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My mother’s name was Betty Anne, known to her friends as B.A. She was 51 when she died; I was 18. I lost her too soon.
She grew up as an only child in the same North Carolina town I grew up in. Her father died when she was three; her mother, a beloved school teacher in town, raised her with love, and books and Presbyterianism, but without—I now imagine—a lot of overt affection. And certainly without a lot of money during those hard Depression years.
But my mother thrived. She chafed against religion, but was committed to the social justice issues of her day. She loved books and politics and writing and her friends; and those things, along with her family, formed the core of her life.
She wanted to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but in the 1940s, women couldn’t matriculate at the main campus until their junior year. So, she settled on the university’s Greensboro campus—known then as WC (Women’s College). There she found her niche, staying on the full four years where she wrote for, and eventually edited, the college newspaper.
She was the first person to get me on a tennis court, the place I spent a significant amount of my time during my early life. But although a Phi Beta Kappa, she almost couldn’t graduate from college because of the required two PE credits: tennis would give her one of them, but only a class called “Walking and Resting” assured her a degree (or so she told us).
After graduation, she became a professional journalist at the Winston-Salem Journal and Salisbury Post, relegated to the “women’s pages” but in love with everything about newsrooms and the newspapers. She left the job when she married my father, but later returned to school for her master’s degree and then taught Creative Writing and Journalism at the local college, as beloved a teacher as her mother had been.
My mother had The Feminine Mystique on her bookshelf, but I never had the chance to ask her what she thought of it. Or the women’s movement. Or gay rights. She died before I had read my first feminist essay or realized that my sexual orientation wasn’t the same as hers. But given her values, given her friends, given the man she married, I have no doubt that were she alive today, she would be fighting for the same things I’ve spent my life fighting for. After all, I am my mother’s daughter.