This Sunday is Mother's Day. For most of us, it's a time to remember and honor the woman who gave us life and helped raise us. Guest Commentator Julene Bair grew up in western Kansas as "Daddy's Little Girl." But these days, she's been thinking more and more about her mother. As she explains in this essay, that wasn't always the case.
Julene Bair is the author of One Degree West: Reflections of a Plainsdaughter and The Ogallala Road: A Story of Love, Family, and the Fight to Keep the Great Plains from Running Dry. Information about her and her work can be found at www.julenebair.com.
My Mother’s Girl
By Julene Bair
My father, a farmer, took pride in his work, and, little sponge that I was, I took pride in him—for staying on top of things the way he did, for seizing, as he often told us a man must, the first opportune moment to ready, plant, cultivate, and harvest his fields. The markets rewarded my father’s accomplishments. His income supplied us with the essentials and then some—new cars and family vacations every few years, Christmas presents, nice furniture, college educations. He was our breadwinner.
My mother, on the other hand, was our bread maker—an equally important job. But no one paid her for the dinner and cinnamon loaves that rolled out of her oven... or for the three delicious meals that materialized on our table each day. She didn’t earn a wage for growing, preparing, and canning garden produce... or for cleaning and polishing linoleum and furniture that my father’s occupation covered in field dust… or for soothing us when we were sad or ill… or for making us feel loved and secure.
Nor was my mother paid for the beauty that she created inside and outside of our home. On the sun-drenched, semi-arid plains of western Kansas, we lived at the center of an oasis she planted and nurtured, with flowers from spring to fall, most notably her fifty or more varieties of iris, ranging from white with peach-colored beards to burgundy as dark as Bing cherries. She dressed herself, and me, in colorful fashions she’d sewn, and in her later years covered the walls of her house in needlepoint pictures she’d stitched. My father’s income bought the fabrics and yarn, but my mother’s penchant for beauty was minted by her spirit, not the U.S. Treasury.
Reared in a family of stoic plains pioneers, she seldom shed a tear, yet told me that she cried for joy when she gave birth to me, because she finally had a girl. It must have disappointed her greatly, then, to see me spend most of my childhood running after my dad.
It wasn’t just my father’s charisma that drew me to him. I wanted to be like him because it seemed more honorable to be male than to be female on the farm. Being “daddy’s girl” elevated my status. It certainly didn’t work the other way around. No boy I ever knew wanted to be “mommy’s boy.”
Because I grew up thinking that what my father did was more important than what my mother did, it has taken me practically an entire lifetime to realize my mother’s full worth. My father remained my favorite right up until she died, twelve years after he did. Ever since, it has surprised me to notice that I think of her more often. I miss her more. I miss the love evident in virtually everything she did.
If she were still here, I would waste no time telling her how proud I am to be my mother’s girl.