“My mother was a complicated woman. But she did have grit.”
My mother, Joan Patricia Giere, who died at 87 in 2008, would be 100 today.
She was an Australian by birth and a woman of the Depression â€“ of the War. Molded like so many of her generation â€“ the greatest generation as the phrase goes â€“ not by affluence and attention but by hard times. By death and sacrifice. By doing what it took.
My dear wife, a teacher, often reminds me that the succeeding generations inherited the gifts of that era’s hard work and sacrifice. And, starting with we boomers and more noticeable with each generation since people often lack “grit.” I think she’s right – as always.
My mother was a complicated woman. But she did have grit.
She was born to two aspiring actors and left to others to raise. At a young age, she was shuffled off to an all-girls Anglican boarding school in Sydney, where she rarely saw her then divorced parents, even on holidays. She survived boarding school, she would say. It was harsh, disciplined, and lonely. But she did what it took.
But, she was well educated there. She had a masterful grasp of history, especially of the English-speaking world. There was little in the literature that she was not familiar with, and she had much of the significant poetry of the world on her tongue. She had vast parts of Shakespeare’s work committed to memory.
She spoke little of her life after boarding school. But in 1944, at 23, she was working for the US Army in Sydney when she met my father, a tall gangly Major and B-24 bomber pilot in the Pacific theater, there on R&R. They were a matched pair. My father came from a broken home and was farmed out and raised with various distant relatives as a child. And he, too, had an enormous wide-ranging knowledge of history and literature.
Two gritty peas made a new pod.
They married in Sydney. At the War’s close, the two of them crossed the world and settled in the high desert of West Texas. The transition to the United States and Texas was just what you did, in her words.
My father was called back to duty in 1947, so the two of them were off to Tucson. Then with a baby in tow, they left for England and Germany. My mother finally returned to the United States in a crammed-packed merchant ship with two small children. Then she made her way to West Texas again by train and plane and waited, like so many other wives and mothers of that era. She just did what she had to do.
I was left to my own devices growing up. I was loved, for sure, but raised by two broken people. It only dawned on me later in life that neither of my parents had a family “model” to go by. They grew up on their own and lived and worked by grit. They did the things that they had to do to make a life.
After my father was killed in 1969, at age 51, my mother did what she always did. She took the hand she had been dealt and set about to make what she did have work. While it was difficult for me, she kept her tears for a quiet place. Alone.
When my brother died unexpectedly in 1998, my mother called me from 2000 miles away. It’s strange looking back. I knew that in this too, as tragic and heartbreaking as it was, my mother would soldier on. She had to.
I moved her to Northern Virginia soon afterward to live with my family. She loved my children and my wife, but she thought, well, she felt we were a bit indulgent with them. My wife, always the wise one, would remind me that my mom saw a family from a unique perspective â€“ we’d both chuckle. It was true.
Moms are pretty vital to boys, as dads are to girls. Something in God’s wiring of life makes that happen. Perhaps it’s no more complicated than our mothers show us what a woman is and what love really looks like in our most formative years. And generally, what character is. For that, I’ll always be grateful to my mother. My mom had grit, and I still miss her.