A Mother’s Day Tribute

Young Olive

Olive Evelyn Cooke
aged 20, 1936

“What, are you stupid?”

She gave me a sly smile, rolled over and drifted off to sleep. I kissed the lock of white hair that spilled over her brow. I knew they might be the last words my mother spoke to me. They were.

Olive Evelyn Cooke, a prairie girl. Tough and tender. Modest and capable. As remarkable and reliable as the first flowers of spring.

In 1936, a willowy twenty, she boarded a steamer for Egypt, while the world fomented for war. She’d rejected the limited conventional choices: wife and mother, or the few professions unmarried women were allowed. Instead she headed half way around the world to teach girls, in a place where girls rarely got an education.

Olive buried three of her children but refused to surrender to despair. Black and white photos yellowed in silver frames, but her duty she knew was to the living. We who remained suckled on that strength.

Olive translated the works of Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz. When Mahfouz later won the Nobel Prize for Literature the sudden attention startled her. She had done it not for fame, but because she loved the words. And perhaps understanding a people’s stories could, in some small way, help build a bridge to peace.

“̒What, are you stupid?’ Oh my God! Were you traumatized?” my friends gasped, incredulous. Products of an era when everyone’s from a dysfunctional family and all are victims.

“No,” I replied, smiling warmly at the memory. “It was perfect.”

olive

Olive Kenny
age 85, 2001

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