Saturday, June 12, 2010

A tribute to my mother

My mother, Kie, passed away last Sunday at 85 and I want to share some thoughts about her. She was born in Arkansas and raised in rural northern Louisiana near Shreveport. According to family tradition her name, Kie, is a diminutive form of Keziah, one of Job's daughters in the Old Testament (Job 42:14). This name has been taken to symbolize female equality, since all of Job's three daughters received an inheritance from their father, an unusual circumstance in a time period when women and men were not treated equally.

Mom went on to earn a second family moniker, "our little abolitionist", which she wore proudly. Taught by her grandmother to read extensively, particularly the Bible, my mother took the gospel seriously and began to question the racism and segregation in her family's Episcopal church at that time and place. She would eventually join the Religious Society of Friends when she and my father moved to Nashville (Tenn) in the 1950s, finding Quakerism more compatible with her understanding of God.

Fighting for racial equality was one of my mother's main causes. In Nashville, she was active in the civil rights movement, largely through the Congress of Racial Equality and one of CORE's founders, the late Jim Farmer, became a life long family friend. When our family left Nashville for France in 1962, mom struck her own blow for integration by selling our house in what had been up until then an all white neighborhood to an African American couple over the strenuous objections of our neighbors. And when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968, I have vivid memories of coming home from school to find my mother sitting by the radio, sobbing inconsolably.

From civil rights, she moved on to Palestinian rights and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. She always sported a button with "Peace" in English, Hebrew and Arabic. She was an anti-apartheid activist as long as I can remember and local merchants became accustomed to my mother asking where their oranges came from since in France at the time they were often from Israel or South Africa -- two countries on my mother's personal boycott list.

When she moved to London, my mother was active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and she worked for a time for the Luthuli Memorial Foundation which provided scholarships to students from southern Africa.

Mother's second area of activism was peace and support for the United Nations. For a long time she directed the World Federation of United Nations Associations liaison office at UNESCO and later worked for the Campaign for UN Reform and the Capital Area Division of UNA-USA. She both worked for and was a member of War Resisters International and its US affiliate, the War Resisters League. Dave McReynolds, long time leader of WRL, was a frequent guest in our home.

Mother was also active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace Pledge Union and one aspect that was particularly dear to her heart as a Quaker was defending the right to conscientious objection to military service and ending compulsory conscription. After her retirement she worked as a volunteer with the Friends Committee on National Legislation until dementia made it impossible for her to live safely independently.

On the personal side, my mother sought to instill her values in me and my sister. Work was valued and so we earned our allowances by doing the family's daily grocery shopping and when we were older, mom "hired" us to collate documents and prepare mailings where she worked.

Education was another value and my mother who had all but her dissertation towards a PhD in Sociology, prodded her daughters into getting master's degrees. She read to us before we could read for ourselves and took us to the library from a very early age. She always sought to expand our cultural horizons and would take us on trips. I remember as a teenager accompanying her to Cyprus for a UN-related meeting with a side trip to Egypt to see the pyramids. In the early 1980s, she treated both of us to a health care workers' tour of Cuba.

Mother shared her love for languages. She spoke English and French fluently and had a working knowledge of Spanish, Italian and Serbo-Croat. Long after her retirement, favorite pastimes were crossword puzzles and playing Scrabble until her illness wiped out her vocabulary.

There was nothing my mother would not do to help her daughters. She helped both of us financially so we could own homes as she did, yet she herself lived simply and even frugally. After her divorce from our father, she embraced vegetarianism, forsaking the boeuf bourguignon that had been her signature dish. She composted, reused, recycled, and took special delight in gardening.

Finally, as I was going through my mother's possessions, I found a letter I wrote to her when I was a freshman in college. If she were still here, I would say the same words to her today: "You have conveyed to me the person you want me to be -- hard working, concerned for humanity, a volunteer and a person of integrity and understanding. That's who I'm trying to be more or less and I'm proud that you gave me those aspirations."

I'm still trying. Mom, I will always be proud of you and I pray that God will give me the grace to live to be the woman you were. May you rest in peace. You have earned it.

1 comment:

  1. As I was looking around the 'Net, I also found that Kie is a Japanese girl's name that means "uncommon blessing"!