Wish I could take credit for that idea. Wish I could take credit for my own blessed life. But I know better. There’s Providence, luck, fate–and then there are good role models and good genes. My mom gave me both.
Today (June 3) is her 80th birthday. 60 years ago this month she married my dad. I’m blessed to have both parents very vigorously in my life. But today is Mom’s day.
My mom is psyched to turn 80: a new age group for her to dominate in track! Here she is, just a few days ago, getting ready for the 80-and-up mile:
What I want to be when I grow up
When she first married my dad back in 1955, Martha Smith was no athlete. The family joke is, she was probably in the worst shape of her life at age 20, and she looked terrific. Raising three kids, starting a farm and co-founding a school toughened her up, but then a new path opened. Some time in the late 1960s, my dad discovered distance running and immersed the whole family in it. And Martha Smith Klopfer discovered a hidden talent.
She was FAST. And tough. And competitive. At age 45, she held the national age group 10k record. But she also excelled at the marathon, with a personal best of 3:07. And she did all this with no team to support her, no coach but her husband, and a full-time job of raising teenagers, running a farm, and helping to guide the school she had helped to found.
Lest you imagine from her athletic creds that my mom’s a driven, Type-A personality–nothing could be further from the truth. More like “Type B…or, no, maybe C…but then again, B is nice, I could see B…” Time has always been a fluid substance for her. When I was in high school, the words, “I’m just going out to the barn for a few minutes,” spoken in late afternoon, became code for, “So someone else might want to think about fixing dinner if you want to eat before eight.”
With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that my mom’s also a poet. A very good poet. Here’s one of my favorites, written about something that happened between her own mother and the Guatemalan gardener she practically adopted:
I think I washed the windows too clean.
The little bird saw straight
through the living room and right out
the other side to the sky.
He flew fast, like a pelota, hit the glass,
fell to the ground and was still.
A drop of blood came out near his long beak.
I picked him up. Pobrecito.
He weighed nothing and did not move.
I wish that I had left the window dirty.
But I want to do good work for Mrs. Smith.
She is kind to me, tells me to sweep the patio
or trim bushes, even when they don’t need it.
I don’t want her to see this dead bird.
It would make her sad.
Quickly, I get the garden trowel,
dig a small hole under the Pyracantha,
cover the bird with earth and leaves.
I wipe the window clean again.
Once my mother came to visit.
Mrs. Smith helped pay for the flight.
She practiced Spanish with my old sick mother,
both of them laughing.
Later, I could not go to Guatemala
to help bury my mother.
My father and brothers had been killed.
The same people also wanted
me in a shallow grave.
Mrs. Smith comes out of the house.
“Good job, Manuelito,” she says.
I say, thank you Mom.
She thinks I call her “Ma’am,”
but she is my California mom.
She has made tamale pie for lunch.
She says she likes to cook for me,
though she doesn’t cook much
since Mr. Smith died.
We sit down to eat at the patio table.
Something moves under the Pyracantha.
I jump to my feet.
“Look! It’s still alive!”
I tell her how the little bird hit the window,
how I thought it was dead and buried it.
I dig it up and brush it off and lay it in her hand.
The little bird blinks and ruffles its feathers.
Mrs. Smith says,
“He was only stunned.
I’ll keep him safe until he can fly again.”
I love that poem. But poetry’s not Mom’s only art. She’s also a weaver. Wish I had a picture of one of her weavings to share, but you’ll have to imagine the gentle interplay of color and shape inspired by natural scenes.
Then there’s Carolina Friends School, about which I’ve written before. Click here to read about how she helped to found North Carolina’s first integrated school.
All in all, my mom has given me a good dozen reasons to look at her as a role model; I’ve only mentioned the most obvious here. But chief among those is Mom As Athlete. I mean, look at those legs! Here she is, biking down a mountainside in Greece at the tender age of 78:
So, to sum up: Character: check. Talent: check. Athleticism: check. Oh, and terrific genes, ’cause did I mention HER mom lived to one hundred and three?
So, yeah. Can I pick a parent or what? Pretty proud of myself for that.
Now’s your chance to brag on your own mom or dad or Significant Elder in your life. I love when you share.