Marlene, Georgie, Maya, Tupac and Me.

Mother’s Day 2021

I have been thinking ahead to this day all week, in little bits and pieces.  I want it to be easy, of course I am naïve.  It will be what it will be.  Mother’s Day is a day of Mammoth importance.  If Mother’s Day is about knowing blessings it’s a different day than if its about dissapointments, resentments, difficulties, and losses.  So much of our lives is laid bare on Mother’s Day.  I could write pages and pages and not do justice to the significance of this day.  I don’t need that task this year.  Do you want to join me in just some brief thoughts about the two mothers I am thinking about a lot today?

Perhaps you knew my mother in law.  Her name is Marlene and she died in 2016.  Lately I have found myself thinking about her in a very specific way, in a way that perhaps few women get the opportunity to do, I am not sure.  I have been thinking about her from the point of view of walking in her shoes.  For decades Marlene was the matriarch of this ranch.  From that vantage point she lived an extremely hectic life, responding to the realities of 8 kids, a husband, hired men, hundreds of horses and cows and a good network of friends, family and neighbors.   She had a store in the town of Carnduff.  She fed a multitude of people every day, her kitchen churned out food that was almost always delicious.  She was a quiet but dedicated Grandma.  She balanced so much.  There were things she didn’t manage all that well.  That is just being honest and it is something that could probably be said of all of us.  What I note however, is that she found a way to keep the ship afloat most of the time.  Using this metaphor I don’t think Marlene had very many days that could be considered, “calm at sea”, between the ever broadening circle of family she felt responsible for, her own struggles, the needs of the animals and circumstances beyond her control like weather and markets, there was always wind up against her it seems to me.  From that point of view she had to do what I am now doing, I am walking in her shoes.  The thing is, I am pretty sure that for various reasons I have it approximately ten times easier than she did.   Having had these years of walking in her shoes I understand better the things that might have stressed her when she was the Miss Ellie of the ranch (remember the matriarch of Dallas?)  The phone rings……who wants what?………is everything okay?…………is there bad news to digest?……..do we need to change our plans? …..do I have to answer that?  Marlene always answered her phone.  I don’t.  I am very protective of myself.  Marlene sent her husband, hired men and kids out to work with huge draft horses and cows, using equipment not as safe as we are blessed with today, the risk was astounding.  I wrestle with this risk every day.  I am a bit scarred by what I have known.  But how many times did Russell alone send Marlene into a place of worry with his various injuries?  I maybe get it why Marlene was quite understated in her response to things, she had faced down a lot, it takes a toll.   As I think about Marlene these days I find myself thinking, “I think I get it.”  That is no small thing.  It really is significant to walk in anothers shoes, both to gain understanding and promote a sense of thankfulness for what we have.  As I think about what I have I am really grateful for a lot of things, but the fact that Marlene and Walter gave Russell to the world and to me is one of my greatest blessings.  Her work of mothering has made a big difference to me and I do admire how she persevered cause I think I get just how tricky this life could be.

Marlene in her role as Grandma, celebrating with the girls their first day back for grade 1 and grade 3.

With the loss of my own Mom so fresh in my mind my thoughts of her are all over the map, trying to reign them in is like herding cats.  However I did hear something this week that seemed to guide me and my little cats.  I was looking for some wisdom and some comfort and I just thought to type into a Youtube search bar, “interview with Maya Angelou”, it was a rather random action.  I have been listening to her ever since when space allowed and I have been loving getting to know her.  A really good interview was one from 7 years ago, with CBC’s George Stroumboulopuolos.  She told him the story of being at an event with the rapper Tupac Shakur.  She didn’t know who he was but he was getting himself in a fight and cursing angrily.  She insisted on him stepping aside to speak with her.  She asked him, “young man, when was the last time someone told you how important you are?”  The tension of the moment, the emotions running on high, the reality that a human was stopping a runaway train and and in effect saying, “I see you”, it’s a combination that is heart-stopping I think.  With baited breath I waited to hear what happened next.  She had more words for him about their shared ancestry, that their people had stood on auction blocks for them to be where they are today.  Her message, with all its force and its subtlety hit him and made him weep.   I was fascinated by her question.  I noticed how she phrased it.  She didn’t ask “when was the last time someone told you THAT you are important?”, a question which would allow us to think that his importance was up for grabs , (which is ironic because he was apparently one of the most influential rappers of all time).  Instead she said, “when was the last time someone told you HOW important you are?”  You might think I am splitting hairs by tuning into this slight word difference. I am doing this because it seems to me the way she phrased her question was based on a core understanding that Tupac (and all of us) was important, that is an unalterable fact, the question is, has anyone lately provided a reminder of that.  How beautiful, to both affirm for him his importance as a human being and also his need, like all of ours, to have that fact reflected back to him.   I think its heart-stopping.  Maya’s question to Tupac has helped me.  She has given me something to hold onto.  On this Mother’s Day I can focus my thoughts on a great gift my Mom gave me, she never out and out said, “you are important, very important” but she treated me like that was the case and she was consistent.   It is admirable how consistent she was.  I don’t ever remember feeling that I was unimportant. I am incredibly blessed. In the midst of our whole families deep longings to be near to my Mom Maya gave me something firm to hold onto on this day. She focused my unruly thoughts and reminded me how important I was to Georgie Kyle.

I selected this picture because this is my Mom in action, reminding Jill just how important she is by poring over and noticing and admiring the many details of Jill’s collection of paintings.

There is a funny thing to share today too. I am married to a mother. When I talked with Russ about this post he felt that he should get honourable mention. He feels that he has been responsible to provide more creatures with their essentials for life than most mothers of the world. The numbers of creatures that Russell has fed bottles to, given mouth to mouth resuscitation to, facilitated adoptions for, assisted with establishing breast feeding and watched out for and treated signs of illness for is quite astounding. So Russ, thanks for all the mothering you do and all your instincts for care and protection that make this a very natural fit. Today on the way home from church Russ asked to stop by the calving pasture to have a look at what was happening for one particular calf. The situation is hard to explain, but Russ decided that right there and then the calf needed to come home to the barn. So, in our church clothes we loaded her up and Morgan did some wrestling all the way home. It made for an exciting interlude on Mothers Day.

2 Comments

  1. Louise Craven McLean says:

    Kathy I loved reading about your relationship with Marlene and following in her footsteps and the incredible balancing act needed to carry out the role. I love reading about Maya Angelou and her insights and i hadn’t heard of the one you spoke about but totally love the question asked “when was the last time someone told you how important you are? and can totally relate to the question in relationship to my own mom. I can also relate to you missing your mom and how she didn’t say often but demonstrated you are important, very important consistently. love reading about the ranching and calving season and Russ’s mothering. You have an absolute gift for sharing in words and pictures that make readers feel what you say and picture the events so clearly. Thank you so much, you and your writing are very important to me!

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  2. jamesmarty says:

    Thank-you again Kathy; you never cease to amaze me with your variety of stories that keep me reading on and on until the very end. I knew Marlene and was amazed by her hard work ethic and raising her family besides all the work she did on the farm. I am blessed by your blog.  Thank-you! Marty

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