The picture is of my mother when she was 16. A summer Sunday afternoon, teaching the neighborhood kids how to catch and pitch a baseball. Aside from being a gorgeous teen, she was also a member of the city’s Women Baseball League. They travelled about the state and had four winning seasons in a row. She also recognized her daughter was not the usual kid and accepted it. Loved me, respected me, gave me a good whomp when I needed it, and never ever let me down. She taught me to be independent, reliable, with a good work ethic, to always be honest, to stand up for myself. Because I was all of 4’10”, I was frequently picked on by older bigger kids. My father and grandfather taught me to box. My mother taught me to fight dirty when it was necessary – and only when it was necessary.
One day, when I was 20, I was invited to read my poetry at a tri-city poetry event (not the tri-wizard tournament but a big deal never the less). I was in my room scribbling, scratching out, full of anxiety. My mama walked in ans asked what was the big deal. I told her I wanted to be good enough, to sound smart enough, to write rambling rants ad sound deep, for everybody to like what I had written. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “first of all, you were invited. You are not a party crasher. And secondly, ‘everybody’ doesn’t matter. What matters is how you feel about the poem, that you feel that what you wrote can touch someone else, that you know in your heart that you like what you wrote and did your best.” That’s my mama. “To thine own self, be true.”
Now, time machine forward, last week, the International Particle Accelerator Conference (IPAC) met here in town. A HUGE deal. I wanted to go, at least, just go there and see if I could see a few of the 1,200 attendees, some of the smartest people on this earth. Because of how my mother had taught me about working hard and being respectful to everyone, I knew there were a couple of people I could contact and get in for an hour or two as a guest. Considering past IPACs have been held in places like Kyoto, Paris, London, NYC, truly, it was a coup. Our General Assembly voted to give money to it, the Associate Director of the Jefferson National Accelerator Facility at the Jefferson Lab in Newport News worked hard for it.
Before I retired, was responsible for licensing the Professional Engineers in my state. Before it went to the Board for final approval, the application for licensure had to go through me – plain and simple. I received many applications from all over the world, the US, the state. Not only engineers applied, a good number of physicists applied. I can say with pride, the persons who needed more work and information, I helped them the best I could within regulatory requirements. One day, I received two applications where the residence address was in Switzerland. My brain perked up and my senses tingled.
I thumbed through the two applications and discovered – they worked/designed parts of/anything you can think of on the Large Hadron Collider. Because of the nature of education and experience and because their work was groundbreaking, there was no benchmark in place for them. This could be a “problem” application. I talked to a board member about the applicants and explained. He was stunned into silence when I finished. This was beyond big – it was….Big Bang Big. Long story short, the two men received their licenses. I had spoken with them about their applications several times before and developed a friendly cameraderie with them. A few weeks after they received their license, these men sent me a letter – thanking me for my hardwork, etc. etc. and if I ever needed anything, to contact them. I still get Christmas cards from them and their families.
When I heard this event was happening here, I did the emails. Yes, yes, and yes! Here are phone numbers. Call us and we’ll be at the Welcome Desk to get you in. I called and they were true to their words. I met these two “friends” face to face and discovered true gentlemen. As we walked around, we talked. I gave them advice about where to eat, where to find the best deal on Levis (much cheaper here than over in Europe). I also took with me a large container of my homefried chicken and homemade biscuits – my ticket of admission (it was scarfed up in a matter of minutes by several folk who insisted I give the recipe and method and took notes as if the fate of the world depended on it). We had discussed food and home cooking, and recipes passed down through the years in some of the converse we had previously had. In return, I was able to sit in on a presentation: “Interplay of Beam-Beam, Lattice Nonlinearity, and Space Charge Effects in the SuperKEKB Collider.” Cool.
And Mama was right – everybody doesn’t matter. I felt comfortable, happy, secure. Being insatiably curious, I fit right in. The take-away-from this? Mama’s lessons: Beieve in yourself, Be true to yourself, respect others, be kind, work hard.
All you mothers out there and for those fathers who have had to be mothers, to all the aunts and uncles who loved the children in your family and guided them, to all you single folk who loved and nurtured a child not of your own Happy Mother’s Day. God bless you all. Without your care and guidance, we might not have grown to be the persons we are today.
Mama, I love you.