Who mothered you in addition to or instead of or beside your biological mother?
As we celebrate mothers this Sunday, I invite you to answer this question.
For me, there were many such women. Women in my family; Mary Lauver, our pastor’s wife and a leader in her own right, and many others in my church. My teachers. Then there was summer camp. And this woman.
Catherine R. Mumaw entered my life first as the director of summer camp at Laurelville Mennonite camp in 1959. I turned eleven years old that summer.
I remember three things about Catherine from my deep memory well:
- she was a woman in charge.
- she had a lovely lilting southern accent. Yet she wore a covering like my mother. This combination amazed me.
- she loved to sing and she led singing with confidence, just like she led the prayers and the announcements.
Catherine showed up in my life again during college. As one of the first women in the Mennonite Church to earn a Ph.D., Catherine taught home economics and fine arts at Eastern Mennonite College. Here’s how she looked in the 1970 yearbook, the Shen. Most of her colleagues were male.
Professional model and colleague
I took fine arts from Catherine and remember her as an enthusiastic professor with high standards. She pulled my best work out of me, taught me about the architecture of cathedrals, the vanishing point in classical art, and the structure of the symphony.
Later, Catherine and I both served on the faculty of Goshen College during a time of great change in her field of home economics. She later went on to teach at Oregon State University for several years, making international work her chosen focus. This work became a springboard for the next four years as a volunteer education adviser at Kathmandu University in Nepal.
Catherine and I have become friends again in our post-retirement years. Catherine has been battling cancer. She has neither denied that fact nor wallowed in it. Instead, she continues to mother me by modeling what I hope to do as I contemplate the end of my own life. She laughs. She gives away her possessions to her friends. And she continues to make things.
Catherine stopped by my house with a present the other day. It’s a musical memoir: a CD with an accompanying booklet. It details eighty years of musical education in the family, church, and academy. It begins with “Jesus Loves Me” and ends with Lutkin’s “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.”
Catherine has no biological children. She married Clair Basinger late in life and has become mother to his four daughters who have brought her great joy: Eileen, Carolyn, Darlene, and Debbie. Yet even if she had not become a mother through marriage, she would still be among my mothers.
I have her songs on a CD with this picture on the cover.
But what I really have are her songs and stories in my heart. Through her work as musical memoirist and storyteller, I can carry her stories. They amplify my alto voice the way that soprano, bass, and tenor surround me in church.
In my mind’s eye I will always see her, in front of all those girls at camp, being in charge, and singing!
Who are your mothers? Please select one woman who has influenced you and say why and how you remember her below. Or give us one of your own musical memories.