Clusters of white daffodils have burst into bloom in my front yard this week, defying weather that has delivered more snow flakes than sun breaks. Along the soggy banks of my driveway, they summon memories of my mother--Goldie Mary Surmon Scott. That’s Mrs. Scott to you.
I smile as I write her full name because she unfurled it like a coat of arms: married name, birth name, and a first name restricted to use by family. Even with family, she eschewed the intimacies of “mama” or “nana.” She was “Mother” or “Grandmother” to us.
Growing up on the hardscrabble plains of South Dakota, Goldie Mary Surmon learned early to respect the power of a name. When she stepped to the front of a country school classroom, barely out of her teens, the formality of “Miss Surmon” affirmed the distance between a young teacher and her students.
A few years later, as a married woman, “Mrs. Scott“ brought respect in the small Minnesota community where Mr. Scott managed the power plant. And when he died in a work related accident, “Mrs. Scott” safeguarded a young widow raising two children alone. “Mrs. Scott” went back to the front of the classroom, teaching two generations of middle school students to name the countries of a changing world while rejecting a name change for herself.
By the time that “Mrs.” fell out of style as a standard form of address I was a Mrs. myself. I rarely used the title. First name casualness had pushed titles aside in a trend my mother bucked for years. Pity the naïve former student, instilled now as the local pharmacist or as head of the garden club, who greeted her brightly with “How ya’ doin’, Goldie?” Her answer came in a silent glower and a crisp straightening of her spine.
It embarrassed me, then, this rigid hold on formalities. I didn’t see it as a frame that supported the image of a professional woman who had aged into the anonymity of life beyond husband, child rearing, and career. Eventually, even that image faded as she softened into Goldie, the woman with a yard full of flowers. Early daffodils elicited the admiration of friends and neighbors, who lauded the roses that followed, and exclaimed at the profusion of dahlias, day lilies and chrysanthemums that cushioned the close of summer. A new identity bloomed in her garden.
When she died, I dug buckets of daffodil bulbs from that garden and buried them in the clay soil of my yard where they’ve blossomed for three years now. A tribute to Goldie Mary Surmon Scott. That's Mother to me.