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My eulogy to Mom...
Wed Dec 6, 2017 21:54

My mother was truly a remarkable human being. For her professional accomplishments as a world renowned diatom taxonomist, I will refer you to her resume, which was extensive. Today, I would like to focus on the person, and what it was like to be a little boy and grow up her son.

I am the baby of the family, and when I was old enough to go to school (1966) Mom returned to continue her own education at Texas A&M University, first with a Masters in Education, then later with a PhD in Oceanography. This was during the Viet Nam war. TAMU was an all-male school at this point (an “officer factory” for the Army Artillery Corps) and had not yet opened its doors to female students. There were no female undergrads, and only a select few female graduate students. The chauvinism of the time, the place, and the institution were an on-going struggle for my mother, but she persevered and built a successful career as a world-class scientist, climbing to the rank of Full Professor. It was not an easy road, but she navigated it with strength, integrity, and dignity.

In the process of building her career, she achieved a number of notable professional accomplishments – a strong publication record (which was well-cited by others in the scientific community), a number of prestigious awards (including the TAMU Distinguished Faculty Award), editorships and professional society service, but she was most proud of her students. Mom was many things, she was a farm-girl from the Midwest who fell in love with the ocean, she was “daddy’s little girl” awed by his many talents, she was a wife and mother who kept our household running smoothly even in difficult times, but at her core she was a teacher and she loved working with students and watching them learn, grow, and succeed. And she used this as a teaching tool…..for herself. I don’t know how many times I heard her say, “The teacher always learns more than the student.” (and she was right). It’s little surprise that teaching has figured so strongly in the lives of my brother, my sister, and to a lesser degree myself.

Mom was a teacher, and being a little boy growing up in Texas, one of the things she made an effort to teach ME was proper grammar, diction and enunciation (I was probably the only 2nd grader in South Knoll Elementary who knew what the words “diction” and “enunciation” meant). One thing that she was big on was me dropping the g at the end of words (“You’re going “FISHING” emphasizing the “ING”, there’s a g on the end of that word, Glen!”). This was a recurring theme of my childhood. Many years later, in the mid-90s, after Mom and Dad had retired, we were visiting them in their Austin home. One Saturday morning I asked Mom what her plans were for the day. “I’m fixin’ ta go down to HEB and pick up some groceries for supper.” I howled with laughter, and got up and danced a jig – victory was mine! She had not only dropped a final g, but she had done so while adopting the classic Texas-ism “fixin’ ta”, contrary to everything she had tried to teach me as a child. After all these years, my mother was turning into a Texan! She didn’t see the humor…. (and after my giddy child-like reaction, I don’t think she ever did this again).

We had 3 rules that we kids had to follow growing up –
1. Swimming lessons through Red Cross Lifesaving -- Mom and dad had had several friends drown, and decided that swimming lessons were a cheap life insurance policy for us kids, and as long as we were learning to swim, we might as well learn Lifesaving, so we could save someone else if the need arose.

2. No caffeine until we were 12 -- No caffeine for kids, I think this one is pretty self-explanatory

3. 3 years of piano lessons before we could move on to any other instrument – this was so that we would at least learn basic music theory, and develop an appreciation of what went into the composition and performance of music (one of mom’s loves).

Mom also had a number of pearls of wisdom that she used to teach us --

“If you want to be understood, you must speak the language of the audience.” This one has served me well many, many times over the years, especially when trying to sell a proposal, or get a new project started.

“Any fool can destroy, it takes real character to build.” i.e. Focus your energies on constructive activities, and don’t give in to the childish temptation of tearing something down (e.g. “getting back” at someone, or “getting even”).

“Always sweep 3 times after breaking glass.” Not particularly deep, or profound, but nonetheless very useful, especially to someone who went on to choose a glassware-filled career in chemistry.

Mom went on 4 Antarctic research cruises, one in each of the 4 seasons, and yes that included the brutal Antarctic winter. When I was in grad school (and Mom was in her late 50s), I got a light-hearted, chatty postcard from her describing how they had gotten the ship frozen into the ice and the ice had shifted and there was a 110-foot long gash in the side of the hull of the ship, but they were fine since the ice was holding them up, and they were flying in welders from Argentina to fix the ship, but they wouldn’t get there for another week, and that everything was fine, and sample collection was going well. Sheesh! When I was in high school, I had wanted to buy a dirt bike. Mom had vetoed the idea “because it was too dangerous”, and now she’s writing me telling me of being frozen in the Antarctic ice with a 110-foot long gash in the side of the ship, and she’s telling me like she was collecting sea shells on the beach in Miami! When she got back, I told her that she had lost all credibility with me in terms of hazard evaluation.

Mom never dictated to us kids what we were to do in life. She would say, “I gave you Life. What you do with it is up to you. You only owe me one thing – and that is to outlive me.” OK Mom, we can check that box now…..

As she was dying, she developed some simple sign language for those times when she was having difficulty speaking. One of her signs was to hold up three fingers, then reach down and rub her heart and smile. She explained to me that this meant “3rd children are special” (mom was a third child, and so am I).

As I was saying goodbye, I was talking with Mom and Joan and Tim, and Mom said something like “I wish I knew why this was taking so long.” (i.e. her dying), and I said, “I know why.” And Mom locked me down with a rigid stare – the scientist wanted DATA! She wanted to understand WHY! I leaned in close to her so she could hear me *enunciate* clearly (she wasn’t wearing her hearing aids) and said, “It’s because you’re Esther’s daughter.” She positively BEAMED her smile was so big. Those of you that knew Grandma Albrecht will understand that, for those of you who didn’t, Grandma was a remarkable human being, that my sister has characterized as “a Force of Nature” (and she’s right). Mom was proud to be Esther’s daughter.

Mom, I am proud to be your son. Shalom.

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