Monday, May 10, 2010

Best Mother's Day Email

A flurry of election related Mother's Day emails arrived over the weekend. This was, by State Rep. Rick Taylor's wife, Jeanne Sorg, was the most creative. How do you top bears?

On this Mother's Day, the first one my family will spend after the passing of Rick's mom, I thought it important to recognize and help my children remember their amazing grandmothers both of whom embraced the challenge of entering the bear's den. One did so figuratively to fight gender discrimination in the 1970's workplace and the other did so literally in order to tag a slumbering bear in the wild.

The memory of Rick's mom, Kay, that is most vivid to me occurred while Rick and I were first dating. I was in my senior year of high school in a little town up near the boundary waters in Northern Minnesota. Kay was working as a secretary for the US Forest Service. Not one to pass up an adventure, Kay grabbed her swanky new boots - she was always known for looking her best - and volunteered to take the trip up North to my neck-of-the-woods in the middle of winter to stay at the one-and-only motel in town - The Red Carpet Inn which still advertises "B&W TV in every room" - in order to tag hibernating bears. She didn't complain about the two feet of snow. She didn't worry about being in a hungry bear's den if it was awaken from its slumber. The woman had guts.

Kay needed that spunk. As a young woman, she traveled with her career navy husband from Navy base to Navy base around the world. She raised her young son, you guessed it - Rick, far from family. One of the many stories she told was of living in Ethiopia with an active two-year-old during the tumultuous early 70's. US Forces had been assigned to help protect the government and a key ally of the West, Haile Selassie; and she and her little family were right in the middle of it. Guts.

In the 1970's, women all over the US were building on the work that had been done by their mothers and grandmothers. They were continuing to change their rolls in society. On this Mother's Day, I celebrate the roll my own mother played. The year was 1974, I was two, my older sisters were three and nine. Bernice, my mom, confronted the biggest employer in town and demanded the right to the same good paying jobs up until then only given to men. She faced the threats and scorn of an entire town who saw her as trying to take a job from a man and upsetting the social order. She did not back down but fought and won the right to work in the taconite mines taking her place both in women's history and mining history by becoming the first permanent female miner on the iron range. Her fight opened the way for other women and three months later another woman was hired at a nearby mine. (This woman's story is told in "North Country" starring Charlize Theron. It wasn't completely accurate; but my mom says it was darned close.) My mom is looking forward to retirement this summer. Maybe you can see her when she comes for a visit.

So on this Mother's Day, I celebrate all of the women with guts who have worked for better lives for their families and other women. I especially celebrate the woman who raised me and the woman who raised such a caring son who has taken what he learned from his mother and has worked as a state legislator for the women of this community by fighting to protect families from domestic violence, bringing a mobile breast cancer screening van to the district for women without health insurance and collecting interview clothes for low income women to better their and their families' lives.

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