TERRE HAUTE —
To her utter bewilderment (and not without a smidge of irritation), my mother marks her 80th birthday today.
A woman typical of her generation — the Americans Tom Brokaw dubbed our “greatest” — Mom has spent most of her life calling the shots, being in control, directing traffic, laying down the law, making the plans and being The Fixer for everyone, from her husband, kids and grandkids to her neighbors, coworkers and the lost souls who made their way to her door or crossed her path in a supermarket parking lot.
If Mom ever stopped long enough over the decades to picture herself at 80, it sure as hell was not with a cane, a bent spine, a shoe box full of medications, 24/7 aches and pains, and an infuriating gulf between what she wants to do and what she can do with the gas in her reserve tank.
She would not have seen herself as a widow, either. My dad enjoyed near-perfect health until the last year of his life, when a virulent and concealed cancer finally showed up on a bronchoscopy. He was gone five months later. Mother, on the other hand, has been attacked by and survived just about everything but a sniper’s bullet and leprosy.
Cancer. COPD. Osteoporosis. A clogged artery. Arthritis. Elevated blood sugar. Low thyroid. You name it, she’s wrestled it three falls out of five. Obviously, she was the one who was supposed to go first. Except she didn’t. (God, again, with that famous sense of humor.)
So what to do with the unlikely, illogical, disorienting phenomenon of an 80th birthday?
Ehhhh. Well, maybe … a little. But let’s not get carried away.
I look at my mother’s high school graduation photo and I can sense her ambivalence, understand why it’s so weird to wrap her mind around the notion of turning 80.
That beautiful, serious girl with the cascade of dark, wavy hair, the deep red lipstick and the pale pearls borrowed from her Aunt Onis has never ceased to exist. She’s just been eclipsed — time and again — by the wife, the mother, the Girl Scout leader, the party-thrower, the cook, the seamstress, the counselor and heart-mender, the working mom pulling down a paycheck, the businessman’s lifelong helpmate, the grandma and aunt, the laid-off Columbia Records employee, the empty-nester, the home health care worker, the retiree, the cancer survivor, the 50th wedding anniversary celebrant, the widow.
Who has time to see 80 coming when your head is down, your shoulder’s to the wheel, and there’s so much traffic to direct, so much business to take care of, so many broken things to fix?
Patty Lee Cunningham was 18 in June 1948 when she graduated from Lincoln High School in Vincennes. Six months later she was still 18 when she married my dad and traded Cunningham for Salter. Eleven months after that, only 19 years old, she had her first child. My sister came along three years later.
Mom basically spent the next half-century in fifth gear, deftly avoiding reverse and even neutral.
Too young to be an official Rosie the Riveter, Mom nevertheless started working for wages when she was still in high school, waiting tables in a luncheonette. Reflecting the economic realities of 1950s and 1960s America — not the idealized TV fantasy — my mother, in fact, worked more years “outside the home” than she didn’t.
Which is not to say somebody relieved her of all her homemaker’s duties while she logged full and overtime shifts for a paycheck. Like millions of women who weren’t June Cleaver, Mom really worked two jobs — one for money, the other for love of her husband and kids. Again, as was the case for so many women of her era, the “pay” for the in-home job was largely lip service from a culture that was full of sentimental praise for women’s work but never properly valued it, literally or figuratively.
Meanwhile, she and Dad never missed a ball game, play or other school activity that involved my sister and me. The home Mom made was so welcoming and fun, our house was a magnet for neighborhood kids and our schoolmates. So sympathetic was her ear, so palliative her advice, she served as a surrogate mother for many of Debbie’s and my lonely, troubled or just “different” friends.
When I remember Mom doing all that and more — and working night shifts at Columbia — I always think of the lyrics to Peggy Lee’s “I’m A Woman”:
TERRE HAUTE —
To her utter bewilderment (and not without a smidge of irritation), my mother marks her 80th birthday today.
Feeling carried: Filmmaker captures late uncle’s walk through illness and into ‘whatever is next’
Paul Fleschner sensed a remarkable strength as he filmed his beloved uncle one final time.
EDITORIAL: Dysfunctional relationship with schools chief doesn’t bode well for potential Pence presidency
A window to the future may be unfolding in Indiana.
Readers’ Forum: July 13, 2014
• Telling the truth about smoking
• Larger energy bills on the way, thanks to EPA
• Embrace the compassion, not self-righteousness
• Wondering about country’s leaders
• New amendments have hurt country
FLASHPOINT: EPA proposal will have little impact on environment, but could hurt coal industry
I recently signed on as an original co-sponsor to a bipartisan bill led by one of my Democrat colleagues from West Virginia that would stop the newly released Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on existing coal-generated power plants.
RONN MOTT: Troubled history in that place called Iraq
People are dying, again, in Iraq. And, again, people other than Iraqis will ultimately make the decision about what happens to this ancient land.
Editorial: The Bennett ‘settlement’
It takes a special kind of arrogance to flout ethics laws in the manner which former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has violated them. Even when he finally admitted his transgressions, he claimed he could have avoided the matter altogether had he just changed the department’s ethics policy before engaging in the troublesome conduct.
In essence, this was the old “mistakes were made” acknowledgment of wrongdoing. And the real mistake to which Bennett admits was apparently not changing the rules before he violated them. This is a truly Nixonian moment.
- Readers’ Forum: July 11, 2014
RONN MOTT: That Old Man River
I was surprised to learn the people in Cairo are now taking water taxis to avoid the traffic, the confusion and the dangers that are appearing on Cairo, Egypt’s, streets. I mean, I was surprised the people in Cairo, these native Egyptians, were surprised they could take a water taxi and get to where they wanted to go using the Nile River as a highway. So, for the Egyptians living in Cairo, everything old is brand new again.
EDITORIAL: A green idea worth pursuing
It sounds like a blue-ribbon idea.
READERS' FORUM: July 10, 2014
• Herb Faire a great success
• Appreciation for a ‘lovely angel’
• Thanks for stirring fireworks show
EDITORIAL: Be safe, be responsible
The Independence Day weekend brought a brief respite in construction work on area roadways. In particular, it provided needed relief to the congested segment of Interstate 70 in Clay County that is undergoing resurfacing this summer.
Readers’ Forum: July 9, 2014
• Don’t eliminate our six-day mail
• Zamperini death stirs memories
RONN MOTT: Black Dog
We had some excitement around our house the other day and it was not the good kind.
There was a small dog, black in color with a spiked collar on his neck, and he was the spitting image of a small Doberman. I don’t know if they have miniature Dobermans but this dog could have been a mixed breed that came out looking like a Doberman although smaller.
Readers’ Forum: July 8, 2014
• T-S ignores common decency
• Lighten up on Donald Sterling
• Time to reject Dems in Congress
• Fueling the EPA
MS. TAKES: Great music is made during all generations
Number Two son tells us that his 20-year-old son has been listening to “Big Band” music with apparent enjoyment. As if that wasn’t enough of a surprise, I was talking with a young girl, barely out of her teens and she told us that she really wasn’t into rap. She said, “It isn’t really music, it’s just talk.”
Readers’ Forum: July 7, 2014
• The moral issue is major issue
Editorial: City financial health demands an open, honest discussion
Obscured by the recent rift over use of departmental funds in the city of Terre Haute’s budget are serious issues related to our city government’s overall financial health. The answers may be mired in the complexity of municipal finance, but coming to grips with the situation is important to the city’s future.
Readers’ Forum: July 6, 2014
• Coats ignoring climate science
• Do those mustache posters exist?
• Utility rate freeze took determination
• What perversion is next in line?
• Opinions vary, but voters will decide
• This preaching must stop — now
• Golf fundraiser a huge success
Flashpoint: State’s lawyer has duty to represent state in marriage lawsuit appeal
Recent federal court actions that first struck down Indiana’s statute limiting marriage to the traditional definition, and then stayed that order pending appeal, have left many in our state in legal limbo. As the attorney who represents state government and defends its laws, I know this difficult case stirs many people’s deeply held beliefs that touch their lives in very personal ways. Not since my office had to represent the state in lawsuits arising from the State Fair disaster has a dispute been so seemingly impossible to address in a way that the public would accept as being fair to all concerned.
Flashpoint: The Supreme Court decision and ‘closely held’ corporations
The much awaited Supreme Court decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby came down this week. The court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the 1993 Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) does cover “closely held” corporations, even if those corporations are for profit.
RONN MOTT: Learning more about Jefferson
During this Fourth of July weekend, I’ll be reading John Meacham’s biography of Thomas Jefferson.
EDITORIAL: Celebrate your independence
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
As eloquent and declaratory as that statement is, implementing its principles has been a decades-long pursuit for these United States of America. Our nation, it seems, is the quintessential work in progress, even though what this country has created in terms of a stable, collective society is, let’s face it, pretty darn good.
- Readers’ Forum: July 4, 2014
RONN MOTT: The Men Who Made the Country
The Fourth of July is the day we celebrate our independence from Great Britain. It reminds me of something David Ben-Gurion would say, at a much later date, about British rule: “If you have to have a master, the British are about as good at it as anybody.” Of course, we really don’t need a master.
GREG ZOELLER: State’s lawyer has duty to represent state in marriage lawsuit appeal
Recent federal court actions that first struck down Indiana’s statute limiting marriage to the traditional definition, and then stayed that order pending appeal, have left many in our state in legal limbo.
Readers’ Forum: July 3, 2014
• Over the top on immigration
FLASHPOINT: HIP 2.0 gives consumers better choices
On Wednesday, the State of Indiana submitted its proposal for the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
MIKE PENCE: HIP 2.0 gives consumers better choices
Today, the state of Indiana submitted its proposal for the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
If approved, the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 would replace traditional Medicaid for low-income, able-bodied Hoosier adults. Unlike traditional Medicaid, which is government-driven, HIP 2.0 is consumer-driven.
Editorial: Texting law serves safety
July 1 each year marks the day in Indiana when new laws take effect. But rather than focus on new laws today, let’s observe the anniversary of a law that went on the books three years ago this month — the law that barred texting while driving.
- Readers’ Forum: July 2, 2014
- More Opinion Headlines
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