The truth is, I used to reflect about Mother’s Day every year and even write about it occasionally. My mother who was actually my grandmother — Irene was her lovely name — was one of the most inspirational woman I’ve ever known and I’ve encountered a lot of amazing female souls over my lifetime. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned that Irene was the English name for Renee and the French name came from my mother’s side who apparently came from several generations of French heritage, although we rarely talked about that. I always assumed I was much more English than anything else until Ancestry.com told me otherwise and I realized just how dominantly French my background really was. In fact, my nearly 30% Italian genetic make-up was even more prominent than the English side of the family — their DNA seemed to have passed over me somehow.
When I think of her, I think of roses. I think of tulips too, since we planted them together and without fail, they sprouted from our upstate New York garden every spring.
What set her apart was her ability to be raw and truthful, raising issues people were uncomfortable hearing, but doing so in the most genuine and diplomatic of ways — her English mother Ida taught her well perhaps although given what I knew about my great grandmother, my guess is that it was simply unique to Irene. I’ve never been able to live up to the level of dignity and elegance that she showed everyone around her simply by walking into a room.
I learned so much about the trials and tribulations of motherhood and what it was like to be a woman growing up in the 1920’s and 3o’s simply by being a good listener in my mother’s kitchen, one which was never modernized. Its retro white cupboards remain until this day even under new ownership. I wrote about the connection between My Mother’s Kitchen and blogging on my personal blog 12 years ago (yes, I’ve been blogging for a long time) and that wasn’t even an early entry.
Her sassiness and loveliness will always be remembered and while it is no doubt tragic that she never witnessed my wedding day nor has she seen me as an adult woman facing so many of the same challenges she did over forty years later, her voice and the decisions she made never leave me. She was one to take the high road, which I’ve had to do on more than one occasion, especially in business when those who you encounter are not as ethical and honorable as you had hoped.
I wasn’t planning to write about Mother’s Day this year — honoring her memory is a wonderful thing to do, but often so painful that it derails me from a forward march, which is more and more necessary every day as I see myself age as she had and for many of the same reasons.
Given how much I’ve traveled and where I’ve lived (ten countries), a part of my life she also never witnessed, I have been fortunate to discover other incredible women who while may have never replaced her, were integral to shaping how I see the world….through sad and nurturing and yet still innocent and deliciously loving female eyes. While most of these women are no longer with us, kudos and hats off to Josephine Blodgett, Betty Cummings, Donna Blodgett Ambrosino, Bertha Blodgett Herkel, Audrey Farnum, Bernie Daggett, Shirley Lockwood, Dona Badman, Callie Marcellus, Adelaide Sachs, Maryjane Fredericks, Nila Edwards and Charlotte Lawton. Seeing each and every one of them in my mind’s eye brings a smile and a comforting imaginary hand I can somehow hold onto during tougher times.
As for the others, one of these days, I will write about all of them, but for today in honor of mothers around the world, the Clinton Foundation came up with a great list of six moms they want to honor this year, who share an unyielding desire to support their families and give their children better lives. As they so beautifully portrayed, “regardless of their starting point, it’s the upward mobility these moms are working to enable that’s important. This Mother’s Day, and every day, we’re honored to help empower moms to build better lives for themselves and for generations beyond.” I chose three of the women they honor today who are part of the Clinton Foundation’s initiatives – for the others, please read the original piece on Mom’s That Inspire Us.
CHRISTINA MWALE, SMALLHOLDER FARMER, MALAWI
Christina Mwale, a smallholder farmer with the Clinton Development Initiative (CDI), lives with her son on a small farm in Malawi. With each harvest, Christina hoped that she would finally grow enough crops to support her family and earn an income. But more often than not, the harvests would yield less than before.
With the help of CDI, Christina was able to learn new farming techniques that have helped her improve the quality and quantity of her crops, and increase her earnings. Her new income has enabled her to move her family into a new house. And she is also using her money to purchase land so she can generate a higher profit from her harvests in future seasons. Christina has become a leader in her community. She finds being able to support her son and share her knowledge with other smallholder farmers in the community to be the most rewarding parts of her work.
SHARON BOYD-STRUTHERS, ART TEACHER AT ROCKEFELLER ELEMENTARY, ARKANSAS
Sharon Boyd-Struthers, a mother and grandmother, is an art teacher at Rockefeller Elementary in the Little Rock School District. She epitomizes the wonderful relationship that the Clinton Center staff has with educators across the community. Sharon is a regular attendee of the Clinton Center’s annual professional development workshop held in partnership with the Arkansas Arts Educators Association, which supports teachers in continuing their education. During the Clinton Center’s temporary exhibit, Chihuly, Sharon lead a summer-long program, where she taught children the art and creativity of glass fusion. Upon completion of the Chihuly exhibit, the Clinton Center was able to support Sharon and her students with the addition of a second kiln for her classroom.
She understands the important role a teacher plays in a child’s life, and whether it’s with her students, her children, or her grandchildren, Sharon goes out of her way to provide young people with enriching opportunities.
(PHOTO CREDIT: ST. BERNARD PROJECT)
EVELYN STEVENS, NEW YORK
Evelyn Stevens lived with her son Khepera in a home in Far Rockaway when Hurricane Sandy hit. The storm badly damaged the first floor of their home, forcing Khepera to move out. The loss of her home and Khepera moving out was devastating to Evelyn.
Evelyn quickly began to take the necessary steps to repair and rebuild her home. She received assistance from FEMA and Flood Insurance and then used that money to hire a contractor to start the reconstruction. Unfortunately, the contractor ended up being fraudulent and never started the work. Determined to rebuild a home for her and her son, Evelyn applied for aid from various nonprofit organizations. The St. Bernard Project, a CGI commitment maker and Clinton Foundation partner, answered her request to assist with the rebuilding of her home.