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Time is a mother

For people my age, having a mother to celebrate on Mother’s Day may be only a memory. Finding the perfect Hallmark card and appropriate flowers, only a memory. I do not intend to diminish recall by using the word “only.” I hope to enhance it.

Like you perhaps, today I am tenderly reflecting on my mother’s generous heart, kind manner and ever-present joyful embrace of the day that gave her the special attention that should have been bestowed more frequently throughout the year.

My mother, Adeline, was a product of the rural Midwest, a Lutheran minister’s daughter. She graduated from college at a time when women didn’t usually attend college. In the 1930s she became a “stenographer,” a term she used with pride. Then she turned to teaching, which she also took pride in doing well, at small prairie schools in the Dakotas.

Late in her life, her tiny stature — and the pronounced rounding of her back due to osteoporosis — did not create the image of a U.S. Marine Corps staff sergeant. But, in addition to her career in business and education, for three years at the end of WW II, that’s exactly what she was. My mother, the Marine.

I am fortunate to have known many mothers in my life. Over the decades, I’ve had two mother’s-in-law, Marcella and Annabelle. Both were strong women who led lives of quiet accomplishment. One of them always referred to me as “a peach,” even when her son, my husband, may have thought otherwise.

My maiden aunt, my father’s twin sister and my godmother, was feisty. She was not a Marine, but she was a force.

I think of mothering when I think of my beautiful English-accented friend, Shiena, who died in recently. She treated me like her daughter. She too was a force.

My daughter, Jenna, is a mother now. A very good one, by all observations. Rather like her grandmother. My stepdaughter, Elisabeth, is a mother as well — more in the feisty and formidable category. Her daughter, our trail-breaking oldest granddaughter, Sydney, would like to be a mother.

This past week, I received an early Mother’s Day greeting from my former daughter-in-law whose own mother is dealing with cancer and who mothers our two teenage granddaughters with thoughtfulness. May the force be with them all.

In reflecting on Mother’s Day and how to acknowledge it, I came upon the recently published book “Time is a Mother,” a poetry collection by Ocean Vuong, a Vietnamese-American author and poet. The book was written in the aftermath of his mother’s death. It follows the theme in his debut novel, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.” As one reviewer put it, “this author deals with the way the passage of time impacts relationships between people, both sad and happy, violent and gentle.”

I have ordered one or both of these books as gifts for the aforementioned mothers, and would-be mother. If you know the author and his work, you recognize these are slightly risky gifts. They require you to look at all sides of the mothering experience. They prompt focused reflection. I have only begun to realize the power of reflection.

Sharon Johnson is a retired educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.