Bullets or Clipboards

September 4th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Things families do, or subsets of them, reveal much. My own background comes to mind around Labor Day. My mother was born on September 5th. Were she still alive, Wanda would be 87 on tomorrow’s holiday.

WandaUniformWhile as honest and candid a human as has ever walked the earth, she remained unconventional in many ways to her end. The first of three children, she never believed in can’t or impossible. She was small and tough, bright and demanding.

She played tackle football into college with her brother and his friends. They told me she held her own always. She insisted that her father teach her to drive and when he laughed and tossed her the keys to the family manual transmission car, she took off, veering into a ditch, but getting those paternal lessons by way of concession. To my sister and me though, she raised us solo when her Army officer ex-husband skipped the country and became a child-support deadbeat.

She ran Red Cross chapters, as one of the managerial jobs women could get without being related to the owner. The organization policy (perfectly legal then) was that a woman got exactly half the salary a male executive director would get. That meant she took over a series of failed chapters, with no water safety, blood, first-aid/nursing, or transportation services. She became a turnaround manager and fixed those chapters that men had broken — while they got twice her wages.

In the busyness of moving every couple of years and being part of a very efficient family machine, I began to notice other family cultures slowly. I suppose each of us thinks the way we grew up is normal.

One thing that was the same but different was that familiar pastime one. Despite her love of football, she did not push that on me. (I played a little baseball and was on wrestling then swimming teams.) In some families, if dad played basketball, baseball or football, the sons and sometimes daughters did as well. It was what they passed down.

In Wanda’s, it was hunting or murdering Bambi depending on your mindset. Her brother and his three sons all hunted. My grandmother was boastful whenever Bill would bring a haunch of venison for the basement chest freezer. It was what he and his boys did.

In ours, it was among other things water. I recall from early childhood seeing her with a clipboard, pencil and whistle. She not only organized and oversaw her chapter’s program, she was a water safety instructor.

Thus in the fullness of time, my older sister, then I passed our lifesaving courses and became lifeguards. Then each of us became water safety instructors. It seemed perfectly natural at the time to have a couple of generations comprising all three of us with our WSI certification. To think of it now, there probably aren’t too many families with that pastime.

Lifeguarding and teaching swimming turned out to be valuable to me. Sure I got dates, a tan and seriously blond hair, but better, I earned enough for college without real work. Years later as I turned in 10 hour days six days a week in college summers as a house carpenter, I came to appreciate the sun and stool and whistle much more than at the time.

I wish absent Wanda a happy birthday.

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