57: Small But Mighty

57: Small But Mighty

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

Small But Mighty

Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.

~Albert Einstein

My mother, Isabel Gaynor, was a petite, pretty, and shy Hungarian woman. She was a stay-at-home mom, like most other moms in the 1940s and ’50s, and so heavily dependent on my father’s ability to deal with the world outside our home that she didn’t even drive a car.

She lavished on me all the love and attention she would have given to a whole houseful of kids had she been able to have them. I am thankful to her for so many things that I can barely list them. But if I were asked to thank her for one specific action she took in my childhood, it would be the way she handled herself in the face of injustice many years ago.

In 1951, when I was six years old, the wealthiest family in our suburban New York neighborhood employed a black nanny named Harriet to care for their young son, Vince. My mom struck up an acquaintance with Harriet, who had a quick sense of humor. Sometimes, on hot summer days, we joined them at a nearby brook to cool off in the water. Vince was five, a small, shy boy. He and I played happily together, splashing and shrieking. My mom, who’d never learned to swim, sat on a stump on the bank of the brook, chatting with Harriet.

One day, two half-grown boys with sneering faces rushed up to us, and for reasons I didn’t understand then, called Harriet a word I’d never heard before, and then began pelting her with ripe tomatoes.

I don’t remember what Vince and I said or did when that happened—or what Harriet said or did either. I can’t say if she stood frozen with shock at the attack, or if she showed anger or fear or outrage at the hateful behavior. But what I do remember, clearly, all these years later, was my polite, timid mother’s exclamation of disgust directed at those boys—before she stepped, deliberately, between the nanny and the tomatoes.

I can still see the blotchy red stains on Harriet’s starched white uniform and on my mother’s white arm.

Thanks, Mom, for the life lesson in courage, fairness, and good, old-fashioned decency. Your behavior that day not only made me proud of you, but it shaped me into a woman who doesn’t hesitate to speak out against injustice and oppression.

~Lynn Sunday

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