My Mother's China
My Mother’s China
8 February 2011
When I was putting together still another decorating idea I’d seen on cable TV (instead of typing furiously on my WIP) I started thinking. If rare, always a good thing.
I stacked the turquoise tea plates on my white china. As the lacquered sake cup hung on my fingertips to top the stack, I thought of the woman who gave me the china and the sake’ cup.
My mother. You might guess I was remembering how she taught me to be a homemaker and a decorator, a Housewife. Nope. All those, but so much more. My mother graduated from Stanford in 1947 with highest honors. For her generation, wife and homemaker was her role. And she was that.
But then she went out and became the Equal that my generation marched, demonstrated, and burned bras for. Long before a political movement sought a Constitutional amendment to make Women EQUAL, my mother was.
And she did it the hard way. My father was a Marine officer, which meant we moved often. Mother had no chance to work a network to get into a career, to break a glass ceiling, to get paid the same as a man. Instead she took her native brilliance and aced the GRE. She started a Masters program at one of the three graduate schools in the USA in 1962 that admitted women for a Masters of Library Science. She used the thirteen months my father was in Okinawa on one of the unaccompanied by family tours. My mother, sister, and I moved to Tallahassee, FL for Mother’s grad school. While Dad was away she not only handled mother and homemaker, but got that Masters in the meager year Dad was away, instead of the usual two.
While my mother worked for that Masters, for that profession, to be Equal, my sister and I witnessed a race of people doing the same. Quietly African Americans in Tallahassee sat in the front of busses and dared to enter the city library by the front door.
With the same focus and dedication, my mother got her Masters, and went on to work in several professional libraries. She taught as a visiting professor at Emory when Dad was sent to Vietnam. She was one hell of an example.
As I set that place setting, I take no credit for being the same tenacious professional as my mother. I did not choose a career like my mother’s. I elected to mostly stay at home as mother and homemaker, and writer. But that does not mean my Mother’s accomplishments were not passed on. I took my mother’s tenacity and focus, and taught my only child, my daughter, to value learning. To never give up. To believe in herself.
In my strong Yale-educated college professor daughter, I see all the tenacity of my mother. I see my daughter building an academic career she believes in. I see her handling all the roles from research and teaching to best cookie maker in the family, quietly strongly.
I set the sake’ cup on top. And stood back. My mother’s china passed down to me, and from me one day to my daughter. The place setting is beautiful and accomplished. Like the two exceptional women who are by their very essence will never be only Equal.