Nothing Self-Made About MeFebruary 11th, 2013 12:00 am E. J. Dionne
WASHINGTON — I disagreed with former President George W. Bush on many things. But on one issue, I admired him greatly: He was wise enough to marry a teacher and a librarian. I’m unabashedly biased about this, since my late mom was also a teacher and a librarian.
I have been thinking a good deal about her because she would have turned 100 on Friday. She died in 1995, and my sister and I have spoken often about the extraordinary social changes she came to terms with and was part of.
In talking about history, we break the story up into discrete chunks: the Depression, World War II, the 1960s and the like. But lives aren’t broken up; we live them continuously. Thinking now as a parent myself, I cannot imagine how I would have dealt with children of my own had I been a father in the 1960s. How strange those years must have seemed to adults like my mom. How spoiled did my generation look to those who had lived through depression and war? It was not illogical to ask, as many did: “What are these kids complaining about?”
In retrospect, I have been struck by how sensible my mom was through the social chaos, even though those were especially jarring times in our household. My dad, her husband of 29 years, passed away suddenly in the totemic year of 1968. Yet his death almost certainly made my sister and me less likely to rebel, and my mom cut us a bit of slack. The three of us were determined not to let the cultural hurricanes of the 1960s pull us apart.
My mother — her name, from her Quebec forebears, was Lucienne — was the sort of faithful Catholic who believed history was destined to leave us in a good place. So she was not the sort to close herself off to what she could learn from what was going on around her.
She was totally dedicated to being a parent because she fought so hard to become one. She lost four kids in childbirth or shortly thereafter. It took courage for her to keep trying so she could bring my sister and me into this world. (We never had the problem of feeling unwanted.) Family values defined her.