Mom's stroke woke up a lot of people. I don't guess I'd really ever known how many people really loved and respected my mom, but I should have. Mom was a high school math teacher for 30 years. Some of the people she'd worked with she'd worked with for decades.
Around town, she'd taught generations of children. Some of the kids she met as teenagers later sent their own kids (and maybe once or twice, their grandchildren) to her classroom to learn quadratic equations and geometry, among other things.
Many of them remembered her long after they'd graduated. Every year or two mom would tell me about getting pulled over for speeding just outside of town (Pearisburg is kind of a speed trap). The cop was always someone she taught, who knew her name without ever looking at her driver's license. They always told her, "Miss Lynch, please slow it down."
She never got a ticket.
Mom was a fixture at the high school. She chaperoned winter dances, sold tickets for football and basketball games and went to the prom more times than my sisters and myself combined (I sort of blew the curve on that. I skipped).
My mother was a cheerful club and activities booster, a begrudging, but faithful school bus monitor and a regular foil for whoever the principal was, but she was also one of the ladies called on when they needed food for a luncheon or a meeting. She was also quick to send flowers and make a casserole when somebody lost a husband, a wife or mother.
Her life wasn't entirely the school. She was president of the local Woman's Club, active with the town library board and dabbled with the local historical society. Since she retired, she'd been volunteering at the Senior Center, spent a lot of time assembling puzzles with widows 20 years her senior.
Support for Mom came pouring in, really. My sisters and I received emails and phone calls from people we probably hadn't spoken to in years. Within hours of her being admitted to the hospital, friends, colleagues and the occasional nemesis started coming by to check on her. Her room filled up with flowers, balloons and cards.
It was all very humbling and affirming: the love so many had for my mother.
It was also very sobering. I will never receive this kind of acceptance or affection. The career I've chosen doesn't lend itself to these kinds of attachments. The people I work with will mostly move along, take jobs in larger markets or else get out of the business entirely and try to make a living. Nothing feels permanent here.
Only a few of us will stay on for the long haul (if we're even allowed to) and we are by nature so scattered by our interests, ages and socioeconomic status. I work with a lot of strangers and I remember that writing is a solitary pursuit.
There is no extracting me from my occupation. The occupation is a
vocation. I am a writer who works for a paper. If I were to give up
"news" I'd be a writer who works at a convenience store or a writer who
digs ditches for a living.
To be a writer at all, you have to want to be alone more than other people. You have to like your own company.
And so I envied my mother for her friends and the well-wishers that rallied around her. I felt guilty, but not guilty enough to regret never having become a teacher. My mother has had, I think, a wonderful life. She's done much more than survived. She's thrived. I don't know that I would have.