My mother, Rose Weinberg, passed from this Earth on the Fourth of July, and it is appropriate to point out that she was a card-carrying member of the greatest generation whose own parents gave her the greatest gift they could give—they came to America before she was born.
You can talk about whatever you think is wrong with America, but the fact is that America IS exceptional–and she was an exceptional American.
Although her parents spoke Yiddish for the most part, she, her sisters, and her brother spoke back to them in English, which they learned in the pre World War Two New York City public school system because her parents may not have known much about this new country. But they knew that they would not likely be killed because of their religion, and they fully understood that knowledge was the path to success–and they made sure their family got all the knowledge they could.
As these things happen, she met a young man. He was, the story goes, the air raid warden on their block; and he noticed my mother among her sisters. He went off to war after Pearl Harbor, and she waited for him.
They resumed their relationship when he mustered out of the United States Navy as a Machinist Mate 2nd Class. And, in 1947, Rose and Phil Weinberg married and set out to make a life for themselves and raise a family.
The family came along after my father got his degree and began teaching Electrical Engineering. I was born in New Mexico, my sister Sue in Utah, and my sister Andee in what would be their final career stop, Peoria, Illinois, at Bradley University.
For the first part of my baby boom life, she was kind of a prototypical post-world war two housewife. Sort of June Cleaver in Peoria.
But somewhere along the way, she wanted to do something more. So she went to college. Taking a nine-hour semester for seven years, she got her degree in Elementary Education while we were earning our high school diplomas. And she graduated with honors.
Then, she became a first grade teacher at a local grade school.
And, no recounting of her life will ever be complete without this story:
Somewhere during her tenure, a little girl came running into her classroom. “Mrs. Weinberg, Mrs. Weinberg…the boys are having a pee fight in their bathroom.”
Years before this ever became a politically charged issue, and with the question of how the little girl knew never answered, she went charging into the boys bathroom and, sure enough, they were trying to hit the ceiling. After the pants were zipped up and the young miscreants were appropriately admonished, school was back in session.
And at the end of the year, one of those young miscreants stopped in to thank her for being his teacher that year. He told her he learned a lot from her.
What, she asked, did he learn?
I learned, he said, that boys should pee down, not up……
You should have been at the Thanksgiving dinner when that story was told for the first time.
The first time I came back to Peoria, after my dad’s funeral, I took her to a popular local restaurant built in what used to be the West Bluff Branch library. We sat in the dining room and recalled three kids learning to read. She used to take us to the library every week. I once took out a book titled The Year The Yankees Lost the Pennant.
The librarian called my mom with a little concern since I was probably seven years old at the time.
“Oh, that’s OK,” she told the librarian. “Fred reads all the sports books.”
Then, a few days later, thinking it odd that the librarian should call like that, she went into my room and took a look at the book. When she got to the part about “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets…” she took the book away. She gently told me that it was an adult book. I said that I know…because I had already read the book on which the play and the movie Damn Yankees was based. Cover to Cover. She paid a little more attention to what I took out of the library after that. But she never told me NOT to read anything
My mother’s impact is a bit more than subtle than my father’s. She was, in many respects, a liberated woman before Gloria Steinham or Betty Friedan ever thought of it. She just never made a big deal out of it. Her actions were much louder than her words.
Maybe that was necessary in a family where loud is the norm.
While my father taught us by example that you can do quite extraordinary things by just putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward, my mother always very quietly let us know that we were up to the challenge. That the occasional failure wasn’t so bad—as long we didn’t make a habit of it.
After my father retired, there was some thought of giving up the faculty tickets to Bradley Basketball games. Until she got involved and made sure that Rose and Phil were in the house for nearly every game for quite some time, including that wonderful run by “her boys” to the Sweet 16.
When I was a sports writer at the Peoria Journal Star in high school, I don’t think she ever read the sports section. But some years later, she read just about every thing my former colleagues wrote about her boys. Go figure.
In the words of an author I’m sure she read—she read everything and refused to use an iPad—her life was a life well-lived.
We should all be so fortunate.
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This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth