Gloria Simoneaux was born on her grandfather's sugar cane plantation in the bayou country of south Louisiana. The other facts of her life arranged themselves accordingly. Cajun French is her first language. She was not allowed to speak French at public school. However, her grandmother forbid her to speak English at home. She managed to maintain command of both languages.
My mother can wield a sugar cane knife like she was born with one in her hand. The cane knives come out whenever she gardens or edges the sidewalks. She is a decorated gardener of many flower shows and three garden clubs. Her neighbors are accustomed to the sight of a woman wielding a large blade in her front yard.
The summer Gloria turned 10 years old, a man came rushing over from the village to bring the family bad news. Her mother made Gloria change into clean clothes. Then mother and daughter walked to the village to find husband and father passed from this world. They waked him all night at the house and put him in a white-washed above ground tomb the next day. In just 24 hours, Gloria's father was gone and forever out of his little daughter's sight.
Gloria's memories of her childhood after her father died are like a dark, empty hallway. She passed through it, but her memories of it are dim. The family was in such a state of unsteadiness that Gloria did not continue in school for a year. The next year, the American Legion gave Gloria a scholarship so she could return to elementary school with the Carmelite nuns. In exchange, Gloria helped the nuns on Saturdays.
The Carmelites needed a great deal of help in the wardrobe department. Their nun's habits were complicated affairs consisting of coifs, wimples, veils, belts, sleeves, underskirts and aprons for Gloria to launder, starch and iron. This experience with the nuns encouraged Gloria's aspirations to enter the convent. It worsened her opinion of ironing.
My father changed Gloria's mind about becoming a nun. It would have been a shame to hide those long, shapely legs under a nun's robe. Together mom and dad raised six chil
dren. Our mother tended to her children selflessly and with a good heart. If one of us kept mom up all night with colic or a cold, she would sing to us at breakfast.
"Good morning, good morning, we danced the whole night through! Good morning, good morning to you!"
We could get dirty in the yard, be loud when we were excited or make a mess in the house in pursuit of creativity. Mom believes children have a right to be children. The neighborhood kids always wanted to play at our house. They still do.
She taught us by example what a capable woman can do. When my sister's nightgown caught fire leaning over the gas stove, my mother scooped her up and rolled her in the carpet. No burns. When my brother couldn't breathe after a bee sting, she drove him straight to the emergency room. She saved his life. Mom raised six kids with great vigilance and without major injury or illness. We all gave her a time so these good results were no credit to any of us but to her.
As I go through the stages of my own life, I gain a greater appreciation of my mother as a woman, wife, mother and now great-grandmother. At 81-years-old, she still seeks the experience of meeting new people and seeing new things. The first time she saw the Atlantic Ocean, she jumped up and down like a school girl.
Mom always encourages. "If you have an opportunity to do something, do it!" She has the strength to be present with people in their pain and suffering. They never forget her compassion. Her very presence is a benediction.
When my father was bedridden from a stroke, she cared for him for six years at home. When he died in his sleep, she submitted herself to her own grief and emerged to write a new chapter in her life. She survived breast cancer and received an award for being an inspiration to others. (Mom says get your mammogram ladies!)
Each and every day of our lives, mom gives her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren unconditional love, inspiration for our growth and support for our problems.
Thanks mom from all of us. Happy Mother's Day.
Mary Ruiz, the first Latina to serve as CEO of Manatee Glens, believes that women in leadership is what the world needs now. She can be contacted at mary.ruiz@ manateeglens.org.