Today is International Women’s Day, so I started to think about the influential women in my life. And there was no more influential woman than my mom.
My mom was born in rural Michigan in 1943, the eldest of four children. Every year around her birthday, my grandfather would tease her that she made him miss an entire night’s sleep because she had been born so late at night. Family lore has it that Grandma was so exhausted after childbirth that she told the doctor to keep her. The doctor humored her (as he likely had many other exhausted new moms) and responded, “Great, I’ve always wanted a little girl. I’ll name her Carol,” at which point my grandmother reconsidered motherhood, and made Carol my mom’s middle name. Grandpa called my mom his “chickie” and doted on her. As a true firstborn, she made a habit of putting her siblings in the kitchen cabinets under the sink and informing Grandma that she was “he’ping.” (A two-year-old’s version of “helping”!)
Mom’s childhood wasn’t an easy or carefree one. The family were dairy farmers, and Grandpa was up before dawn for first milking, and everyone else had plenty of chores, too. In early days, fall meant the threshers would arrive. They were crews of men who traveled all over the region with expensive wheat-threshing equipment that most farmers couldn’t afford to own themselves. The machines efficiently separated each farmer’s wheat from the straw, and the crews worked in exchange for rooms, food, and a percentage of the grain. The women on the farm were responsible for feeding the threshers, which was an around-the-clock job for a hungry crew. My mom’s youngest sister remembers that potato soup was a family favorite, not realizing until decades later that they ate it so much because even when money ran low, a bit of onion, a few potatoes, and milk were always on hand to feed the family.
Her childhood also had some fun times, and I heard stories of rare Sunday afternoons when Grandpa would skip work and take them to the beaches of nearby Lake Superior, or take them to baseball games (Grandpa loved baseball). They played softball with the neighbors and barn crews on weekends, or ice skated on ponds in the winter. There were the occasional major gifts, like a new bike at Christmas for her sister that mom ruined as a surprise, because she could never keep a secret, especially an exciting one. As she got older, Mom won the “Future Homemaker of America” 4-H award and State Fair ribbons for prize-winning cake recipes. And the boys paid attention. She was pretty and popular, and more than one man asked for her hand in marriage, but she only had eyes for Dad.
They got married in 1964, worked for the Peace Corps in Jamaica from 1965 through 1967, returned to Michigan, and then studied for their master’s degrees, Mom’s in library science, Dad’s in biology. They badly wanted children and my brother was born after some difficulty in 1970, and after even more struggles, I was born in 1977. She flatlined on the table giving birth to me, but we both survived, and I had her for 17 years. She died of pancreatic cancer at Christmas in 1994.
Along the way, the educational toys and games store where she worked while we were young made her a partner. One partner's husband taught computer science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where we lived. He predicted that computers would be big in education, and, by the way, there was a company in Cupertino, California, that they should look into. And so they did. In about 1981, their store became one of the first Apple Computer retailers in the world—and one of the very few owned by women before Apple took its retailing in-house.
Of all the amazing women in my life, she was the most amazing by far, and her life and death influenced me more than anything. I learned technology, entrepreneurship, equality, hard work, friendship, humor, service, excitement, and love from her—traits I’m sure you’ve seen if you know me at all. I miss you Mom, but I know I make you proud.