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Location: TUCSON, Arizona, United States

Friday, April 11, 2008

Goodbye, mother...

Roberta Hindes Bailiff


Mother won’t be sending me any more cookies. Of course, the last time she actually did this I was still in my first year of college. That would be 1955. But I still vividly recall the instant popularity with my roommates when another Quaker Oats box arrived for me, wrapped in a couple of sheets from the San Pedro News-Pilot and tied with string.

Despite the fact that we were together for no more than a few days or weeks at a time since I left home more than 50 years ago, that capacity for care, and the connection it forged and maintained between us, is what I miss—and will continue to miss—now that mother is gone. But she passed on other qualities which also distinguished her life and made possible whatever it is that I have achieved.

The most prominent of these were curiosity and adventuresomeness. Under circumstances now lost to memory, a young engineer named Agne Lundgren met my father shortly after he and my mother were married in 1932, while they were living on a houseboat in Rio Vista, north of San Francisco Bay. Agne and his wife Esther bought a derelict 22ft sloop in 1933, which they refitted, christened the Enthus—the Latin root of “enthusiasm”—and on which they taught my parents to sail during the 1934 season. The next year Agne was hired by Douglas and had to report for work in Santa Monica. They all agreed my father would skipper the Enthus down to Southern California with a crew consisting of Esther and my mother—who was then three months pregnant with me. They sailed on September 27th, 1935. Twice that day, actually. They had just reached Mile Rock outside the bay, when dying winds and currents drove them back under the Gate. Mother, already a bit seasick, had gone below. When she came back on deck, Esther wrote, she looked around and said, “My goodness! This looks exactly like San Francisco Bay!” That afternoon the Enthus passed under the bridge for the third time. Then, despite fog, storm, calm, and lack of navigational skills, they arrived safely two weeks later.

After my father died in 1987, mother ventured once again at 76 to do things she’d deferred through decades devoted to raising children, caring for aging parents, and seeing my father through the years of his decline. When I was teaching in Poland in 1990, she recruited my cousin Midge for a traveling companion and flew to. When I picked them up in Warsaw, mother, clearly exhausted, could hardly talk fast enough—another quality of hers I inherited—to report everything they’d already experienced since passing through Frankfurt. For nearly two weeks I drove the three through the countries and capitals of Germany, the Czech Republic, and Austria, before returning Krakow Easter weekend. Mother’s curiosity never flagged, though her sense of humor was tested several times, not least when we found ourselves sleeping on mattresses on the floor of a hotel storeroom in Berlin, a consequence of late arrival and lost reservations.

I know I’ve lived my own life more fully because of her gifts and her example. So it is with a mixture of grief and gratitude that I now say goodbye...