Superheroes inhabited our black and white TV on Saturday mornings in the early 1960’s. Spiderman, Superman, and Wonder Woman evoked awe and satisfaction as the good guys won. What I did not realize was that surviving in our small rural town required powers that rivaled those on our living room screen. Disguised as a mild mannered mother of three, with cape and tights swapped for a cotton housedress and apron, mom’s superpowers included creating meals for five on a budget for two. Her hands magically transformed greenery from the woodland floor into the greenbacks that provided holiday extras as she crafted and sold Christmas wreaths from our driveway. The Singer sewing machine sang her theme song as she conjured new clothing for us kids from the unworn parts of dad’s pants and shirts; or summoned forth warm colorful quilts from bits of spare fabric.
Mom played her part as provider with little ado. However, her starring role was that of the protector, vigilant and ready to fly into action. Late summer was blueberry season. Mom herded us up the road into the neighbor’s berry lot / cow pasture day after day and we filled coffee can buckets with berries to send to market. Navigating through the well chewed paths between tall bushes, we occasionally met a munching black and white Hereford that glanced our way and then continued on her own mission. The less docile bull was kept in a different pasture – usually. One day mom’s hands froze abruptly as she cocked her head to one side. With barely a word she swept my two brothers and me through the bushes towards the fence, glancing behind as we ran. She lifted the bottom strand of sharp toothed wire as we scrambled under. Then rolled her plump body beneath the pointed spines with speed and agility we didn’t know she possessed. The horned snorting bull arrived just inches away as she gained her feet. She stood between us and the bull, unmoving except for her heaving chest, staring up at him while he pawed the ground with his hoof, nostrils flared, until he finally turned and sauntered away. She remained, still and quiet, rooted to that spot for several minutes. She never took us into the pasture again without confirmation that the bull was where he belonged.
Summer weekends often included family camping trips to the Adirondack Mountains in our unique olive green mobile home – an old bread van. Dad had built 2X4 bunks and a fold down bench seat to accommodate sleeping the five of us. Visiting local dumps in the early evening to watch bears feed was a popular pastime – soon after prohibited and fenced off for safety. Mom’s steps stuttered along the gravel as her eyes surveyed the area surrounding a small crowd. As we all watched the bears descend the hill in front of us, stopping to snack on enticing morsels along the way, mom glimpsed movement behind us, and screamed: “BEAR!!” She seized my arm and bolted towards the camper, my feet barely touching the ground. My face flushed as the other spectators chuckled and watched the bear lumber past on the way to its evening meal. We did not return to the show, and though I would later claim I had been held back against my will, I made no move to leave the steel walls and closed door.
The definition of mom expanded to include the word ‘brave’ one day when a six foot black snake invaded our enclosed back porch. Upon spotting the snake she immediately pushed us inside the house, slammed the door, grabbed a shovel, knocked it down from the rafters and severed its head. When she came inside I watched as she sat shaking on the settee, and then listened as she called her sister and choked out the details. I knew she was holding back tears. I also knew I did not have to worry about anything slithering my way.
As I grew and craved more freedom mom’s protection became less welcomed, often sucking the air out from under my sprouting wings. Extreme restrictions cloaked in the guise of safety – no sleepovers, no high school dances, no class trip with the band – fed the growth of my own powers of deception to dodge her wary watch. Despite obstacles of finances and conflicting expectations I fled her protective grip by escaping to college. It was a giant step from a sheltered world, not without apprehension. But thanks to mom I had learned to work hard, to think creatively, to observe my surroundings carefully, and when necessary, to act with bravery and strength despite fear. I am grateful for the lessons that supported me as I moved into adulthood, taught by my own personal superhero through the greatest power of all – a mother’s love.