Sibling Assignment #152: To Be of Use

Sister Carol gave the Sibling Assignment this week:

"Write about something that you realized about Mom when you were an adult, that didn't occur to you when you were a child growing. " You can read brother Bill's post here and sister Carol's is here

As my mother's birthday comes to an end today, it is fitting to reflect on this assignment and remember Mom when I was a child and now.

Mom has always worked, and worked hard. Dad worked hard also. I grew up surrounded by people that worked hard. When I was in first grade Mom was raising two children, cooking breakfast for Dad each day before he went to work, then she packed his lunch, taught second grade all day, came home and prepared homemade dinners, corrected papers, did lesson plans, designed art projects, took night classes, volunteered at church, was a member of PTA, ironed, did laundry, went to Little League games, and cleaned house.
Soon my baby sister arrived. Fortunately we had Mrs. Price come to the house so part of Mom's burden was lifted a bit as she babysat Carol and did some domestic work also. When I was growing up I thought this is what mothers did. Didn't every mother doze after dinner and then wake up, be revived and work a few more hours before bedtime?  I remember how shocked I was when a friend told me her mom slept in and read books in bed all day. What? I don't even remember my mom sleeping in.
When I began teaching there never seemed to be enough hours in the day to plan, teach, do grading, plus take classes and I didn't have children. I suddenly had a new appreciation for my mom and her amazing work ethic. I was continually reminded that all Moms weren't my mom. That work ethic stuck with me though. Unfortunately it can be an enemy also. I became driven to do more, work harder, accomplish all that I could do. That is what Mom did. That was how I was raised.
Did things slow down after Mom retired from teaching? No sir. That energy went into caretaking her mother and mother-in-law, gardening, canning, being a grandmother,being there for Dad during his losing battle with cancer, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, serving on the Library Board, and being active in Retired Educators.
It is what my mom does.  She continues to work and work hard as her body allows. Yesterday she was making homemade soup for the family for dinner. She did pause to enjoy some birthday cake, but then dishes were loaded and the floor was cleaned. When I first read this poem I thought of Mom. What I like so much about Piercy's poem is how she honors these type of people. I honor my mother today on her 84th birthday. She has always "harnessed herself."

To be of use by Marge Piercy
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
"To be of use" by Marge Piercy © 1973, 1982.
From CIRCLES ON THE WATER © 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and Middlemarsh, Inc.
First published in Lunch magazine. Used by permission of Wallace Literary Agency.

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