Why not write about hope? Mom suggested, when I mentioned my Worldview Wednesday deadline this past week. A couple days passed, then she asked again, “What will you write about?”
These are tough times, she said. “Tell people they have to keep hope. We owe it to the younger generations.” Our children need that example, to live hopeful lives themselves.
“Send me your reflections, Mom,” I invited. “Here’s your homework: set the timer for 15 minutes and write about the theme of hope.”
Within hours, a bundle of memories awaited me in an email from my 82-year-old mother. A hopeful post seems a lovely way to start 2016, so here we go, courtesy of my mother, Virginia Robin.
“Hope was instilled in me at a very young age,” she reflected. “When I was 8 years old, my brothers went to help win World War II. They were gone for about four years and we missed them very much. I always felt that they would return and they did for furloughs at times, but it was four years before the war was over in 1945.
“All that time, my parents never expressed fear to me or my 6-year-old sister and 2-year-old brother. We knew that the war was going to end and that the United States would win. Life, as we young ones knew it, was routine and we helped with the war effort as much as we could. We helped with the vegetable garden and with the chickens that we were raising so we could have meat, as all meat at the butcher was rationed.
“We saved all cans, took the labels off and flattened them for the scrap as every can saved made a bullet. (So they told us back then). My brother soaked strips of paper and fashioned them into softball-size balls to dry behind our furnace. These were used as fuel to save on coal.
“We did without the ordinary things that we take for granted now but were hard to come by at that time, such as chocolate, butter, soap, toys made of rubber, and for the adult women nylon stockings were scarce.
“We survived. My brothers came home and went on to raise families. Through it all we remained hopeful.”
How did people keep hope alive? They did “what they could and observed a routine in their lives as much as possible,” Mom wrote. “I feel that it is the obligation of every adult to pass hope down to the next generation. In order for us to do that in a compelling manner, we need to keep hope alive in our hearts.”
I would say Mom is an expert on this theme, having survived tumultuous times through more than eight decades! She told of how many of her young friends went to fight in the Korean War in the 1950s, and how “our hope for the future was tested during the missile crisis when I was a young mother in the 60’s.
“There was a lot of fear going around at that time as we were engaged in a cold war with Russia. People in our area had built bomb shelters and we had stashed extra bottled water and canned goods, first aid items, etc., in case we had to take shelter in our crawl space. My husband (Joe) and I knew that was not going to be total protection against an atomic bomb dropped in Chicago, but we had to do something.
“The night that Russia placed missiles in Cuba, 90 miles off our coast, and were testing the nerve of our young president, John F. Kennedy, we were frightened. It happened on our regular square dancing night. The children were very young and we decided to carry on as usual and go dancing. Everyone came and we had a great time. We did not stay home and scare our children with how hopeless it could all be. Things turned out all right as Khrushchev decided to remove the missiles.
“Now we are dealing with more threats and passing hope to our children is even more of a challenge,” wrote Mom, a 5’2” Irish-German powerhouse from Chicago’s South Side. She married Joseph Robin, an eternally optimistic man of French Canadian heritage from the tough Chicago Stock Yards neighborhood, who had studied his way to become a mechanical engineer. He always spoke of the grammar school nun that challenged him to excellence, and the full tuition-paid scholarship he was awarded to Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School. He always knew from a young age that he wanted to be a good Catholic family man, and lead his children to heaven. And no matter what, they always clung to this reality, wrote Mom: “Faith was key.”
Mom was aged 24 and a registered nurse when she married Joe, a widow with four young children. She carried on to have three more (I’m the youngest), in the face of all threats and difficulties of the times, while pursuing and obtaining an advanced degree in Piano Performance. Even after stepping my father through many years of cancer treatments and medical crises, and losing him to cancer a year and a half ago, Mom still teaches piano. She just accomplished a first-ever pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This is not a woman who lets tough times defeat her.
“We believed God would help us through any situation,” concluded Mom, giving credit to her own parents. “My Mom and Dad lived their faith and were great role models. Now that I am alone, I don’t know how I would manage without my faith. I believe that I am being guided in this phase of my life by God.”
What a hopeful story! Mom faced great adversity in life, and many naysayers, but held strong. She has grieved and struggled, and raising seven kids through the tumultuous 1960s and beyond has been no cake walk, but she continues to triumph.
I have a lifetime of memories of attending Sunday Mass with Mom and Dad, and of observing holy days with great family traditions. How I loved our Advent wreath and carol singing, little homegrown drama productions and Midnight Mass, and writing resolutions and seeing the New Year in, as a family. So as we head into 2016, let’s give a little round of applause to and lift up a prayer for our elders, who have kept faith and model to us the virtue of hope. Hope really does spring eternal. And judging by one of the best photos ever from several weeks ago, of my mother riding a camel on her first-ever pilgrimage to the Holy Land, hope seems to renew youth and vitality by the day!
Thanks, Mom…and may God bless us all with courageous hope into the New Year.
Copyright 2016 Marianna Bartholomew
Photo courtesy of Virginia Robin. Used by permission. All rights reserved.