My first real memory of the woman I would come to call Mom Cormie is of a vibrant fortysomething redhead with Union Jack knickers sitting on a piano in pub on the grounds of the Texas Folklife Festival. She was elegant and bawdy at the same time, naughty and ladylike, and always a good hostess. Her daughter was on her way to becoming my dearest lifelong friend and had invited me to the Festival. An annual event for her family Denise was neither shocked nor embarrassed by her mother's pub behavior and introduced me after the crowd finished a rowdy version of another traditional British pub song.
My own home life was neither elegant or ladylike-I couldn't begin to imagine my own mother on top of a piano, much less singing and showing off her undergarments. I was instantly enamored, more than a little jealous, and I knew I wanted more. Years passed and Denise and I grew into women, married, divorced, widowed, degreed, employed women. Mom Cormie became a teacher and earned a Master's Degree and then she taught scads of third graders. She taught for the love of education, never for a test, and she taught more with her approach and care than any book could ever demonstrate.
It was a cruel blow when her diagnosis came, at the time I hadn't really heard of Parkinson's disease and had no way of knowing how the horrible specter of the illness would come to so profoundly effect my life. With her diagnosis came the slow unraveling of her teaching career, her ability to write, speak, walk, her very independence.
She remained throughout every indignity, every inch an English lady. Committed to trying a new treatment, medication, operation-committed to being a mother, wife, grandmother, aunt, and honorary mum to the collection of misfits her kids brought home in need of mothering. She exemplified grace under fire through it all and when the unthinkable happened and her beloved was diagnosed with ALS, she dug deeper and found more strength to be the companion he needed in those last terrible days.
She is a shadow of the woman I met 30 years ago, unable to stand or care for herself any longer. She has lost her vanity in the last couple of years-a change that has been harder to accept for those around her than most anything else. Despite all the nastiness of Parkinson's throughout the years, one could always count on her being impeccably turned out, hair styled, jewelry coordinated with clothes and shoes. It seems the worst affront that her"lady"ness has finally been taken.
This Mother's day there is a lengthy list of things I have learned from the honorary mothers in my life: but the list starts with Mom Cormie. She was there when I became a woman myself and eventually a wife and mother. She was there when I buried my own mother and subsequently my husband. She demonstrated by her daily willingness to get up and face the world what it meant to be a woman, a lady, a mother and I learned from her what grace under pressure looks like, right down to the Union Jack knickers.