H. A. Byrd

Mum 

Our mothers are a part of us. Like it or not, we carry much of who they are inside ourselves. But we are also a part of them. A piece of me that lived within my mother Barbara was lost when she left this world last week.

My pain comes not from losing a happy or kind mother, but from saying goodbye to my beautiful, proud, and hurting mother. There is no healing for the knots of string which will never be untwisted. The fragments of her and my relationship are now carved in stone. I’m thankful, though, that we parted with love in our hearts, a love which has always been.

Mum was fond of mustard and liverwurst, and cashew chicken. Also thin mints, mint chip ice cream, and grasshopper pie. She had quite a sweet tooth actually, but she was smart about nutrition and ever since starting her family in the 1950s she made an effort to serve us healthy food.

My mother enjoyed the symphony, the opera, and theater. She knew something of the history of visual art. She painted a forest scene on the dining room wall of our home. Beautiful and tasteful, it matched the chandelier with tole metal flowers and leaves that hung above the oak dining table she and Daddy had refinished. In the early 1960s she created elegant pottery in her ceramics class. Once when she found herself without a babysitter, Mum brought her three young girls to the studio. She taught us to make snails by rolling a coil of clay and then curling most of it up to form a spiral for the shell. The vase she built that evening, with our lumpy little snails encircling the bottom, sat by the fireplace for fifty or more years.

The ocean. My mother loved to be near it, but not on or in it. She found happiness among tidepools, poking at tiny crabs, pocketing interesting pebbles, and experiencing the sound of the waves. The Oregon coast was dear to her, as childhood memories of visiting the beach cabin of her “Auntie” Una. The mountains called to Mum also, with their geology and breathtaking scenery. She and Daddy hiked and cross-country skied. She was a birdwatcher, and she knew the names of the shrubs and wildflowers. Fond of animals of all kinds, she passed that love on to her children and grandchildren.

With a conviction that there is more to this world than meets the eye, Mum had an interest in transformative systems of thought. She wanted to understand the mystery of existence. Her curiosity about other cultures and their history led her to travel. She went on several elderhostel trips and spent some time in Sweden.

My mother cherished her time with her grandsons when they were young. She loved her family and also the greater community of the world. She cared about the environment. She donated both time and money to assist organizations working towards progressive political and environmental causes. It was her great joy to be here with us long enough to cast her vote in the November election.

A self-directed woman, my mother was apparently undaunted by gender boundaries of her era. When I was eight and my sisters were entering adolescence, Mum went back to school to get her masters in behavioral psychology. Our garage was full of cages containing rats. Rats ran mazes on our dinner table and pressed levers in a Skinner box. It was okay because all our family liked the rats. Exhausted in the evenings, Mum had me read her textbooks to her. I couldn’t understand a thing, but I could pronounce most of the words well enough that she could figure out what they were. Later we moved from California to Saskatoon, where she taught and did research at the university for a year.

When we all moved with my father to British Columbia, my mother was unhappy with the public schools there. She started the Fraser Valley Alternative School, enrolling the three of us daughters and a few other kids. The downstairs of our historic Victorian house was the campus. We kids developed critical thinking, learning community effort through a holistic educational program. Mum did a fantastic job with this school, which only ran for two years before we moved to the Seattle area. I’m thankful that throughout my life my parents encouraged me in all my artistic projects and in adventures big and small.

My mother had to cope with adversity in her life. She grew up during the Great Depression, the daughter of a principal and a schoolteacher. After college, she met and married my father, who was a good man (and handsome, to boot). Daddy, an electrical engineer, had a heart attack at thirty-five and was transferred to a job in a rural area. This had an enormous impact on the direction of both their lives. But more impactful than these sorts of setbacks, Mum had lost her little sister as a child, and later her own infant son. Both of these losses were devastating. Then, in 1982 my sister died at age twenty-four. Crista’s light meant so much to all our family that none could bear her passing.

Even with the heartbreak sustained by these losses my mother retained her sense of humor and her desire to leave this world a better place than she found it. I hope, wherever and however she exists now, she is able to see that she has done so.

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