Think About It: Things my mother never did

My daily life is filled with unrelenting dailiness. What I mean by dailiness is the things I need to do every day. What I mean by unrelenting is those things must be done.

There is food preparation — planning, shopping, storing, preparing, eating, cleaning. There is care support — medicines, monitoring, dressing, transporting, coordinating, personal care.

There is keeping order for safety and sanity — laundry, cleaning between housekeeper visits, getting and sorting the mail, trash collection, recycling collection, taking bins down a very steep driveway, and pulling them back up when empty.

Over the last 19 months, I have been on my feet more than any time in my life since I learned to walk. Enough so, I went to see a podiatrist because one foot seemed to collapse into itself. He prescribed a pair of orthotics to replace mine about to celebrate their 20th birthday.

In the interest of balanced reporting, I should mention that the podiatrist reminded me that the fallen foot was not only my active life on foot but due in part to my age.

Sort of a momentum killer; however, not important to the story.

Women’s work

While doing all this dailiness, I have time to think about how it could be done more efficiently, where are shortcuts that reduce time but not quality. I am always looking for time so I can spend more time with Paul, my husband, and I can write this column.

Again, to maintain perspective, I have always done this as if it were built into my brain cells during conception. Once born, sentient and in school I had the good fortune to be mentored by my mom who was extraordinary in her capacity to get things done.

To set the stage for this and other columns that will compare my mom’s life with mine, I want to tell you a bit about her.

Mom was born in 1915. She grew up wanting to be a nurse and, despite her dad’s objecting saying, “the work is too hard,” she attended a three-year nursing program, obtained her registered nurse (RN) qualification, and proudly went to work as a nurse.

Mom and dad married and when she gave birth to my brother, she quit her nursing job. Nearly three years later, I arrived. She waited five more years to return to her beloved profession.

I remember the day. Mom came to my kindergarten class and told the teacher I was to stay with another family after school. Mom was dressed up in a way I rarely saw her.

I learned later she was dressed for a job interview which she got in a doctor’s office. I did not see much of her after that; at least that is what it felt like to me.

Mom was busy. One thing mom did not have was a husband who was inclined to help with anything that was housework or parenting. Besides, he was busy working most of the time.

Dad was a commercial fisherman who fished in Alaska about five months each year. In the winter he worked the machinery that drove huge pilings into land underwater to hold up docks or bridges. Both jobs were hard and dangerous.

What I did not know at the time was that my dad did not want my mom to work. He thought she belonged at home caring for home, kids, and him when he was there. I understood later that it was a source of friction between them.

But mom was determined to do the work she loved most and knew she could do that best if she did everything else dad expected her to do. She worked full-time, which included half-days Saturdays.

Sundays were devoted to cooking meals to last the week and ironing using a machine ironically called a mangle. I had the impression her time with the mangle was one of the most relaxing times of the week for her.

Once I got old enough, she delegated housecleaning to me. My brother and I became the dishwashers, something we constantly fought over whose turn it was.

Since it was a doctor’s office, she was home in the evening; that is after she did the grocery shopping. Sometimes she brought work home. I remember piles of paper which she told me were bills for patients.

Mom, the nurse, was doing the billing!

The crash

Our home life turned inside out when my father was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB), which at the time meant he had to go into a hospital type place that housed and cared for persons diagnosed with the highly contagious TB. I was 11 years old.

Fortunately, Firlands Sanitarium was close enough to our home that my mom could easily visit.

I learned dad would go away for the summer which did not worry me since he was gone every summer; that is until my mom cried when she told the neighbor he had TB. Not only did she worry about my dad, but she also worried she would not be allowed to work since she was exposed to TB.

Her exposure was not a problem for her employment.

Mom added daily visits to her schedule and by necessity became the family breadwinner.

My brother and I visited dad once. We had to stand outside his window because kids were not allowed inside. It was dark and strange.

I did not see my mother until late in the evening. I hardly saw my brother, who joined something called Boys Club — intended to give boys something to do.

I knew not to worry her. I understood how busy she was and felt she must be very worried already.

My mother did not complain. She did not have time.

Bertha Cooper, an award-winning featured columnist with the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation and is the author of the award-winning “Women, We’re Only Old Once.” Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 25 years. Reach her at

WOW! forum talks taboos

Bertha Cooper and Dr. Paul Cunningham present “Taboos: Let’s Talk About Them,” a free WOW! Working on Wellness Radio Forum from 2-3 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13, on KSQM 91.5 FM.