I wrote this piece about my mother, five years ago, in May 2013.
Among my most vivid childhood memories is Mom playing Debussy's Claire de Lune on her baby grand piano.
Mom was born in a farmhouse near Damar, Kansas. In that time and place it seemed like the world was ending. Smarter land management solved the Dust Bowl and massive government investment in a world war took care of the Great Depression.
Geraldine May Ordway was barely a toddler when the stars/shale formations aligned and oil was struck on her grandfather Fred Bemis’s land in Ellis County, Kansas. Geology and good fortune delivered Fred’s family from the despair that claimed so many Great Plains families.
A standup guy and rock solid Christian, Fred Bemis typified his western Kansas early 20th century stalwart peers. No one needed remind him that to those whom much is given, much is expected. Fred’s philanthropy flowed through his family, church and community.
Fred’s son-in-law (my maternal grandfather) was an entrepreneur long before it was labeled. Victor Ordway liked big shiny cars and whiskey sours at the cocktail hour. He was gregarious, hilarious and generous. For her 16th birthday, Victor gave Mom a baby grand piano.
Within a year of the baby grand, Mom married my Dad, whom she’d met at Plainville High. Mom worked directly from her generation’s blueprint: Raise a family.
Each generation is shackled by the mores of their time. Today the infrastructure of Mom’s generation is crumbling, but back in the day, it framed up and girded the world: A woman’s place is in the home, don’t cry over spilled milk, you can always find bargains if you look hard enough.
Engaged at 15. Baby grand at 16. Married at 17.
Didn’t take her long to realize she was not happy, but Mom stuck it out until the kids grew up. Only then did my parents go their separate ways.
We are all products of our upbringing and childhood environments. Barring some psychic change, we do what they did, we do what comes naturally as a matter of course. Her father was easy on her. She was easy on me. And I was easy on my son. Easy in the sense that we viewed our children as gifts and our upstream motivation was to spare them pain, sorrow and hardship.
Four years ago, after a lifetime in Kansas, Geri Ordway moved into an attached apartment of my sister’s home in Tennessee.
Among Mom’s many gifts is an innate ability to hang on to relationships. She makes – and then keeps – lifelong friends wherever she goes. Her connections with some of her friends span more than half a century.
Another thread in her life is a remarkable capacity and willingness to care for loved ones as death draws nigh. In ‘72, Mom was a one-woman hospice for her mother-in-law. She was there for both her parents, her Aunt (Victor’s sister) and most recently, her own sister and brother. They are both extraordinary gifts to which I suspect she doesn’t give a second thought.
Conscious or not, Mom’s sort of become the de facto Ordway family matriarch. She’s the one who stays in touch with the nieces, nephews, grandkids and their families.
My Mom is the kind of personality who draws strength from strong personalities close to her. Mom didn’t issue any manifestos. She didn’t burn her bra. She adored her father, raised her kids, has faith in God and loves her neighbor.
There are many lessons I can still learn from her. As she reminisces, I hope Mom has no regrets. Even if she does, I suspect she’d not verbalize them. I hope she realizes how her actions and intentions come from the best possible place.