Over the summer of 2004, mom continued to gain her strength and energy back. She was able to start walking again around her neighborhood on Lake Austin, something that fed her soul. The past year had jolted me enough to believe mom might not be here much longer and I realized, if she were to pass on, I was not sure that I would know much about her life. I decided I wanted to know more, committing to myself that I would ask her questions on each visit.
What I did know was mom grew up as an only child, in a very small town in Indiana. Her father owned the town garage and gas station. Her mother was on the city council. Mom was born in the Chinese year of the snake, which represents the intuitive, introspective, refined and collected of the Chinese Animal Signs. Her favorite colors were purple and pink and her lucky number was two, representing duality and duplication. Mom was always ready to chart out new and undiscovered territories, jump into any new activity with enthusiasm and was fascinated by endeavors that spoke to her intellect and filled her spirit with light.
During my visits over the fall of 2004, I explored more about mom’s college years and experiences that she felt influenced her life most. What I learned was amazing but not surprising. Mom was honored with Mortar Board membership in her senior year at Indiana University. That same year, she was one of the founders of the little Indy Bicycle race, a bike race that still runs today. Quite the overachiever, as she also founded her sorority while at IU. Mom and Dad met soon after college and married a few years later. Dad’s work took them to several new places. One of those was Lubbock, Texas. I laughed out loud when mom told me one story about living in Lubbock in the ‘70’s. A generational type of story, I suppose. She shared that she had to dress up and wear a skirt to do the laundry. Mom thought this was quite extreme, but followed along nonetheless. While in Lubbock, mom helped found Mortar Board at Texas Tech University.
Mom’s most influential teacher was Maxine, her piano teacher. Mom spent ten years learning piano under this gifted teacher, starting at age nine. She spoke of Maxine as someone who provided a safe place spend time, a woman who was very spiritual, and mostly, someone who allowed mom to be herself. From an early age, I remember the calming feeling of hearing mom play piano. She could master any new music in short order and could play some music by ear. While growing up, I never quite understood how she managed to raise five girls, all close in age, while working full time and cooking us breakfast and dinner every day. She had a thirst to learn and grow and was an avid reader. When I was in eighth grade, she enrolled in a master’s program in child development, an on-the-job program that was in conjunction with where she worked at the Texas Medical Center.
Mom was a noteworthy seamstress. When I was in high school, she indulged me with my desire to design fancy dresses for formals. I had seven such dances my junior year, and each time, I would draw the type of dress I wanted, then we would chose the fabric together and she would make the dress for me, always effortlessly and so happily. Mom was a great example to me and always indulged me in my wishes and dreams.
Following graduation with her master’s degree, she became the director of the child care center, for all employees of the Texas Medical Center. Starting out in a couple of temporary trailers, mom had a dream to make it more, serve more of those in need. She convinced the medical center leadership to buy some land and build a state of the art child care center. She joined the board of National Association for the Education of Young Children and studied designs of centers and play grounds that facilitated healthy learning a development for young children. Mom developed the business case and led the design of the new center with the architects, paying attention to each meaningful detail that would make a difference in the day of a child. She led the opening of the center with hours that mirrored the needs of the medical center employees. It was the first child care center in the US to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. The center became a model for others to learn from.
In her retired years living on Lake Austin, mom explored new hobbies and talents, and increased her focus on things she loved, like spending time on the water. Her journal entry sums up things that made her heart sing: canoe rides, boat rides, playing the piano, painting with watercolors, listening to music, reading, getting a massage, sharing with her women’s group, talking to her loved ones and simple abundance. Mom was a loyal church goer and while she had a very strong faith, she also found a way to blend her spiritual beliefs with traditional Christianity. A passionate learner no matter the subject, always synthesizing seemingly unrelated topics together to help expand her beliefs.