Sunday, May 8, 2011

My mountain mamas

In case you didn't know it, West Virginia is the home of Mother's Day.  (So you can direct any complaints to Anna Jarvis, Grafton, WV 26354...or better yet, to the Hallmark corporation.)

On this Mother's Day, however, I want to pay tribute to a couple of other West Virginia mothers:  my grandmother, Wilma Maude (Crow) Toothman, and my mother, Joyce Alley (Toothman) Hathaway.   OK, so they're both natives of southwest Pennsylvania--but both spent big chunks of their lives in West Virginia.

Here's a picture of me with the two of them a few months after I was born--the date on the photo is November 1965:

These are the two smartest women I've ever known.

My grandmother met my grandfather on the lawn in front of Woodburn Hall here at West Virginia University where both were doing graduate work, and the two of them embarked on a life together that was shaped by education:  they lived in Ohio while my grandfather earned his PhD at the University of Cincinnati; in southwestern West Virginia while he taught at Morris Harvey College; and eventually settled in Athens, WV, where he taught at Concord College.

My grandmother, meanwhile, finished up her master's in education at Columbia University and worked as a teacher in the coalfield town of Matoaka, west of Athens.  Decades later, her former students would still ask after "Miz Toothman."  She was a born teacher.

My mom and dad also met as graduate students at WVU, and then moved to Columbus when my dad took a job with the Franklin County schools.  My mom subbed around in the Columbus City Schools until she got a job teaching at Capital University.  After several years at Cap, she went back to school at Ohio State, earning her PhD in English about the time I started high school.

How she did all of that while raising four children and teaching four classes a semester I'll never understand.  I remember with great pride my Dad photographing her in the backyard after the ceremony, wearing her full academic regalia.

When I earned my PhD in 1998, she passed her gown down to me.  It is the best heirloom I can think of.

So today, I want to thank my mom for putting up with my shenanigans...

...and always being there for me to lean on.

Me, mom, and my big sister Pam (who really is a WV native), circa 1970.

This winter, I often tied a dishtowel around my neck before breakfast so I wouldn't spill anything on my nice clothes, just as my mom tied a dishtowel around my neck whenever I came home for lunch in elementary school.

And recently, while balancing my checkbook, I thought about how uncomplainingly my parents bought me Nancy Drew books and paid for piano lessons, voice lessons, acting lessons, tennis lessons, and who-knows-what-other stuff I wanted to do.  I was spoiled rotten.  It's a shame all kids can't be spoiled in the same ways.  What if every kid could pursue whatever opportunities or passions cropped up for them, without boundaries?  I was profoundly lucky.  And I am profoundly grateful.

So thanks, Mom, for being brilliant, and beautiful...

...and strong.

You're my inspiration.


Christy said...

A beautiful tribute! I hope your mother has seen the piece by now. She must feel equally lucky to have you as a daughter.

Jane said...

What a great lineage you have for who you are now.

I think you should interview your mom, about her mother and about her own path.