I don't have any digital photos of my mom. This blurry dark thing is a digital picture I took of a picture I have of her in a frame from when she was in New Zealand. She loved to collect rocks and shells on the beach. Here she is sorting through her rocks with her ever present plastic bag to put the keepers in.
Today is the ten-year anniversary of my mom's death. She died suddenly and I wasn't there when she passed away. It is terrible that I wasn't there but at least she knew that I loved her and we had a very close relationship as she did with my brother as well.
Most of my mom's life took place before the internet revolution so there is no trace of her on the world wide web. For some reason that disturbs me. For now I thought I would write a little bit about her life on today, the anniversary of her death.
My mom was an amazing woman. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri in a family with three sisters (Mary, Ann, and Susan). My mom was one of the middle daughters. My mom actually had four middle names, one for each of the babies my grandma miscarried before my mom was born. She went to an all girls Catholic High School and an all girls Catholic college. During her final year of college she had a psychology class from a visiting professor from Kansas University. Towards the end of the class, this professor said, "Who is this person Joan Jacobson who keeps getting perfect scores on all of my exams?" It was my mom. The professor, Don Bushell, ended up offering my mom a position as a Masters student at KU (it was actually a colleague of his who had an opening at the last minute, I think some other student bailed). My mom went to KU where she worked on a component of the head start program working with disadvantaged youth in innercities and on the Hopi Indian reservation.
My mom met my dad in graduate school at KU. My dad was a doctoral student there. My mom and dad got together and lived the hippie lifestyle in a house out in the country. They had a cat named dog and not too long after, they had a shotgun wedding and then had my brother, Jeremy. I wasn't born until later when they moved to New Jersey so my dad could take a faculty position at NYU.
I can't write her whole life story here so let me just jot down a few of the highlights of Joan Mary Jacobson Brigham as I remember them. She was a fantastic conversationalist. She really listened to people, was interested in what they said and asked lots of probing questions. She had a wonderfully general and sharp intellect. She was interested in everything and everyone. She was an avid follower of politics and was a true blue member of the democratic party. She ran for city council several times but in conservative Pullman, WA she always lost to some jerk of a republican.
My mom was a great reader and started taking me to the library at a young age. She was a quirky blend of traits as a mom. She had a crazy temper and would get mad and yell a lot. She could also be very sarcastic and cutting. At the same time, she was incredibly supportive. She went to all my sports games my entire life, wrote me wonderful letters my whole life, and always gave me very thoughtful gifts on holidays as a way to show that she really knew who I was and what I liked. She also had this funny habit of buying gifts in advance and then losing them for several years in her closet. So that at age 15 you might get some stamps for your birthday that she bought for you when you were 11.
My mom also loved art and poetry and all things cultural. She was a great traveller, a great planner, and a big lover of food. She also loved animals and was my partner in many pet adventures (dogs, cats, hamsters, etc.). My mom loved nature and was a great gardener. She actually had a huge garden at our house and then started a community garden in a vacant lot across the street from our house. She was always packaging up garden goods or baking and making my brother and I take these gifts over to various neighbors' houses. She was very civic minded and also loved to spy on everyone and know all their business. I'll never forget the second night in our rental house in Cardiff, Wales when she, my brother, and I spent an hour peering out the window at a party our neighbor's son was having while his parents were out of town.
My mom was also a huge bargain hunter and spend thrift. She used to go to four different grocery stores every week to get all the deals and would spend hours clipping coupons.
Joan was also one of the pioneer environmentalists. Growing up we always had 4 different places for trash - the burn barrel (paper), recycling (aluminum and glass), compost, and finally the trash. I had to educate each new friend on what to put where. We also hung our laundry on the line during the summer. My mom frequently complained about conspicous consumption and was a huge advocate and participant in local greening initiatives. She always put her time where her heart was, volunteering for all sorts of different community causes, writing letters, going door to door, attending hundreds of evening meetings, and sitting on the city planning commission for years and years. When I was in graduate school she had me review an environmental impact statement for a proposed development near our house. It was distinct pleasure to write a professional objection since the botanical surveys had been done in the late summer when many of the rare plants of the area would not have been visible.
This is getting way too long. Some day I would like to review all the letters my mom and I wrote back and forth and maybe put them together into a book or make another blog in honor of my mom.
For now, I'll close with a list of a few of my favorite memories of my mom.
12. My mom washing plastic bags over and over again for re-use.
11. Collecting rocks and shells on any beach anywhere. Comparing our finds at the end of the day.
10. My mom making my brother and I cook dinner one night a week so we would know how to cook and be self-sufficient adults. (C and J's mexicali special anyone?)
9. Picking blackberries on Camano Island. I always ate all mine while picking but my mom always picked a lot.
8. Watching Dallas and eating popcorn with butter and parmesan cheese with my mom and my brother.
7. Mapping out our route to the most promising garage sales on Friday night and then getting up at 7 AM on a Saturday to go garage sale-ing.
6. My mom reading and providing editorial advice on every paper I ever wrote in high school.
5. My mom combing the papers to find me a summer job after my first year in college and eventually finding me a job at a certified seed company.
4. My mom walking me home from our neighbor Midge's house when I was four years old and used to go there for day care.
3. My mom scratching my back every night at bed time and making sure there was a fair distribution of pets between my brother's bed and my bed.
2. My mom petting my hair while I fell asleep with my head in her lap late at night as we drove home from one event or another.
1. My mom putting little notes in my suitcase the first time I ever went away from home (fifth grade camp).
There really isn't anyone like a person's mom. They are irreplaceable. I will always miss her but I do value all the days we did have together and I take my memories out to look at often and put all the keepers in my own recycled grocery bag.