After my mom died, I went through her things, figuring out what to keep, give away, or throw out. In the top drawer of bureau, there was a letter. It was sent to her when she was 19. She kept it until her death. It must have moved with her 10 or 12 times.
The letter was from my grandmother. It explained that my grandmother would not be paying for anymore college because my mom wasn’t listening to her. She was wild and unruly. She smoked. The thing that stood out was that at the end of the list of all of the reasons my mom wasn’t a good girl was the statement that my mom was beautiful, and if she could just keep her mouth shut, she could attract a good man.
When I went to school, my mom went back to college. She took one class a semester. On days I was home sick, I went to class with her. It was deadly boring a lot of time, but she stuck with it. She was in the program so long that they kept changing requirements, and she had to retake her computer class because they had moved away from punch cards. (One of my terrible childhood moments was that I added extra punches to some of her cards and took others out of order to draw on them. My poor mom.)
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting when I was 12 years old. She got her CPA. It was terribly hard for her. Mom wasn’t the kind of person who wanted to sit and study. She was a woman of action at all times. Still, she got through.
She had been out of the workforce for many years. Being my mom didn’t count as a job although I can think of nothing harder. She finally got a job at the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC). She wasn’t a stereotypical accountant. She spoke up a lot. She could move the numbers, but she loved the names. She worked on defined benefit plans– plans where participants had been promised a certain pension. Often, companies went under and hadn’t funded their plans. The PBGC guaranteed the plans, but they paid a small fraction of what had been promised. Mom told me that they tried to find the money, and the more money they found, the more the participants got. She loved finding the money. She was restless. She spoke up. People tried to intimidate her, but my mom wasn’t someone who was intimidated. She would get angry. She found the money. Every single time I visited her office, there were flowers from someone thanking her. She made people’s lives better.
I still have my grandmother’s letter. It is part of my mom I didn’t know during her lifetime. What I did know was she always spoke up for me. When I wanted to take a science class, she made sure it happened. When I was told I couldn’t be a scientist she told me how ridiculous it was and pointed out that only the insecure say such things. She went to every parent’s weekend in college and tried every hands on activity in every department. (She said oceanography was always the most fun.)
She spoke up for me. She spoke up for a lot of people who needed a voice. I miss her voice, but I can still hear her. I better get back to work.