The Triumph

Yesterday I spent some time poring through an old, quarter leather ledger. As I looked at the neatly written lines of expense and revenue items, I realized that it represented one of my mother’s greatest triumphs.

In the course of her life my mother had several notable triumphs. By the time she was 19 she had put herself through college, gotten a job, and was supporting herself without family assistance when that was exceptional for men let alone for women. She had buried both of her parents before she turned 27 and her husband before she was 50. After the death of my father she obtained an advanced degree herself and got five children college educated, married, and launched on their lives’ paths.

And she took care of Ginny.

A little over 40 years ago my father’s uncle killed himself. He had always been a bit kooky and he’d received some bad news which he interpreted incorrectly and took his own life. My dad was executor of his will but two months after his uncle committed suicide my dad died as well, suddenly and unexpectedly.

My great-uncle left an incompetent widow, unable to read or write or hold a job outside the home. That was Ginny.

For nineteen years, from the time that my dad died to the time that Ginny died, my mom managed Ginny’s affairs and every single line was recorded in that ledger. Revenues. Social Security. Rents from the few small, dilapidated houses my great-uncle had owned (I maintained some of them for a while). Proceeds from the sale of the houses. Interest. Two dollar and five dollar quarterly dividends from a handful of investments, some that my mother had prudently and cautiously made on Ginny’s behalf. Expenses. Food. Electricity. Taxes. Health insurance. Maintenance on the houses.

In some years the maintenance and taxes on the rental properties far exceeded the revenues she realized. In others she might realize a few hundred dollars over the course of a year. Never in the nineteen years did her income rise above $8,000.

As I leafed through the pages of the ledger, I saw Ginny’s medical expenses grow while her income dwindled. Finally, she died and the ledger entries stopped abruptly.

She lived her life in her own home. She had no debts. She maintained her independence and her dignity. And it was all because of my mother. A great triumph.

12 comments… add one
  • But if everyone lived within their means there would be no growth, innovation or progress.

  • Daniel G

    That is a unique story, David – I had never even heard the name Ginny before J.K. Rowling penned it, but I know it’s just one of the many ways I will come to understand now how Colleen was such a great woman.

  • sam

    You know, Dave, that ledger would make a fine scaffolding for a wonderful novel or biography–the story of an extraordinary woman.

  • This story is one to ponder, to meditate uponn.

    In your usual restrained style, you’ve sketched some exceptional characters, and you did it simply by drawing on the information in an old accounts’ ledger — combined with your own inside-the-family information.

    Your mother, of course, is the most exceptional character in your brief essay. She reminds me of my late mother-in-law, another of the stalwart type which “they don’t make anymore”. Among many good traits, I most admired her qualities of strength and generosity.

    You were most fortunate, but then you don’t need me to state the obvious.

    I do hope you’re feeling healthy and strong as we face 2010.

  • Wow, what an incredible woman your mother was. I’m assuming no one else knew the extent to which she took care of Ginny. She sought no praise, she did it because it was the right thing to do. What a wonderful example to your mother’s family, to your family, your children.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Thanks for sharing this one, Dave.
    I see now where you get some of your qualities.

    Regards,
    Rob

  • Your mom must have been one heck of a woman. I agree with Rob — you are definitely the fruit of that tree.

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