One of those things is the decorative Custer Hall mug that belonged to my mother-in-law. She had already been widowed twice when my husband and I married, the first time having been left to raise two little boys alone, and the second time having thought she had found a husband to enjoy the rest of a long life together, only to be widowed again after a few happy months.
Of course, we realized her sadness, but perhaps we were too young to fully understand her courage. At the time of her second marriage, she had given up her job to move to a new town. With the sudden death of her husband, she had to turn away from the plans they had made together to make new plans for herself. That decorative Custer Hall mug is a symbol of her courage. She decided to go to college.
To be honest, today I see it as courageous, but as a young bride having my mother-in-law join us at college wasn't quite what I had in mind. Today, I see it differently, and that is why I struggle to know what to do with her mug.
It had been a long time since high school for her, and stepping back into a classroom was challenging. Her grades weren't great, but she persevered. Then, she discovered a way to make it all work. She continued to take a few hours, but she became a dorm mother at Custer Hall. The transition from a coed with gray in her hair to a dorm mother was a better fit.
Today, each year hundreds of people over the age of 50 go back to school. Some get degrees to change careers and others choose to explore long-held passions that had to be deferred until retirement. That was not common when my mother-in-law began her college career. She had been a working mother when that was less common--although mothers at that time certainly had important responsibilities that did not include a pay check. My mother-in-law had the responsibility of parenting alone and being the sole bread winner.
The idea of senior citizens continuing their studies is fairly common today, and if not directed toward a degree then for other reasons. Some places offer senior citizen tuition waivers. Other seniors return primarily to enjoy campus amenities. In fact, in some places, retirement communities are planned nearby the university. Some schools offer classes just for seniors, and there are also opportunities for online courses. I have now taught two virtual Osher classes, a program designed for continued learning for people 50 and older.
But in my mother-in-law's era, what she did was unusual and brave. For me, her Custer Hall mug is like a trophy, awarded for her courage and determination to push sadness and disappointment out of her way and get on with life.
With Mothers' Day not far away, being on May 8th, this seemed like a good time to share my mother-in-law's story and the symbol of her courage that I see when I look at the Custer Hall Mug.