by Nancy Lee VanDusen
I shared the following anecdote at my mother’s memorial service: “When my son Skye was twelve or thirteen years old, he said, ‘Mom, Grandma is so smart. She knows everything!’ Then he paused, wrinkled his brow and asked, ‘What happened to us?’”
My mother, an enthusiastic educator, confided in her later years that she could have climbed the professional ladder as high as she’d wanted, but simply never had the desire. I didn’t doubt her for a minute, greatly admiring her intelligence and self-confidence. She began teaching first grade the year I entered kindergarten; moved on to teach middle-school social studies and math; returned to college to obtain credentials to become a middle-school guidance counselor; ending her professional career as a high school counselor. And, I might add, a healthy number of these years she spent as vice president of her district’s teachers’ union.
My mother stood five-one, and while I’ve seen pictures of her at the ninety-eight pounds she boasted when she married, the Mom I knew was comfortably fifteen to twenty pounds over-weight. She dyed her hair an ash blonde but wasn’t a glamour mom, rarely wearing make-up other than powder and lipstick.
Her first of many solitary adventures (my parents divorced when I was in high school) took her to Europe on a fourteen-day tour of Spain and Portugal. She wasn’t alone for long; she proved the outgoing, talkative, independent type who made friends easily. I recall celebrating her homecoming with a pitcher of sangria and an enthusiastically-narrated slide show. When she died unexpectedly in her mid-seventies (following a series of strokes), she had traveled to over forty countries, six continents, and all fifty states.
A final trip took my mother to her birthplace, Charles City, Iowa—eastern Iowa, near The Little Brown Church in the Vale. There she visited with cousins and friends and attended her fifty-fifth high school reunion. She returned home with what she insisted was, “Great news!”
Catching up, enjoying cobb salads at her favorite café and coffee shop, I calmly asked, “So how was your trip? Tell me about the reunion.”
“It was wonderful! My trip was wonderful,” my mother answered. “And I have great news!”
“Really?” I said, unprepared for what lay ahead.
“I have a senior yearbook,” she zealously continued. “A classmate of mine gave it to me. I told her my story at our last reunion and she brought me hers. She told me she wanted me to have it since I’d been the editor.” My mother’s grin spread from ear-to-ear. “Wasn’t that thoughtful? And wonderful?!”
“Uh… yes. But I didn’t know you were the editor of your high school yearbook. And what story are you talking about?” At this point I was thoroughly confused. “Why don’t you have a yearbook of your own?”
“Your dad tore it up,” she answered. “Or burned it in the fireplace. I don’t remember which.”
“He did what?!”
“We were moving from Nebraska to California,” my mother proceeded to explain. “Jeff was a toddler and you were a baby. I was packing our things when your dad forbade me to pack my senior yearbook. He grabbed it out of the piano bench. I tried to grab it back, but couldn’t. Needless to say,” my mother paused to chuckle, “we had a terrible fight. I think he was jealous because I’d been the editor.”
Our waitress stopped to ask if we needed anything, if we were okay. Looking up my mother smiled. “I’m fine,” she said.
Okay? Are we okay? It appears so…
I requested a refill of diet coke.
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Nancy Lee VanDusen, a retired elementary school teacher, has been an enthusiastic writer of creative nonfiction and fiction for nearly twenty years. She particularly enjoys writing spiritual fantasy for middle-grade children. She has been published online in 45 Magazine and The Waking, Ruminate's online publication. Nancy lives by herself in Palm Desert, California but visits her family in the nearby Riverside area regularly.