My mom was a good mother. She was funny and intelligent and loving. She wasn’t famous. She wasn’t a doctor, or a scientist, or a playwright. She didn’t even finish the 9th grade. But, she read voraciously. People would ask her what college she had attended, which always made her smile. My mother wasn’t a perfect woman. But she left her mark on the world. People liked my mother.
Nancy Lee Rinehart was born in 1935 in an extremely small North Carolina town. She was the oldest, and shortest, of a large 2nd family. Her father had children from a first marriage, so she had older half-siblings whom she loved dearly.
Mom’s childhood home was a two-story wooden house built by my great-grandfather. It had a well on the back porch with a ringer-washer, and a large front porch leading to a door that was rarely used. Most people came through the kitchen at the rear of the house. My grandpa’s workshop was in the back, adjacent to the pig pen and chicken coop. The house had coal-burning stoves inserted into fireplaces for heat, and the only indoor plumbing was the cold water faucet in the kitchen. Baths were taken when a galvanized steel tub was brought into the kitchen and water heated on the wood-burning cook stove. The toilet accommodations were the outhouse behind the workshop, or during the night, the “pee pot” under the bed. The house was never updated and stood until sometime in the 1980s.
The details of Mom’s early years are bit sketchy. She got married in the ninth grade, which she said was really an excuse to get out of school. She lost a baby brother when she didn’t see him by the wheel of the car before backing up – something I learned not from my mother, but from an aunt. As a teenager, Mom sang on the radio in Charlotte with some people who went on to be quite famous. There was mention of her running moonshine for my uncle, but my sister and I debate on whether she actually knew there was ‘shine in the trunk. Mom lost her first baby when it was days old and still in the hospital. She had a boy by another marriage, who was raised by his grandparents, and who came to live with us when I was a teenager. She had three more children when she married my father. My mother also fought alcoholism for most of her life, which eventually was the indirect cause of her death.
I was so angry with my mother for so long after she died. I mourned for what we would never share and what could have been. But now, I focus on the positive in her life. My sister and I share memories and giggles and comment on traits we inherited from Mom – a love of music, talking with our hands, and a youthful outlook. I smile when I remember the twinkle in my mother’s eyes when she was being playful. And, I talk to her sometimes, to share a joy or challenge or triumph.
My mother had an outgoing personality. She would talk to anyone, or anything. I still tell the story of when my sister and I were walking with her through a parking lot. Mom was talking away and inadvertently ran into the end of a car. She didn’t miss a beat, just said, “Excuse me,” and kept right on walking. My sister and I were in junior high and already had some of our mother’s mischievous ways. We looked at each other and went in opposite directions, saying rather loudly, “We are not with that woman. We don’t even know who she is. Never seen her before in our lives.” Mom, of course, tried to shoosh us, “You girls, stop it,” which just made us laugh.
I started this blog to honor women throughout history, but I don’t want to focus only on famous personalities, or ignore shortcomings or weakness. I want this space to honor ALL women, flaws and all. Today, I honored my mother. As imperfect as her life was, she was a force of good. She had some very tough times in her life, but there was love in her. And to be near her, was to know that love.
I encourage, and welcome, suggestions for future posts. Send me a note. I’d love to interview you or a woman you’d like to recognize.
© 2014, A Woman in Time