Norma Spohn McCartan died recently. She was 91. And she was my mom. The world outside her family and friends made little note of her passing, but she would have wanted that. She would never wish to be in death more than what she was in life. In a time when economic pressures force many women to become hyphenated – nurse-mom, teacher-mom, banker-mom – she remained quietly and proudly just mom.
Her career was her family, her friends and her church. She cooked and cleaned, counseled and scolded and never once took her eye off her prize. Her life was making sure that her children had what they needed to succeed. If she had her own dreams or aspirations about what she might have been, she never shared them with her children. She was too busy making sure her kids got to be what they wished to be.
Her four children all took their own paths to successful adulthood, but all had the same caring and compassionate tour guide. Her life, by many standards, would now be deemed “ordinary.” She was anything but ordinary to us, however. She elevated “ordinary” to the remarkable and set an example for us that has stood the test of time as our lives stand in proud testament to her.
My mom was always a woman but never a shrinking violet. The images of her elegance and beauty when she got dressed up for my dad are mirrored by her sweating in jeans and a bandana, perched on the roof of the structure that would become our home, helping my father lay roofing tiles. She could do that all day and still find the time, energy and love to bake an apple pie for the evening meal.
We were always rich with the love that surrounded us and insulated from the lean times our parents faced. My mom took great delight in our annual trips to Norban’s for new school dresses, and to Dixie Hats for new Easter bonnets for my sister and me. Some years, I got the new dress and my sister got the hand-me-downs but we were always dressed with love. Like the house she and my father built, our lives are grounded on the solid foundation of her love and her caring.
Her health had been failing for quite a while and it was hard watching her in decline. But still, she smiled at us and at her grandkids and great-grandkids with that familiar smile I knew growing up; the smile that said, “I love you.”
So even though we were saddened by her death, we were so glad that the seeds she’d planted in her life – seeds of love and caring and compassion – had finally bloomed for her in the flower of peace.
We have rightly lamented the passing of the men of the “Greatest Generation” – men like my dad, who struggled through the Depression and gave their blood and sweat to ensure a world where freedom was possible. But we ought to recognize the women of that generation as well. They stood in support, doing anything, anytime, anywhere they were called on. Many stayed at home, suspending their own dreams to nurture ours. They provided something some might call ordinary but did it in such a way as to highlight it as extraordinary to all they touched.
So we say our final goodbyes to my mom and all the moms like her who never stopped giving of themselves. We adored them in life. We mourn them in death. We will revere them in our memories.
Shirley McCartan Banko is a retired Buffalo Public Schools teacher. She lives in Buffalo.