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I somehow fell into the happy coincidence of having my wife’s birthday fall on the same day as my mom’s (over 30 years apart).  Happy coincidence?  Merely because neither birthday would be forgotten even though, in over 30 years of marriage, it meant that my wife’s birthday lived in the shadow of my mom’s.

Oma Birthday, 2012

It is on this, her birthday, that I give homage to her, since she died peacefully in her sleep last December 4.

Mrs. Liane Foerger took the upbringing of her children very seriously…and she raised her children with LOVE, strictness and discipline.

Thus read part of the obituary my mother authored well before her health deteriorated. Notice the emphasis on “LOVE” in capital letters. Notice the typical German redundancy on “strictness and discipline.” Notice that she “took the upbringing of her children very seriously.”

Did she ever! Now that many of us have raised our own children – we can barely take in how this little, diminutive immigrant widow could launch six children in this world. Six energetic children who inherited her stubborn disposition and independent will.

One could hardly imagine a stronger force of nature, one of the original feminists who would not accept any excuse for bad behavior or poor performance. There were no avenues of opportunity closed to her by her own doing. She was industrious: she darned our socks, patched the knees of our pants, oversaw our homework, and was ruthlessly clear on her expectations for our behaviour. Did I mention anything about “strictness and discipline?”

I suppose our home could have been a kind of “Narnia” (“always winter and never Christmas”) but since her passing was in Advent, I can’t help but see the significance of the season. I remember we’d go to bed on Christmas Eve (or rather: we were sent to bed), and when we awoke, the house was transformed. There were no signs that Christmas would have come to our house till it erupted on Christmas morning.

There, in the living room, a natural tree was set up and decorated. Around the room would be little stations of unwrapped gifts for each of her children. What had happened? How did it happen? How could she pay for this bounty?

I will tell you how she paid for this: The day after Christmas the year before, she started saving nickels and dimes for each child. She took 364 days to pay for 1 day of joy. Can you imagine the discipline it took: not to dip into that fund when other bills came due, or when some financial need arose?

She was an indefatigable force on behalf of justice for her children. She had a desk with a typewriter in the corner of our living room devoted to letter writing, including the regular letters to politicians or bureaucrats, about something she needed for her children. This Remington typewriter became such a powerful symbol as a tool for justice, that I have one of her typewriters in my home.

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I suspect this is not the kind of icon that comes to mind when we think of justice. What can a letter do? What can words do that violent action doesn’t do faster? I get that (well, I understand the rage; I don’t see how that leads to justice). Especially the day after a Grand Jury decided not to indict white police Officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, an African American in Ferguson, Missouri.

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Today’s headlines read, “Streets of Ferguson smoulder…”  That’s what can happen when there does not appear to be justice.  I know “justice” is a loaded term; I know I read only the witness accounts and the many different news agencies accounts; I know that I don’t really know what went into this decision….but it just doesn’t seem fair, does it?  I can afford to sit calmly; I am no where near Ferguson, but I sit close to this Remington typewriter used by a woman – an immigrant woman – a widowed immigrant woman – who fought from a position of weakness and leveraged that for fairness closest to her heart (for an excellent treatment of leveraging from weakness, see “Of God’s and Men”).

I don’t presume my mom knew what perfect “justice” was.  I just know that she was convinced of the needs in front of her, and went after people who could affect change.  I didn’t see her cry in her soup over this; she just energetically devised ways and words to ask for “the right thing to be done.”

It is fascinating that E. Remington & Sons were known for manufacturing only two things: guns and typewriters.   I am glad mom chose the typewriter…

Wherever you are, what stops you from going to your keyboard and writing for justice to people who need to hear you care?

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