I once accosted Gregory Peck outside a library in Los Angeles by exclaiming, “Mr. Peck, you’re a wonderful actor…and I just have to shake your hand!” At which point I ignored his wife’s angry glare and thrust my hopeful hand towards him. Thankfully, he didn’t leave me hanging, he gave me a hearty shake and seemed genuinely touched that “young people still enjoyed” his films. I enthused that ROMAN HOLIDAY was my favorite movie, and I couldn’t help but ask him what my favorite actress Audrey Hepburn was like. His eyes twinkled and he said, with that beautiful rich voice of his, “She was everything you’d hope she’d be – and more.”
That phrase has stuck with me over the years and in my mind is pretty much the greatest thing you could ever say about another person. I was thinking about that moment this morning as I was considering what to say about my mom for this Mother’s Day tribute, because that quote fits her so perfectly: she is everything you could hope a mom would be – and more.
The screensaver on my phone is a picture of a plaque that my mother gave me to commemorate the day I bought my first home. It was especially poignant for me considering the fact that only six years earlier I had found myself homeless and jobless and on my own for the first time in my life at the age of 29 after having finally worked up the courage to leave an abusive relationship. Four months later, I had sold my first pitch for a movie and was blessed with the opportunity to rebuild my life from there with my mom cheering me on every step of the way. So when I opened that first housewarming gift from my mother and looked down to read what it said, “She believed she could so she did” I immediately burst into tears. And I immediately adopted the slogan as my motto for life. But the slogan doesn’t only apply to my life, it describes my mother’s life as well. In fact, I believe it is entirely a case of “like mother like daughter.” And I am forever grateful for her blazing a path of courage so that I could follow her lead.
She left her small town and went to a big university as the first in her family to go to college, and when the money ran out and she was unable to continue with her classes, did she go crawling back home to the domesticated life that was expected of her? No way. She wasn’t about to let other people’s lack of imagination for her determine her life, and instead she set out on a grand adventure flying the open skies as a stewardess in the 60’s. After she met and married my father in 1970, who was in the army at the time, there were no spouses allowed on base in Korea, and the wives were encouraged to stay at their home base in America while their husband’s served overseas. But my mother was not one to just sit around and pine for her man. She got a job in Korea teaching English to bankers and got her own apartment so she would be close to my dad. In fact, she lived there for two years – only leaving when she became pregnant with me. (I feel like she deserves a metal just for flying from Korea to the US while pregnant and terribly sick!)
As a stay at home mom for my sister, brother and I, she educated herself about nutrition and began making all of our bread, yogurt, and cereal from scratch – even getting reprimanded by my preschool when she refused to bring Kool-Aid for snack time as instructed and instead went rogue with no-sugar-added apple juice. When things became tough for our family financially, I remember her handing me to a stopwatch so that I could time her as she taught herself to type. After cultivating the fastest fingers I had ever seen, she was able to get a job as a legal secretary, eventually working all the way up to becoming the office manager for a huge law firm. And even though she never got her college degree, her boss once told me that he hired her because she was the only person in the history of applicants to ever earn a perfect score on the grammar test, adding that she was the smartest woman he had ever known. Not only smart, but shrewd – when times were tight one spring, she made sure my sister and I still had new Easter dresses by winning enough money in a penny poker game!
Industrious, caring, and hard working, my mother showed me by example that there was nothing I couldn’t do (well, except say the word “fart”, she abhors crass language!) And I love that her prayer for her children when we were young was not that we would be rich or wildly successful, but that we would grow up to be interesting people. Of course being interesting stems from being interested, and she (along with my dad, of course) always made sure her children’s hearts and minds were always engaged. She taught us to follow those hearts and minds, encouraging my screenwriting career, my sister’s work as a published novelist and my brother’s passion for composition and music.
It has become clear to me over the years that the reason Audrey Hepburn has been the actress I most look up to is that she is the screen version of my mother. Beautiful but humble with a quiet strength that is only enhanced by its vulnerability, Lynn McLeroy believed she could, and so she did. Which allows me and my brother and sister, and even my dad, to believe we can too. And I hope that her example will inspire all of you who read this, so that you may grasp hold of the truth that we can each be whatever we believe we can be.
Also, because all of this attention based directly on her is sure to make her uncomfortable, I’m going to give a shout out to my brother and sister as well – who have grown up to be very interesting people, just as she had prayed they would be all those years ago…
You can find my sister’s wonderful books here: http://www.haveyourcakeandreadittoo.blogspot.com/p/books.html
And my brother’s blog with his beautiful music and poetry can be found here: http://www.lineandlandscape.com/p/why-line-landscapedespite-risk-of-being.html