Our mom was born and named Norma Lee Griffith in Charleston, West Virginia on January 15th, 1926. She was the middle child with an older and younger brother.
When mom was about four, her family moved to Phoenix. Her younger brother struggled with asthma and heart disease and it was believed that a drier climate would be better for him. It proved to be the case so the family stayed. While mom does not describe her childhood as one of poverty, they certainly struggled and had to live very frugally. To her death, my mother did not like to waste anything. What follows are some photos of her childhood.
Mom graduated from high school and immediately went to work. She worked as a clerk and later as a secretary. She had 'blossomed' into a beautiful young lady with many friends.
Mom married a sailor in the submarine service. She was quite taken by the handsome young man!! There were challenges ahead for the newly wed couple. Dad had only completed the ninth grade and working as a mechanic the rest of his life was not his dream. He decided to go to Arizona State University on the GI Bill. He succeeded, but only because mom supported his dream, tutored him, helped him write papers, and typed them while raising three young kids on an extremely tight budget!
After getting his BS in Animal Husbandry, dad enrolled in what was then called the Thunderbird School. His goal was to learn Spanish in one year and find a job overseas. Both our parents worked part time, my mom raising goats to sell goat's milk, my dad pumping gas at the local station. Dad was smart and ambitious. He was fortunate to have mom supporting his dreams.
We went by boat to Santa Marta, a coastal town and then took a train to a ranch called Patuca. When we landed in Santa Marta my parents had $26 to their name, three little kids and were far away from home. My dad would oversee some of the ranch's operations. It was part of a huge United Fruit Company banana plantation. Susan and I started school in a larger employee compound on the plantation. It was a one room school with all 8 grades and a very strict English teacher. Mom helped us to adjust to our new home, learning Spanish with us and reminding us that we were blessed to be together.
By the time the photo below was taken, our family had moved many more times. We had lived in Venezuela (where mom home schooled us) and then on to Mexico City and then Monterrey Mexico. Our family joke was that when we finally got our shipped furniture and hung a photo on the wall dad would come home and say, "We are moving!" I attended three schools in three countries during my seventh grade! But it always seemed to work out. Mom was the glue, the one who could solve any problem, could reassure us that with the right attitude we could do just about anything! She did not just fumble the words around. She lived it by example.
Our family continued to move and by the time I was ready for returning to the United States to attend Arizona State University the family had a new 'little brother'. Larry was born in Bogotá, Colombia and was just about 6 months old when I left home! One would imagine that with all the moving around and there being such a wide spread in age that our family could feel a bit disjointed. But, that is not the case at all! As siblings we are about as close as it can get and we can credit mom for that.
Just as I started to college, mom returned to Arizona with my three brothers. Dad had fallen in love with another woman and mom was now facing one of the most difficult challenges of her life. With no recent job experience, very little financial support and three boys to raise, she was required to pull herself together and make things work again. She worked through her depression, found a job she enjoyed and hung in there one more time. She taught us by example that we are capable of handling life as it is dealt to us.
Mom eventually met a gentleman, Vern, who captured her love. They were married in 1979. In preparation for retirement, they built a small home in Tonto Basin close to Roosevelt Lake. They both shared a love of being outdoors and fishing. Vern built mom a large above ground garden. He had a carpenter's shop. Vern died in 1999 challenging mom to once again rethink her life and make new plans.
Mom fractured her hip in 2004 and it was decided it was time for her to live closer to her kids. She sold her home in Tonto Basin and moved to Albuquerque. She bought her own house and lived independently until a major accident in 2008 nearly killed her. For the last seven years she has lived in her own home but with Joe and then Steve living with her. Once again she faced making significant changes, modeling for her kids how one copes with what she described was an increasingly isolated existence. She would remark on several occasions that you would know when you were old by having more memories than future plans!
Mom expanded her world by following current events, watching weather forecasts, joining webcams such as Pete's Pond, following friends on Facebook and sending us plenty of emails with links to websites that she found interesting. One of her favorite activities was enjoying this website. She would examine the photos and stories again and again. She had some favorite photographers and would call me to check on them if they had not posted for a while. She would remark that she could vicariously travel to places in western states she had not been and go to Iceland and Ireland from the comfort of her rocking chair. She loved to help out us plan our trips by searching for information and sending us links to sites that she thought we would find helpful. The references were almost always helpful. Her home page on Safari was RefDesk. She kept her mind keen by writing poetry, short stories and playing word games on her iPad. For us the best part was to still have her around, joining in festivities and ever encouraging our continued growth as we matured as adults.
Lots of folks are going to miss mom. She was a positive influence on many lives over decades. She died 4 days shy of her 90th birthday. She was a teacher by example, an inquisitive student of life, carried a huge heart full of compassion coupled with a no-nonsense approach to tough love (she referred to it as skillful neglect). She worked hard; made no excuses for her failures, She expected a lot from each of her children, not financial success but rather to BE a good human being. She held us to very high standards of integrity. I don't believe we have let her down.
When I called my 'baby' brother (now 51) he responded with the following: "In celebration of Mom's life: As the last one out I offer the results of an amazing Mother's life . . . We sibs are all still here. Two have gone to war and come home safe. We are all productive members of society. None of us have gone to prison. We are all successful parents. We are still talking to each other. There is so much more . . . Most of all, we all have an appreciation for the world that comes largely from her influence. While I am heartbroken, I am happy that she can finally rest - pain free and be with Vern after a long absence. I love you my sibs!"