It is Mother's Day. I am fortunate - I get to spend time with my wife and partner, Connie, who is one of the most dedicated mothers on the planet. I also get to see my daughter, who is in her third year of motherhood and has become a paragon of maternal virtue. But I wanted to write about my own mother today.
I scanned this old photograph of Eva Bloom Gillock I keep on the desk in my home office. She must be in her 20's in this shot, and she looks gorgeous. My mom died in 1993 (before the advent of digital photography) and I don't have that many pictures of her - she was a bit camera-shy, especially in her later years. She also missed email, the Internet, YouTube, Facebook. blogging and Twitter. I can imagine her being delighted with instant communications and revolted by the loss of privacy caused by the 'net.
On the day my mother was born, a loaf of bread cost 10 cents. "Ain't We Got Fun" was one of the more popular songs of the year. Charlie Chaplain's "The Kid" was one of the top movies. The first live radio broadcast of a baseball game occurred in 1921 (the Pittsburgh Corsairs, aka Pirates, vs. the Philadelphia Phillies). Her childhood was so radically different from the experience of today's children - it is mindboggling, really.
My mom was born in a small town in western Pennsylvania called Curwensville, the third of four children and the only daughter in the brood. Her parents, Claude and Christine Bloom, had deep roots in the little town. Her family patriarch, William Bloom. was one of the first settlers around 1800 - before Curwensville was established. At least seven of my mother's ancestors fought on the Union side during the Civil War. Claude Bloom was a pillar of the community; he ran the general store during the Great Depression and allowed hard-pressed neighbors to buy food on credit, often followed by debt forgiveness. He later served as Justice of the Peace.
Eva Bloom Gillock was feisty. As a teenager, she hung out with the "rough crowd" and started smoking cigarettes at the age of 14. She went to college in the late 1930's/early 1940's - Grove City College, a small Christian school not far from Curwensville. Not many young women went to college at that time. She moved to Cleveland and worked as a foreman in a factory, filling in for the men that went off to fight in World War II. She told her father that she wanted to enlist in the U.S. Army. He laughed and told her that she was crazy. So, of course, she enlisted, serving in the Women's Army Corps in New Guinea and the Phillippines during the war. She met my father, Albert Gillock, at a USO dance. She was an active member of the Greatest Generation.
There are lots of other interesting details to her path through life, but I don't want to blather on too much. I need to say this - she was a tower of strength. My father, may he rest in peace, was not a tremendous financial success. Once I was born, the money became quite tight, so my mom went to work in one of the few professions that welcomed women in the early 1960's - teaching. Her paycheck allowed our family to live a modest and comfortable middle-class life in a working-class Northern California suburb. She had a significant impact on the lives of quite a few Baby Boomers who passed through her classroom at Garfield School in San Leandro.
Here are some "Eva-isms:" "If you can look me in the eye and tell me you did your very best, I will be happy with you." "There is no sense in crying about it - do something!" "Nobody likes a smart-aleck." "I quit smoking because I got sick of all the nagging." "We all have to die sometime."
Eva Bloom Gillock was faithful; she took her promises seriously. "In sickness and in health" was one promise she fulfilled. As my father's health faded, my mother became his caretaker. She ignored her own needs during that time - deferred her own medical care to attend to her husband. After he passed, she went to the doctor with some complaints. She had cancer, probably brought on by her decades of cigarette smoking. The cancer took her - a damned shame, because her cardio-vascular system was in great shape and her energy level was high. She would have celebrated her 90th birthday last March. If not for the cancer, I suspect that she would have made it.
If I have any good qualities, my mother put them there. If I have any steel in my backbone, she forged it. She gave me lots of love, but she also gave me the gift of high expectations. My biggest fear was ending up a disappointment to Eva Bloom Gillock.
As I think about my own career as a parent, my successes and challenges, I measure myself against her. I lack her consistency and firmness. I let things slide a lot. Fortunately, my kids have dealt with my sloppy parenting with grace and I am very proud of all four of them. I can see some of those feisty Eva Bloom Gillock qualities in each one of them. They are lucky to have that legacy, and so am I.
Happy Mother's Day. If you mom is alive, kiss her. If your mom is gone, reflect upon her life.