Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mother's Spirit of Service

My mother died in 1988 at the age of 72. Since Mother’s day is this Sunday, I thought I’d write about how she taught me about service.

Mother was a great conversationalist and a spellbinding storyteller. She was careful to teach me the little unwritten social ‘dos’ of the mid-twentieth century: never wear blue and green together, no white shoes between September and May, don't eat the lettuce garnish under the chicken salad. And, when my brother or I had been disobedient or sassy, she could give a tongue lashing that would flay the soul and make us vow NEVER to do that again. You would think that with those verbal skills, she would have explained to me that service is a necessary part of living, but I don’t remember her ever saying anything about it.

What I do remember is the procession of people in need that she brought home to stay with us. We were living in Page, Arizona at the time, and she was office manager of the hospital. Page was brand new, built to house the people who worked on Glen Canyon Dam. It was eighty miles on a two-lane highway to the nearest town to the north and a hundred thirty-five miles to the nearest one to the south. With no local motel, when there was a car accident and someone ended up in the hospital, the rest of the family came to our home and stayed until they were well enough and had transportation to leave. We made some really good friends that way.

At Christmas time, Mother would find a child that needed clothes and spend the month of December making sure that child had a new outfit from the skin out. She called it ‘dressing a living doll.’

She and Dad went to Afghanistan in 1965, and while there she worked for the Agency for International Development (AID) managing a small hotel and restaurant that catered to the American contingent and visiting diplomats. She had fifteen Afghan men that worked for her, and she became very involved in their lives. In her letters home, I could see the same pattern of her reaching out to the less fortunate. I don’t have room here to recount some of her stories, but you can click here
and scroll down to the March 10th entry about the Big Time Contractor to hear her tell how she reached out to a ragged little boy.

Mother and Dad came home in 1970, and I remember the day we got the news about Russia invading Afghanistan. The color drained from her face, and she whispered, “Those Russians don’t know what they’re in for. The Afghans are a fierce people, and they will never give up.” She worried about ‘her boys’ and prayed for them for the rest of her life.

When she was in her late sixties, she read in the paper about how the county was needing volunteers to help senior citizens be able to stay in their homes, so she signed up to drive halfway across the county and clean an elderly lady’s home. She and my father made the weekly jaunt, and after he died, she went and did the chores alone until the Hodgkin’s Lymphoma she was fighting got the upper hand, and she had to quit.

Her spirit of service lives on in our family in an interesting way. But that’s a story for another day.

Return to the Neighborhood


Anne Bradshaw said...

This is a beautiful tribute to your mother, Liz. What a lovely lady. Thanks for sharing.

Kari Pike said...

I wish i could have known your mother, Liz. But then, I suspect that as i get to know you I have a pretty good idea what she was like. In the next life, I hope you will introduce us.

My uncle worked for US AID for many years. He adopted a baby girl while he worked in India. He also worked for AID in Peru, Kenya, and the Phillipines. He, too, has some fascinating storied to tell.