Telling Perspective

My adopted mother and I were never what one would call, “close,” but, although it would take some time to develop “love” for her, I did respect her. She was fair and I knew she was trying her best, she was well regarded by others, and she was now my mother and I was grateful to her. But, I never felt that I really knew her. Her life growing up was not something she ever shared with me. Maybe since my early years were so different from hers she didn’t feel we could relate to one another. An email I just received from a friend explains so much. I’ve transposed some of these timeline numbers to fit what I wanted to say.

My mother was born in 1904. I spent so many years just trying to survive growing up, it never occurred to me to try to imagine what the world was like for her during her lifetime. That seems so selfish of me, I’m embarrassed to say. But children are like that, aren’t they. On reflection, I’m inclined to feel very, very fortunate, indeed.

Imagine if you had been born in 1904. In your 10th year, World War I starts and ends in your 14th year. An estimated 22 million people perish in that war. Later in that same year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits our Earth and isn’t stamped out until your 16th year. Estimates of 50 million people have died from it in those two years. Some estimates were higher, some lower, but still. That had to be frightening.

In your 25th year, the Great Depression begins and runs until you are 29. The United States’ unemployment rate hits 25%, the World GDP drops 27%, and our country nearly collapses along with the world economy.

In your 35th year, World War II starts. I remember my mother telling me she was in Europe when war was declared and she had to scramble to get home to the U.S. via an ocean liner converted into a troop ship. In her/your 37th year, the United States is fully pulled into WWII. Between your 35th and 41st years, approximately 75 million people perish in that war.

Smallpox was epidemic until you were in your late 30’s and killed some 300 million people during your lifetime.

At the age of 46, the Korean War starts, killing 5 million and all your life, you’ve dealt with fear of Polio epidemics each summer. You experience friends and family contracting polio and being paralyzed and even dying from it. (I remember Uncle Don and Aunt Nell.)

At 51, the Vietnam War begins and during the Cold War, you lived each day with the fear of nuclear annihilation. (I, myself, remember air raid drills in school, and years later, my career military husband going off to war during Vietnam.) In your 58th year, you have the Cuban Missile Crisis which was a tipping point in the Cold War.

To deviate from the timeline I have established here, at the age of 60 my mother found out her mother had breast cancer so, although my grandmother had lived with us before, and had left for a few years to live with her sister, she came back to live with us after her sister passed away so my mom could take care of her. Then at 63 my mother was also diagnosed with the same type of breast cancer. She cared for my grandmother knowing she would die the same way. She never even mentioned this to me. It breaks my heart thinking of this. During her illness, I was married with a family of my own, but I visited as often as I could. My dad was a champion and took wonderful care of her until her death at age 71.

My mother had a PhD, and taught chemistry and home economics at college level and later at a high school level. She also served on several national boards. Serving her community was paramount to her. I can remember her saying how important it was to be someone, meaning someone useful to the world, not just someone taking up space. Many of her choices in life were made because of the serious and spare life she had led and because of her sense of an unsure future. Her calculating mind had come from seeing what a lack of education and poverty could do to people. Traits of hers that I thought of as negative when I was a child suddenly became ones of a plan for her own survival.

I finally feel like I know my mother better now than I ever have; forty-five years after her death. This pandemic has forced me to discover and reevaluate my life, and to see how much others have had to sacrifice and endure during their lifetimes. This telling, perspective lesson has been educating and even sad, but also enlightening for me and I feel I am better for it.


Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Please join her here each 11th of the month.


Filed under history, life, musings

14 responses to “Telling Perspective

  1. Art

    Coco, we both had mothers born in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. As you enumerated those were unusual times for them to live and grow up out of. My mom was so great at not focusing on the negative side but on the positive side.
    It seems to us that we have become so much more insightful as we have aged. I do however think that is how life has always worked for all of our ancestors, our grandchildren, and even of all wildlife. We learn by experience. Some of us better than others.
    Your blog was most enjoyable and important to me because it made me experience it too.
    Thank you for making that spark happen for me.

    • Coco Ihle

      Art, your words meant so much to me. Thank you. I just wish I could have been wiser when my mother was alive.
      You have become a best friend over the years and I am grateful for you and your wisdom. Bless you.

  2. Susan Coggins

    Wonderful blog! Your mom was a very accomplished lady. My mother, born in 1916, told me stories as I got older about living thru the depression (she could never watch The Walton’s on tv) and World War II. She survived several illnesses that threatened her life beginning around the age of 20. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 10 years old (1956) when medical procedures were not as good as they are now. But, thru it all, she was thankful for life – to her, every day was a gift regardless of what came along and that is one of the most important things she taught me. That, how to sew, care for others and give back to the world. She had a strong belief in God and that was another great lesson to which I have adhered. I wish I had written down some of sayings and stories over the years. She passed away at the age of 83 from a stroke. The cancer never reappeared. My children were young adults at the time of her death and have very fond memories of Grandma Gilbert. These days they often say I sound like her. I take that as a compliment.
    My, I did go on and on to tell you how much I enjoyed your blog.
    Thanks for helping us remember…………….

    • Coco Ihle

      Susan, thank you for reading my blog. I enjoyed hearing about your mom. She, too, was a wonderful and amazing person. I’m so glad you were able to share in her life as much as you did. Now we both have memories and a better understanding of our moms. We shall cherish those memories forever. Who would have thought a pandemic would make this possible?!

  3. Renee Latty

    Excellent!! Putting things in perspective can change not only the way we think but change the way we act. A very good lesson learned!

    • Coco Ihle

      And, thank you, Renee, for supplying me with the inspiration for this blog. I’m so grateful to you, my friend! My life has forever changed. As I was writing, my understanding of my mother became so much clearer; a flash of insight, epiphany! You are so right, “A very good lesson learned.”

  4. Ernesto

    Great post. The way you describe your mother’s life over the years made me stop and think of my own mother who would’ve been as old as your mother..

    • Coco Ihle

      Thank you so much, Ernesto. I’m glad you read my post and enjoyed it. I hope your memories are good ones.

  5. Mary Lee Moore

    A beautiful story. My Mother was as sweet and wise woman. I, too, did not not realise the struggles she endured. As I have grown okdere, I now think of how brave and good she was. She gave me the very best advice, in raising my children and it worked so well. She lived to be 97, but suffered terrible arthritis. She was as great blessing to our family. Neighborhood kids sought her wise council for years. I send her hugs to Heaven daily.

    • Thank you, Mary for your comments on my blog post. Several people have told me they never knew how difficult life was for their mothers, either. And you mentioned your mother had severe arthritis. Yes, my mother did too. Her’s was crippling rheumatoid arthritis (as I imagine your mother’s was too) and I didn’t mention that in my blog. I can remember I used to wonder how horribly painful it must have been, but she never mentioned it. In fact, I can’t ever remember her complaining about anything. She just ploughed through life as best as she could. I admired that so much. How fortunate you and I have been!

  6. I am so lucky to still have my mother, and to still be able to listen to her tell me how things were. She writes an essay every month for our writers group too, so I can read her thoughts on many topics.

    • Coco Ihle

      Oh, Sheila, I am thrilled for you! How wonderful that your mother is so willing to share with your writer’s group. From the photos I’ve seen of you both and in my witnessing some of your get-togethers, I see what a wonderful relationship you two have. I’m so glad for you and can imagine what it must be like. Thank you for sharing with me and my readers. Everyone will be jealous. 🙂

  7. Cheryl Hilzer

    When we look at what other people have had to endure, I hope it makes us appreciate what we have and how we can survive our present circumstances. One day this pandemic will be behind us.

    • Coco Ihle

      Cheryl, you are sooo right! So many people have had to deal with so much more than what many of us have had to face in our lives. I, myself, feel truly grateful! Thank you so much for your comment! Stay safe.

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