My mother Janet Eleanor Howard died January 6, 2012. Tomorrow is her 99th birthday.
She was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Jennie and J. Fred Peterson. She and my father Fred S. Howard lived in Garrett Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D. C., for 59 years until 2007, when they moved to Ann Arbor to be close to me and my family. My father Fred is now 101 years old and lives in an assisted living facility in Ann Arbor.
My mother worked as an elementary school librarian from 1957 to 1977 for the Montgomery County Public Schools. From the time Danny was born in 1976, she was a constant source of moral support. When my husband was out of town for meetings, my parents came to the rescue and helped me take care of Danny, and later Ian and Jennie.
Anyone who has had a severely disabled child (or two) knows this is not the usual fun-filled romp that other grandparents experience with their more typical grandchildren. My parents made the difference between the maintenance of order and sanity in our household and a downward spiral into chaos and despair. Maybe I'm being melodramatic about this, but I think anyone who has lived in that world of worry, sleep deprivation, and never knowing whether tomorrow would bring another trip to the emergency room, can appreciate the relief of knowing you do not have to face it alone.
My mother was a world-class worrier, a trait that she passed on to me. I like to believe that we worriers are the early warning system for the human race, anticipating all that could go wrong and averting most disasters merely by having thought of them in advance. The disasters that did befall us were not nearly as bad as the ones we anticipated. Knowing that "it could have been worse" is a constant source of comfort to people like us.
In celebration of my mother's birthday, here is one of her favorite poems:
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
by A.E. Housman from A Shropshire Lad, 1896
LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.