realized and appreciated back then what a good and exceptional mother she was but we learned from her. I always look for sales. We stock up on essentials without hoarding. We try to value what we learned from her during the good and the stressful time. She was a good mother.