My mother, Sara Becker Gurvitz, and her granddaughter Zoe Colman, 1992. Sara is 79 years old in this photo.
Happy International Women’s Day! The celebration of this holiday has varied over time and across geography. In different regions the focus of the celebrations ranges from general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women’s economic, political and social achievements.
I like to think of it as a day to stop and reflect and where we are as women, and I always think about the progress that was made during my mother’s lifetime because this holiday always falls on her birthday, March 8. This year, she would have turned 100 years old.
My mother was born at a time when women definitely took a back seat to men. I don’t think she ever got over the fact that her older brother was able to go to college, while neither my mother nor her younger sister were educated beyond high school. That didn’t stop either one of them from entering the workforce in supporting roles. Perhaps it was good that her brother went to college because while he was in pharmacy school, he became friends with the man who was to become my father.
My parents were married in January 1940, when my mother had reached the advanced (for that time) age of 26 and my father was 30. My brother was born in February 1942 but I didn’t follow for another 12 years. So when I was born, my mother was 40 – and back then, there was no prenatal testing. Today, giving birth later in life is more common, but back then it was unusual, to say the least.
There was one thing about which my mother was fanatic – she never revealed her age. The birth date shown on her driver’s license, marriage license, and the birth certificates of my brother and I were all different. It did make me a bit uneasy that I didn’t know how old my mother was, which was a great contrast to my father who would proudly proclaim to anyone within earshot that he was born on 10-10-10 (that’s 1910 we’re talking about).
In fact, we never knew for sure how old she was until I cleared out my parents’ apartment three years ago when I found her actual birth certificate. She always looked younger than her age, so she saw no reason to destroy anyone’s illusions. Toward the end of her life, when she was dealing with illness (she beat lung cancer, but it came back five years later to her pancreas), she would announce her age to a chorus of disbelief.
I thank my mother for blessing me with many things, not the least of which are good skin and high energy, along with a youthful appearance. My mother was intelligent and strong-minded, and boy, did she know how to hold a grudge. If she had an opinion about something, whether it happened a minute ago or a decade ago, she would let you hear about it. I think I may have been “blessed” with that, too, but I am working on it.
My mother and my father had a love affair that lasted almost 60 years. She always took care of him until, in the end, he took care of her. And among the many blessings she left him with was the motivation to join a daily prayer group at a local temple, in which he was active for the remaining decade of his life and through which he made friends of all ages who were astonished by his energy, memory, and sense of humor.
That sense of humor kept my mother laughing at the same jokes, over and over, for nearly six decades. Not a bad role model for sharing your life with a partner. I am grateful for a husband who makes me laugh every day.
It is impossible to reflect on my mother’s life without thinking of my daughter. Upon hearing that my due date was March 2, I thought, “wouldn’t it be nice for my child to share a birthday with her grandmother.” My mother had other ideas, basically warning me that she wasn’t interested in sharing her birthday with anyone, even a grandchild. As my due date passed and we got closer to March 8, there was a level of stress about when the baby would be born. Fortunately, Zoe cooperated and came out on March 7. I am so glad to Zoe got to know her beloved Bubbe, who lived until Zoe was almost seven years old.
It thrills me to think of the span of progress that will have been achieved from the time my mother was born in the early 20th century to where we will be by the time Zoe is a grandmother. Progress for women may move at a snail’s pace, or so it seems, but as I mentioned in a previous post about the 100th anniversary of the march on Washington for women’s suffrage, we must keep working at it. And I would be willing to bet that my daughter and her generation will make quantum leaps toward equality and making things better not just for women but also for men. We may hold up “Half The Sky”, as the title of the wonderful book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDun says, but if only half the sky is held up, the sky will fall.
Celebrate the women in your life, privately and publicly. And women, let’s celebrate ourselves, for what we have achieved and what we are determined to accomplish. As my mother used to say, “you never know what strange turns life is going to take.” Mother, as usual, was right.