It’s my Mom’s birthday — and International Women’s Day: coincidence?
You believe what you want to believe. Me, I know what I know. Mom may never have called herself a feminist but she gave me a strong role model for women, and I am forever grateful for that.
Raised in a large family in rural West Texas, she excelled as a scholar, graduating as her class valedictorian. When her fianceé told she didn’t need to go off to college for a degree since he had a good job — she broke the engagement and left for Austin and the University (University of Texas, but known simply then as “The University”).
She worked her way through college with a job at the Athletic Office. Among her ticketing duties, she handed out tickets to the student athletes, including one young football player by the name of Tom Landry, future Dallas Cowboys coach. When I asked her about him once, she said, “Yes — I remember him. Skinny fellow.”
She got her Bachelor’s of Journalism and a job at a small magazine published in San Antonio, Sunrise. But she quit shortly thereafter, explaining later the editor really wanted a secretary, not a journalist or writer. So she went back to UT to work in Athletic Office.
Somewhere in there, she met my dad. As I heard it though, first she met his mom, my Granny Tilly, while they lived in the same boarding house. Anyway, in 1949, they got married. My dad, ever the romantic, apparently phrased it as “Why don’t we get hitched over Labor Day?” It worked.
For several years then, they lived in a mobile trailer, traipsing about Texas and southeast Louisiana, with my dad working on seismic crews exploring for oil and gas while mom gave birth to my brother, Scott, in 1951 up in Nocona and then, me in 1954 in Austin. My baby book lists 9 places I lived before we bought a house in the new suburbs of west Houston when I was 2.
Then my baby brother Brian Craig was born in 1957 — and died two days later. Mom experienced placenta previa and the cord wrapped around Brian Craig’s neck, leaving him anoxic and dying, and mom hemorrhaged horribly, nearly dying herself.
I would be over 40 before I could fully comprehend how hard that shook my parents. I do recall blurting out “Where’s the baby?” when Dad brought Mom from the hospital. No doubt someone had tried to tell me what had happened, but I was only 3 and they’d been telling me for weeks that Mom would bring the baby home from the hospital. So I asked.
And I recall watching my father nearly collapse, turning to put his fists down on a table to steady himself as his whole body, heart and soul sank inward. He was never an emotionally expressive man, but that image has always stayed with me, and it shakes me to this day.
Time passes. Grief rises and falls and ebbs a little over time. Mom went to work in a school office for a couple of years, then headed back to school to get a teaching degree. With her Master’s in Education, she looked for work. Knowing schools only hired 1 journalism teacher but lots of math teachers, she decided to forego her first love and teach math.
About that time, our school district was experiencing a surge in Vietnamese refugees, and she got known for her excellence in working with English Second Language high school students.
She also was one of the earliest educators working with computers, specifically the Apple II-e. When she retired from the classroom, she continued to tutor kids and consulted with other teachers about using these newfangled computers in their work.
Along the way, she got deeply involved in the American Association of University Women, an organization dedicated to opening more educational opportunities for young women. She put those famous math skills to work as Treasurer and proudly volunteered her time to help in this effort.
When Granny Tilly needed more constant support (she lived alone in her boarding house until she was in her 60s), my folks moved her into their house, and my mom easily segued into her new role as caregiver. She would take this role again as my father faded away physically due to the emphysema engendered by his lifelong smoking habit.
Mom came from a large family and welcomed family and friends to the “Buller Hotel” there in West Houston. Thanksgiving dinners (after we stopped going to the UT-A&M football game annually, our real family Thanksgiving tradition as I grew up!) always had room for one more. That proved to be good luck for me when Sara joined our table in 1989 and we got married six weeks later. But I’ve already told that story.
Mom’s gone a dozen years now. It startles some people when I say I don’t miss her. But you have to understand — I don’t miss her because now I have her with me constantly. There is no physical separation of time or space. She is in me in every move I make. I feel her presence always, and, in some ways, more intensely than I did when she was still alive. Nothing can take her from me now.
So you may think it’s just a coincidence that International Women’s Day falls on my mom’s birthday.
I know what I know.
Love you, Mom!