Old newspaper clippings, even those clipped by someone else for reasons unrelated to one’s own experiences, can trigger memories. Well, memories may be the wrong word. Longings may better describe it, though even that’s not quite right. It’s more like a desire to know something that’s missing, something unknowable, something that could have been known had circumstances been different.
A few weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to see what the internet had to say about my mother. She died before the internet came into its own as the source of all knowledge, so I didn’t expect to find anything; I had looked before and came up empty. But this time, I had a few hits, newspaper articles from before I was born. Even the brief, incomplete sketches drawn from those articles gave me a glimpse into the woman who, just a few short years later, would become the center of my life for months and years to come.
She was a woman of the church. I never knew whether that was because it was expected, or because she was a true adherent; perhaps an older sibling or two has a better understanding than I. She was a politically aware person who took education, including community education, seriously. She grieved when friends died.
I knew her as a devoted English teacher who, over the years, tired of the politics of the schoolroom and the principal’s office. I recall her as a woman who watched in disappointment and anger as the classroom became more and more chaotic and teachers became less and less trusted to educate and, instead, were expected to babysit without ruffling feathers.
I shared very few of my adult years with my mother. She died when I was thirty-three years old, at a time when I spent so much of my time devoted to “making my mark” that I had very little time left to kindle an adult relationship with her. I had moved from Houston to Chicago less than a year before she died and had not yet returned for the visit I kept promising her.
How might my life have been different if my mother had not died when I was still so young? I won’t know the answer to that question; it’s a pointless question, really, as so many we ask are. But, still, it bobs to the top of mind when I think back on the few things I knew about her and the many things I never did.
These are those short, innocuous clippings that set my mind on a path with no known destination and no known route back to where it started:
March 1, 1949, from the Brownsville Herald
The Wesleyan Service Guild of the First Methodist Church meets at the home of Mrs. J. C. Swinburn, 1307 W. St. Charles. The lesson, ”Hawaii and Its People,” will be under the direction of Mrs. L. G. Mathews.
November 26, 1950, from the Brownsville Herald
Mrs. J. C. Swinburn will be guest speaker at the First Methodist Church at 6:45 p.m. Sunday in the fifth of a series of six family night programs. The local teacher will speak on “Education in Our Community From the Standpoint of the Church Woman.” She will use as source material the information included in the League of Women Voter’s “Know Your Town” pamphlet. Mrs. Swinburn served as resource chairman in the preparation of this publication.
January 15, 1950, from the Brownsville Herald
Among those from Brownsville attending the O. E. Stuart funeral in Harlingen Thursday were Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Swinburn, Mrs. J. G. Philen, Jr., E. M. Bremer, and R. G. Ransome.