StoryCorps 531: Legacies of Love
Michael Garofalo (MG): So much of parenting is dealing with the unexpected and having to figure things out as you go. Parents don’t always get it right, but when they do, their kids never forget it.
Cynthia Rahn (CR): I just felt like queen of the day, and I knew that she cared.
Jessica Pedrazza (JP): Whenever I would go out on a mission you would go in my room and make my bed…
Yomi Wrong (YW): If you had walked away and left me there when I was born, nobody would have looked askance.
MG: In this Mother’s Day episode of the StoryCorps podcast from NPR, we’re going to hear about moms making the most out of tough situations, and the decisions they made –– the actions they took amount to a legacy of love passed down to their kids.
I’m Michael Garofalo. We’ll be right back after this short break. Stay with us.
MG: Welcome back. You know, doing a mother’s day episode for StoryCorps… you’d think it would be easy, right? So many of the people who record interviews with us do it to honor the most important person in their life, and that person is often a mom.
But actually, we hear so many of these conversations, it makes it hard to choose just a few. One thing we noticed this year when we were combing through the archive looking for Mother’s Day stories was that we had a bunch of stories where moms –– and for some reason it was moms in particular –– who, when faced with a situation that would make most people freeze up with indecision or worry, reacted in a way that left a lifelong impression on their kids. Moms have a way of doing this, of helping us see the light when everything seems dark, of solving problems when to us –– as kids especially –– all seems lost.
Like in this first story. Cynthia Rahn came to StoryCorps to tell this story about growing up in Appalachia during the early 1960s.
Cynthia Rahn (CR): I lived very far out in the country so I went to kindergarten with a lot of kids from town that I didn’t know. And I looked poor to everybody else, and certainly everybody else looked rich to me. And so I felt a little intimidated.
And one day the assignment was to bring in something that we could create a farm or a barnyard diorama. But when I got home I took off my school clothes and ran outside to play. And then we came in and ate and got ready to go to bed and then I realized I had forgotten to do anything to prepare for this assignment. And here was mama, you know, just got home from work, tired. And I said, ”Oh my gosh. I’ve got to get something that represents a farm.”
And we looked. We had nothing. I started to cry and I said, ”I can’t go to school tomorrow and not have anything.”
And Mama said, ”It’s too late.”
I mean this was what, 1962 in rural Appalachia? I mean, there were no Walmarts. You couldn’t just ride out and get something. So she said, ”You should have thought about this when you got home.”
The next morning I went downstairs and Mama left before we got up. And she would leave breakfast and so I came down to the kitchen and sittin’ on the kitchen table was a barn that was made out of notebook paper. She had taken just plain notebook paper and folded it. She folded the walls. She folded the roof. She folded the doors that opened so horses could go in and out. It was like magic. I looked at it. There was no stables in it, there was no tape. She had just, sort of like origami or something folded a barn. I had no idea where she learned to do that, how she knew how to do it.
And when I came in to school there were other kids that, you know, had bags of store-bought, plastic farm animals. But everybody was so amazed at my barn. And I just felt like queen of the day and I knew that she cared.
MG: That was Cynthia Rahn in Durham, North Carolina.
Next, the story of a mother and daughter who served together in Iraq.
Sergeant Marilyn Gonzalez and her daughter Specialist Jessica Pedraza were both in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, and in the same company, but they had different jobs.
And in 2010, Marilyn was ordered to deploy to Iraq, but Jessica was not.
So Jessica decided to put college on hold and change her job in the military so that she would be sent to war with her mom.
Marilyn Gonzalez (MG): When you told me that you wanted to deploy, I was so angry.
Jessica Pedraza (JP): I couldn’t be the person who had to stay home and worry about you being away. I couldn’t do it.
And whenever I would go out on a mission, you would go in my room and make my bed, and sometimes you would come back from your missions and catch me sleeping on your bed.
MG: I hope you know they used to tease me. But it was hard not to be mom. Every time I saw you I wanted to just go up and hug you and I couldn’t do it!
JP: I just remember I always had to kiss you on the cheek and run –– “Mom, I love you.”
MG: Like that day that you said it on the radio.
JP: I said “Roger…I love you.” And I remember, somebody interrupted and they were like “Hey, none of that over the radio!” And then I heard you just say it right back.
MG: Well, I just want to say that, that you were willing to put your life on the line to be there with me, I could never tell you how much that means to me.
JP: You know, I know that in a way you were kind of upset at the fact that I chose to do what I did, and give up six college acceptances that I had, to do this with you. But I think that we have the mother and daughter bond, and we have a soldiers’ bond. And there’s just nothing more you can ask for.
MG: That’s Specialist Jessica Pedraza and her mother, Sergeant Marilyn Gonzalez remembering serving together in Iraq in 2010.
They recorded that conversation in Rockland, Massachusetts as part of our Military Voices Initiative.
In this next story we’ll hear from a daughter who wanted to thank her mom for not giving up on her.
In 1972, Sarah Churchill gave birth to her third child, a daughter she named Yomi. She was born with a rare genetic disorder that causes bones to break under the slightest pressure. Doctors said her future was grim.
But, Yomi recently celebrated her 45th birthday. At StoryCorps, her mom told her about the night she was born.
Sarah Churchill (SC): Your skull was fractured, your arms, your ribs, your legs. And they said that you would probably during the night, so the best thing would be to leave you at the hospital. But there was no way that I was going to leave you there.
And they had a rocking chair. And I would sit there and hold you. And I remember our hearts touched each other. I used to always say we have one heart, you and I.
Yomi Wrong (YW): So what was it like caring for me throughout the years?
SC: Well, I remember giving you a bath. And you turned your arm, and I heard it.
YW: The bone snap?
SC: Yeah. And you were crying. I’m crying.
YW: I used to keep track of my fractures but then they just got out of control. I would fall, or I remember one time one of my sisters dropped an orange on me and that broke something. I mean, you could look at me too hard and I would break. So I had my down periods, but I don’t always have to articulate every single thing because you get it. You understand.
You know, one of my regrets is that I didn’t have my own children. And I think one of the biggest desires for wanting to mother is to be able to carry on this legacy of love that you started with me. You tell me often that you believe I picked you.
SC: I think children come as a gift to their parent.
YW: I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but I also feel like you picked me. If you had walked away and left me there when I was born, nobody would have looked askance.
SC: But I felt that you were a part of me. So I knew that I made the right decision.
YW: And I’ve always admired you for that.
SC: It was my honor.
MG: Sarah Churchill, interviewed by her daughter Yomi Wrong at StoryCorps in San Francisco. And today, Yomi works to make sure hospitals in Northern California comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Our last story is a little different from the others. In this one, an adult daughter has to make a decision about whether or not to move her aging mother into an assisted living home.
It comes from Fanni Green, who told the story to her own daughter.
Fanni Green (FG): Letting go, for my mother, was scary. And she would say, yes, she would go, one day and no, she wouldn’t go, the next. And so I called the mother of my best friend. And I said, ”what do I do?”
And she said, ”mothers can never resist their children when their children simply bare their hearts. So don’t go in and try to be strong for your mom. Don’t go in making her try to do anything. Just look your mom in the eye, and tell her you need her help in order for you to help her.”
And I did. And she looked back at me, and she said, ”I will go. Though I’m so scared, I will go.”
And I put my head in her lap, and I cried. But she didn’t. She put her hand under her chin like she does, and she just looked off to the side. And then when I got done crying she said, ”well, we better go do this before I change my mind.”
MG: That’s Fanni Green in Tampa, Florida.
And that’s all for this episode.
These stories were produced by Katie Simon, Jud Esty-Kendall, and Yasmina Guerda.
David Herman produced this episode of the podcast, and it was edited by me.
Find out what music we used on our website, StoryCorps-dot-org. While you’re there, find out how to record your own StoryCorps interview, either in one of our recording booths, or with our app.
Keep those ratings and reviews coming on iTunes –– we read them all.
And if you ever have something you want to say to somebody you hear on the show, there’s a voicemail for that: it’s (301) 744 “TALK”. That’s (301) 744 T-A-L-K. You leave a message, we pass it on to them, and maybe even play it on the show.
This has been the StoryCorps podcast. Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there, and the rest of you — go call your mother!
I’m Michael Garofalo. Until next time, thanks for listening.