‘Never say die’ was Mom’s credo | NevadaAppeal.com

‘Never say die’ was Mom’s credo

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer

Mother’s Day always brings the same dilemma: what to do for Mom on her day. Do you get her a card, send flowers or a gift? Maybe take her out for a nice brunch or dinner.

Some of those things are tougher for me to do since my mother lives 2,600 miles away; she’s blind, so she can’t read a card or appreciate the beauty of flowers, though she can still smell them. Thoughtful gift giving becomes a challenge under these circumstances.

I came to the conclusion I should give her a bath set and add something money can’t buy – appreciation for teaching me to never give up.

My mother was born partially sighted in 1936. As a child she was first educated in a school for blind children, though she wasn’t totally blind – she could even see well enough to read if she held the book right up to her eyes. She wanted to go to “normal” school, so she was transferred to the local public school, where the teacher made her sit apart from the rest of the class and gave her a doll with the eyes gouged out.

High school was better; she learned to play the flute and was a member of the orchestra.

What she wanted most of all was to be normal, like most women of her generation, to fall in love, marry and raise a family.

Near-blind women weren’t the most desirable dates in the 1950s, so when my father, whom she met in high school, told her he loved her, she believed him.

I guess she was never totally blind except when it came to love.

They married in 1957, and proceeded to have four children. She would have had seven, but two died in the womb and one shortly after birth.

She had fallen in love and had children, but her life was anything but normal.

She was an optimistic, generous and caring woman who believed in the 10 commandments and three basic Christian tenets: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you; judge not lest ye be judged; and till death do us part.

That last one was almost her undoing.

Her husband turned out to be a cruel, insecure, unstable sort, as deficient in character as she was awash in it.

He had a gambling addiction, which for his stay-at-home disabled wife and young children, meant slum housing, rags for clothes and no extras.

He never struck her, but he worked hard to break down her confidence. He called her blind. He called her stupid. He called her a “gutless nothing,” a sobriquet, that over time would prove to fit him to a T, but didn’t apply to her at all.

He left her one day in 1968, never to be heard from again. Mom had no salable skills, poor vision and no work experience. She had four kids, one mentally ill, and was living in a house condemned because of a sewer problem. She had no money.

Faced with few options, all of them bad, she called the local child welfare authorities for help.

My sister and I, ages 10 and 8, were sent to an orphanage and my 9-year-old brother was taken to a psychiatric hospital, where he would remain for the next few years. My mom only got to keep my 18-month old brother with her. She went to live with her mom.

She was pressured to give up rights to her children. It was the state’s position that a blind woman shouldn’t raise children, and she would have to go to court to reunite her family.

She applied for welfare, got an apartment in a public housing project, and went to court. It took several years and numerous hearings, but she finally convinced a judge she was fit to raise her own kids.

She went to school to become a teacher’s aide, but after earning her degree, found the district would not hire a partially sighted woman. A losing bout with glaucoma took most of the rest of her vision, and her dream of someday being self-sufficient was out of reach.

She did have occasional jobs. One, a dishwashing job, ended the same day because she couldn’t see all the dirt on the plates. She headed home with $12 in wages, when a mugger promptly grabbed her purse. She refused to let go, and the crook dragged her a full city block. Later she explained why she wouldn’t give up. “I worked for that money.”

Unlike many in the projects, then and now, Mom never turned to drugs or alcohol to escape the difficulties of life. She never cheated on welfare, which was also all the rage at the time. When someone in the neighborhood needed a meal and we had enough, there was room for them at our table.

She never went to a movie, a show or a dance. Her only concern was keeping her family together and raising her kids, and while none of us ever got rich or famous, we all grew into honest, hardworking adults, thanks to her example.

Any difficulties I have faced, or will face, are minuscule compared to hers, and because of her, I’ll always overcome them. Thanks, Mom.

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.