While sorting some old papers recently, I ran across a familiar sight. It was a letter from my mother. Only it was never just a letter.
Ma read constantly. I sometimes wonder how she found the time, but she was pretty efficient. She read with her morning coffee while waiting for an appointment or even while she waited for her bread to bake.
Long before smartphones or the internet, she always had something handy to read. Newspapers and magazines were her primary fodder. She had countless subscriptions of her own, and supplemented these whenever she could. She cleaned houses as a source of income, and if her customers threw out magazines, they were all fair game.
She kept a pair of scissors handy, and after reading something, she would cut out items of interest. As far back as I can remember, every letter was accompanied by a stack of clippings. I suspect she kept collections for all of her children. While she read, she was always on the lookout for things other people would enjoy.
She had broad tastes. My envelopes might include a recipe she thought I’d like, a handyman tip, a home improvement project, a feature on a subject I enjoyed, an article about an author I appreciated, or a travel piece about a place she thought I’d like to see.
It was like having a personally-curated reading list prepared with love.
I was frequently surprised, not just by the volume and extent of the items she found but by the accuracy of her selections.
Ma never went to college, but she spent every day of her life learning. She loved all of the arts and often attended symphony concerts, plays, art exhibits, or author readings. She loved learning about new places and people.
Near the end of her life, she took classes at the university, and she had a ball. I remember her telling me with the enthusiasm of a young girl about what she was learning. She even taught herself to use a typewriter and was understandably proud.
I never thought about it in these terms when I was a kid, but she instilled a love of learning in all her children from the day we were born. She read to us every night when we were young and exposed us to as many cultural events as she could.
It never seemed like homework. It was just Ma sharing her favorite activities with us with enthusiasm, curiosity, and with love.
I hope she knew (and I suspect she did) how much richer our lives have been because of the things we shared during those years. As role models go, it would take a lot of work to find a better one.