Were she still alive, my mother, Elizabeth J. Hieber, would have turned 106 last Sunday (March 29, 2020). She died at the age of only 78. I say “only” because her mother lived to the age of 96. I am grateful to her for the example she set on how to face adversity and obstacles. Her lessons have proven invaluable during this coronavirus challenge. I credit her for my love of reading. Her curiosity led her to document our connection to William and Mary Brewster of Mayflower fame. She is their great x11 granddaughter.
Until her final few years, when grief, depression and anxiety overtook her, she approached every obstacle with grit, humor, determination and diligence. I once came home from school to find her perched on top of the refrigerator. She’d pulled it out from the wall and was sitting on it with her feet dangling over the back, so she could hang strips of wallpaper. Mom wanted the job done. Dad was out of town on business, as he often was during my childhood. My older brother was away at college. Apparently, she thought I and my younger brother were more hindrance than help. She decided to use the precious hours home alone to tackle the task.
However, some parts of her life were hard. Dad traveled often for work, sometimes gone a few months at a time. In their first twenty years of marriage they moved every other year or so; the record being 14 moves their first 11 years together. My older brother attended a new school nearly every school year through his grade school years. As I and my younger brother approached school age Mom insisted we move back to the Cleveland, Ohio area. Both she and Dad grew up there and their families still lived in the area. Dad could go wherever he needed, for as long as he needed. We’d be near extended family to help during his long absences.
This arrangement worked beautifully from my vantage point. I walked to one grandmother’s home and called my other grandparents on a local call. I rode my bike to Uncle Bob and Aunt Dottie’s home – a place I loved to visit. Having no children of their own, they eagerly indulged me and my brother. They considered strawberry shortcake with generous portions of whipped cream lunch, played card games with us, and sent us home singing little ditties we certainly never heard at home.
Researcher at Work
Mom was a librarian, so I spent hours at the library with her. She was reference librarian and taught me how to do research. I inherited all her research notes documenting our connection to the Brewsters of the 1600s. Before internet, before Google, before Ancestory.com, before DNA testing for the general public, she dug out the necessary records back through the generations to William and Mary. I inherited all her notes. I keep one copy in the home safe; another in my paper files, and scanned copies in digital files.
Without her notes, I doubt I’d have ever delved into that rich history for myself. The more I learned, the more I felt compelled – called – obligated – to tell a fuller version of what really prompted a small group of religious rebels to risk their lives sailing to a place thousands of miles away from anything familiar to them.
As I researched, wrote, edited, and re-wrote, I checked Mom’s notes over and over again, making me feel connected to her though she died nearly thirty years ago. Another March 29 has come and gone. The book she inspired me to write is in production. It is dedicated to her, along with other family members. Though she did not see it, this fruit of her detailed labor, this week I pause to remember the woman who not only raised me – no easy task I’m sure – but who also introduced me to this story that has absorbed much of my life these past few years. Thank you, Mom.