In nothing flat, my mother could tackle a hay bale of nuisance and whip it into strawberry shortcake. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, she was raised on homemade. She cooked and baked, taught herself to knit those brain-cell exploding Irish Fisherman sweaters, quilted Hawaiian quilts, and was always there for babies, teenagers, old folks, and everybody in between without sense enough to reach out and ask. Her name was Elizabeth, and she had many nicknames including Lib, Libby, and Liz.
Since Libby grew up poor, in a way she was always after things she didn’t have early on. Late in her life when she was driving a Mercedes, she was still not over an imperative to accumulate. This situation worked well for us growing up because Mom was bound and determined that my sisters and I would have on our backs—and our feet—everything known to her only in dreams. Like the time we four girls got matching pairs of white go-go boots from her boss, each pair in its own Lord & Taylor box. I remember when I was a freshman in college in the days of peace and love and went through a stage of purging all material possessions. My mother was not quite speechless when she found all my expensive, matching wool skirts and sweaters had walked out my dorm-room on the backs of my friends.
Mom always worked, inside and outside the house. She tried not working one year and her soul almost drowned in the muddy waters of four kids under age five, pulling her down in it when she was only 23. She said while her friends were talking about who was getting pinned to whom, her excitement was climbing Mount Laundry. After her full day as secretary at the local university, Mom came home and cooked dinner every weeknight. Even so, at day’s end all I remember are her smiles. One night, I forgot about something I needed for school the next day, and didn’t open my mouth to say so until 8 o’clock. Without a whiff of hesitation, Mom said, “Okay girls, let’s go!” and piled us in the car headed the drugstore. Ever the mother duck, she had her ducklings in tow every moment she wasn’t at work.
If my mother hadn’t worked, all four daughters never would have known the saving grace of braces. My father came from the thinking that orthodontia was a luxury and refused to pay for it. My mother made a deal with the beloved dentist for forever-time-payment. Thanks to her effort, my buck teeth bucking in opposite directions disappeared, and I was able to date in high school. I ended up marrying a man who told me I was beautiful like a fine quarter horse: beautiful small head and round rump, small feet, and the most gorgeous teeth he’d ever seen. Mom knew romance, and especially any prospect of marriage, required braces.
Over the years, now known as Liz, my mother worked her way up from secretary to Dean Henry Kamphoefner, Dean of North Carolina State University’s School of Design, to executive secretary, administrative assistant, office manager of EDAW, Inc., regional manager, to VP of Human Resources and Data Processing at a San Diego bank. Moving up so high on the ladder was natural for someone so industrious, and who’d never met a stranger. She treated her boss and co-workers like the babies, teens, and old folks she loved so much, and always stayed late to get work done. Along with my mother’s professional growth also flourished her love of practical jokes.
My favorite was the time she went to a board meeting at the bank in a gorilla suit. Since she didn’t tell a soul she was going to do it, she had a good 15 minutes of watching the rest of the board—mystified in the gorilla mist—unable to start the meeting because they were dead set on maintaining confidentiality and couldn’t figure out who was in the suit. Even though Mom was missing, obviously their 60-year-old VP was not on the list of possibilities. Actually, I think the board thought they’d been invaded and the list was blank.
My mother’s spirit sped her along the twisty, pot-hole roads life. If things slowed down, or got too serious for people’s own good, she conspired with whoever was handy to stir the pot of fun and make a little strawberry shortcake. Because of her, my life from the beginning has been dessert first. Oh yeah, and there was one more nickname. When Mom was in high school, everyone called her monkey.
I wrote this favorite memory of my mother, Elizabeth Douglas Moran, on June 9, 2009, and edited today to post. Love you Mom. Miss you a lot.