The small high desert cemetery perched lonely and dry on a forgotten rise past the outskirts of a town that chose to grow in a different direction. The tombstone had reduced the lifetime of this woman’s struggles and joys to her name, dates, and one word—Mother.
When I was 17, finding this grave was the culmination of six months spent in the archives of the local historical fort attempting to piece together the story of this woman’s life from inconsistent documents. I’d found her lone picture by accident; she was young with haunting eyes—frightened or determined—it wasn’t clear. She’d lived at this outpost among mesquite, coyotes and hardened soldiers gone west after the Civil War as the only woman at the fort. This tangible stone in my mind was to be the link that would bring this two-dimensional, black and white image into a warm, breathing, three-dimensional story.
A child of the feminist movement, it angered me that that was her epitaph. This woman clearly had much more of a story—single, in the west, working as a nurse and laundress at a fort put there to fight Apaches in the mid-nineteenth century. That was unusual, that was brave, and I wanted to know her. “Mother” said nothing. I thought. All women are mothers, how does that define one’s rich life? I thought.
It is ultimately all that I am—when the day is stripped of its movement, its clutter—I am their mother. Their lives no longer physically depend on my existence. Oh, those early days were hard. I was restless for myself, where was I? Too tired and lost in daily existence I wanted to scream, I just needed a minute of quiet to express myself. Now we’re well past my need to provide the basic necessities or make decisions. Is my job done?
Maybe, but I am inextricably a mother. All moments beat and breathe with my need, or is it something else—not a need or duty or desire – but what is, to be their mother.
I wear other labels; wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, teacher, writer, but when dust is to dust, all I have done is what simple biology puts us here to do—procreate. My contribution is four amazing souls doing good work. If my own rock in the ground reads anything above my decaying form it should be—Mother.
Kirsten K. Shockey, mother, homesteader, writer and educator, finds solace in the warmth of hand milking a cow on a frosty morning and the beauty of twisted trees along a roadway. She is passionate about helping people take responsibility for their food. She writes about sauerkraut and life, not necessarily in that order. She and her husband wrote the book *Fermented Vegetables*. She maintains a blog at fermentista.us.