Let me take a break this Mother’s Day weekend from my A-Z series and talk instead about moms. Okay?
How would you describe your mom?
My mom was an Okie.
Hmmm… How dare I?!
How dare I use such a derogatory term! “Okie” was a term used by those who thought they were better than those Dust Bowl transplants who moved to the west coast from Oklahoma to find a way to make a living when years of drought forced them from their homes there.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is a classic book that told the story of Tom Joad, the father of a migrant family. Tom left the Oklahoma dust bowl for promised land in California, only to face new and daunting challenges. It was made into an award-winning movie starring Henry Fonda.
My father’s sisters erroneously decided Mom was a west-coast migrant from Oklahoma. Unlike those Dust Bowl transplants from Oklahoma, my mother, Elizabeth Totten, had ancestors who migrated in the late 1800s from Ireland and Scotland to Iowa and then to the state of Washington at the turn of the century. Mom’s family owned a farm in Fall City, Washington. Her dad died when she was in her early teens. My grandmother guided her six children to work hard to keep the farm operating without my grandpa to lead the way.
After Elizabeth graduated from high school in 1933, she worked in Fall City at a creamery to help the family survive and retain the farm. She moved to California after she met my dad, Sal DeAngeles, a handsome, suave, dark-haired young man, 4 years her senior.
Early Days in Mom’ & Dad’s Marriage
Elizabeth and Sal eloped to Reno, NV in 1937 and kept their marriage a secret for awhile. They were aware that his family might have trouble accepting her.
Many times Mom told me the story of how Dad’s Italian sisters (he had 5 of ’em) were resentful of her intrusion. She said they called her an Okie. (To her face? I hope not!) She was not Italian. And worse yet, she was not Catholic! And to add insult to injury, Dad’s mother (my Grandma DeAngeles) loved Mom as if she were one of her own daughters. There may have been some jealousy at work there.
Mom thought Dad’s sisters had a friend, a local Italian, Catholic girl picked out for their brother. Mom said she believed they were shocked and rather put-off by his decision to marry this outsider.
Whether her perception of their non-acceptance was true or not, it colored our family’s relationship with my dear aunts forever! It may have been one of the reasons I recall our family going on Sunday afternoons to visit Dad’s sisters at their homes, but rarely inviting them to come to ours. What a shame!
Who was Mom – – – really?
Elizabeth (later nick-named Betty) was the fifth in a family of six children born to Laura & Ralph Valentine (RV) Totten. She was a slightly built, blond, blue-eyed girl with three older sisters, one brother, and a younger sister. She adored her father, whose untimely death (he fell off a barn roof and died of a brain injury), left her devastated.
She was a good student, particularly talented as an “elocutionist” (public speaker), and would have loved to attend college. Financially it just was not an option. She was good at math as well, and eventually became Dad’s secretary/treasurer in his business. In her retirement years, she kept herself busy playing Bridge and participating in the women’s organizations of Eastern Star and Rebekahs.
What do I Remember Fondly About My Mom?
Mom always told me I could do and be whomever I decided I wanted to be. She believed in me. She gave me confidence, and encouraged all my various endeavors. She made sure I got accordion lessons when I showed an interest in that instrument. She helped me get a clarinet when I wanted to join the elementary school band, and she drove me to weekly accordion and clarinet lessons fifty miles away.
Mom helped me develop my writing skills and encouraged my ventures into art and school leadership. She convinced Dad that I should be able to go to college – and made sure they managed to finance my college expenses so that I could concentrate on my studies. “Your school work is your job,” she explained when I was contemplating a job to help with college costs. Unlike most college students today, I graduated with a BA of education in four years – and was debt free. What a gift!
Mom’s spit-fire personality sometimes caused us to be at odds with one another. I see her in me now and blame her for all the parts of my personality that annoy me. I look in the mirror and see her arms hanging from my shoulders (when did that happen?). I see her impatience in me when I am being less than kind. I look up and shake my finger at her when i am too outspoken.
Thank You, Mom
But at the same time, I thank my mom for all the ways she helped me become the “Child of God” I am today. She made sure my sister, Sally, and I got to church each Sunday. She was 100% honest and she taught Sally and me to be morally responsible, dependable, hard-working young ladies. I am grateful to my mom for her role modeling, her work ethic, and her unconditional love.
Family is So Precious!
The picture below is 53 years old!! That’s me on the left, pregnant with our first child. My husband, Bob, is standing next to me. Next is my sister, Sally, with her husband, Dave, holding their eldest daughter, Denise (both of whom are now deceased). I thank God every day for life – and for the life of my children – and count my blessings that they are alive and healthy, productive adults today. I never take that for granted.
My mom and dad (Sal & Betty) are in the foreground. The best gift they gave to me was their love for one another – and their love for our family.
Happy Mother’s Day
to all those wonderful moms out there
who have impacted their children
in such important ways –
and continue to do so everyday…
some up close and personal,
and others as they lean over the
Heavenly railings and watch over us from above.
What do you remember most about your Mom?
And what do you want to thank her for?