Long plane trips between continents…learning how to manage life in Addis Ababa and then in the countryside where (at first) water arrived at our house on the backs of donkeys and cooking was done on and in a wood-burning stove…landing on the hot savannah and standing under the wing of an airplane for shade…creeping up the mountain road squashed together in a lumpy, bumpy Jeep…creating school in a bedroom…like all kids, I never questioned the elements of my childhood. These things were what families did. They were what MY family did.
It wasn’t until much later, when I was working on my book JANE KURTZ AND YOU, that I even thought to ask my mom how all of those adventures felt to her.
“What was that first trip like?” I asked. “You’d never even been outside the country before and here you were with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a one-year-old taking a ship and then airplanes all the way to Ethiopia.”
She said that the airlines gave her a questionnaire to fill out because they wanted to encourage more families to travel. What did she suggest? “A bigger size of diaper.”
She handled each adventure with calm practicality–living in a house with a grass roof and a pole in the middle of the living room–having more babies–figuring out how to bake bread with flour milled down the path at the waterfall. Adventure after adventure. She wrestled solutions out and never stopped making puns and wry, truthful comments along the way.
But why not? She grew up in a world of clothes made from feed sacks and unending hard work and poverty. She left home at fourteen so she could finish high school and eventually go to college. She always knew life wasn’t going to hand her any smooth, clean solutions to any of her dilemmas. Her younger sister in this photo looks dreamy. My mom looks wary–and ready for anything. Not easily swayed. Not easily bowled over.
She passed on that tough survivor spirit and gave her children lives of adventure, conversation, laughter, and books.
I’m surrounded these days by more moms making tough, practical choices, including my students in the Vermont College MFA program determined to have artistic lives in the middle of domestic demands or including the moms out there raising money for Ethiopia Reads so that all mothers’ kids will have a shot at education and dreams, including the Ethiopian moms I’ve seen–like this one–determined and hopeful in spite of tough and terrible odds.
Thanks, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.