catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 9 :: 2011.05.06 — 2011.05.19


A borrowed dream: deferred

“Marry me,” he said to my mother. “Marry me today. It’s your choice, you can take that trunk and go off to nursing school, or you can marry me, and we can make our own home.”

I think about what it must have been like to hear those words.  When my mom was eight years old, her mother had abandoned her marriage and her daughter, and my mother was now on her second step-mother. Maybe her father was right, she thought; a woman didn’t need an education to be a wife, and that’s all they were good for. So, my mother told me, they got married.

And through all of those years, through the war and after my father returned, my mother saved money, a little bit here and a little bit there.  Finally, she had enough to send my older sister off to nursing school. My mother had learned the value of an education the hard way.

It was during another war, the Vietnam conflict, when my husband proposed to me. My mother had had a heart attack and was no longer able to work to help me pay my school bill. I had returned home to care for her, and like my mother’s father, my own father felt that women didn’t really need a college education. And I accepted Jim’s proposal.

My husband left each morning to study engineering or to work in the psych lab at Penn State. I looked after our little girl, and dusted and cleaned and read, and one day found myself looking out the screen door thinking surely there had to be more than this.

Eventually, after two more children, I went back to school, my goal being to graduate from college before my eldest did.  I didn’t.  But one semester after she graduated, I finally received my bachelor’s degree.  They asked me what I wanted written on my diploma, and I thought about my mother, by then gone eighteen years.  Carol Brennan King, I told them.  My first, my maiden and my middle names. I knew she wouldn’t see that diploma, nor watch me walk the aisle, but I wanted to honor her, to show her in some way, that I got it, why she wanted me to finish my degree, to develop all the skills, to honor the mind that God had given me.

My husband finished his doctorate, and I went on to complete my master’s degree, again using the name Carol Brennan King, again honoring my mother, wishing she could know.  It has been twenty years since I earned my M.A., twenty years of ministering to college women as a Dean and as a college writing professor, grateful for second chances.

I often tell my students that God has a sense of humor in placing me, a college dropout, here in this office, in this role.  But I also think, and sometimes tell them, that because I did it the hard way, I can speak from experience about the value of the opportunity they have.  I tell them to soak it up, to savor every moment they have now to learn and explore and to try on a lot of hats. There may come a day when they marry and have children, and they will be able to do so with no regrets. Their education will not be wasted; God is not in the business of wasting anything.  But most of all, when they watch their children head off to college, it will be with pride and joy, and without any kind of hidden regret for what they might have missed.

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