Peg: My thirtysomething mom #AtoZChallenge

Sepia Saturday 516. P is for Peg: My thirtysomething mom. Sixteenth of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. Wish me luck!

When my family moved in 1957 to Endwell, N.Y., my mom Peg had been out of the work world for a few years — raising me and my brothers and carrying out the usual motherly duties.

But Mom had a bachelor’s in music education from SUNY Potsdam and taught high school music and chorus before marrying my dad, who she met in college. So during my elementary years — as we kids reached school age — she set her sights on resuming her paused career.

My family circa 1960. My mom had a bachelor’s in music education and taught high school music and chorus before marrying my dad. As my brothers and I reached school age, she set her sights on continuing her career. Photo scan: Molly Charboneau

Substitute teacher

During my elementary years, Mom reentered the workforce as a substitute teacher in the Endwell public schools — which created some embarrassing moments. I actually had her as a Hooper School substitute a couple of times — and the awkward dilemma was what to call her.

Certainly not Mom — although my tittering classmates would whisper, “Isn’t that  your mother?” So I learned an early lesson in professional demeanor and called her Mrs. Charboneau just like the other kids.

During Mom’s time at Hooper School she got to know Mr. Pierce — the same school principal who changed my fifth grade class — and he encouraged her to go to grad school.

“He was younger than me and convinced me to get my masters degree,” Mom told me years later. “He said it would really be worth it for my career.” But how to do it with three young children?

Ithaca College Masters

Mom stepped up to the challenge, researched nearby schools and settled on Ithaca College — which offered a masters program in music education and was a one-hour drive each way from Endwell.

I remember her school years. Dad came home from work and took over childcare duties — and Mom headed out for the drive to Ithaca, not returning home until late at night. Amazing to think of it now — but she was clearly determined.

My mother Peg (Laurence) Charboneau and family at her Ithaca College grad school graduation (1962). It was dress up clothes all the way as Dad and us kids stood proudly with Mom after her graduation ceremony. My maternal grandparents Liz and Tony (aka Boom and Gramps) attended, too. Photo: Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence

Mom’s plan went pretty well — except on one of her class nights when I told Dad that I had my sixth grade photo the following day and he had no idea how to fix my curly hair. Yikes! So I struggled with bobby pins as best I could — and posed the next day for my worst school photo ever. (And no, I will not be posting it here!)

Mom completed her masters in 1962, with her proud family standing with her at graduation. Then she resumed teaching at St. Ambrose, a Catholic parochial school in nearby Endicott — many of her former students still remembering her all these years later.

Mom at home

My bad hair day notwithstanding, Mom did a good job of balancing school, work and home life — possibly because she was a teacher who was trained in handling dozens of children.

She was a unique, no-nonsense mom who some neighbor kids, and even grownups, found intimidating. When one of the boys up the block hit my hip with a shot from his BB gun, Mom marched up to his yard, snatched the air rifle out of his hands and said, “If you want it back, send your mother for it.” That gun sat in our closet for years.

Also, instead of yelling from the porch like the other moms, she used to whistle for me and my brothers to call us home for dinner or homework or whatever — a habit she started on the farm. “Hey, your mom’s whistling for you,” became our playmates’ catchphrase as they adjusted to this odd behavior.

Mom’s beloved Easter Bread (2020). Mom pulled out all the stops for the holidays — making her famous turkey stuffing in November, preparing bouillabaisse on meatless Christmas Eve, and best of all braiding colored eggs into her famous Easter Bread, which my sister Carol still bakes every year. Bread and photo by Carol Charboneau

Unsurprisingly, Mom was also big on education — poring over our report cards, filling in the parent comment lines, giving us a talking to if we fell behind in school and even grounding me once for bad grades! A tough taskmaster at the time, Mom became an inspiration as I grew into adulthood.

She was also big on family. Mom kept us connected with our maternal grandparents. And she pulled out all the stops for the holidays — making her famous turkey stuffing in November, preparing bouillabaisse on meatless Christmas Eve, and best of all braiding colored eggs into her famous Easter Bread, which my sister Carol still bakes every year.

Up next – Quaker State Motor Oil and the alphabet game. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of the other Sepia Saturday participants here

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16 thoughts on “Peg: My thirtysomething mom #AtoZChallenge”

  1. A wonderful story…you must be so proud of your mum and her commitment. What a great example. My husband also had to learn to call his mum Mrs not mum 😉

    1. My mom set a great example for us kids, which I appreciated better as an adult — especially when I heard some of her female peers express astonishment at how far she went with her career.

  2. My mother also returned to teaching late in life. Fulfilling her degree in art education, she became an elementary school art teacher after I was in high school and for the next 25 years taught thousands of children how to be creative. I’m sure your mother took a similar joy in introducing children and teens to music. Art and music are just as important for education as reading and math, maybe more.

    1. I totally agree. Math and science were heavily pushed during my school years — but I naturally gravitated to the art classes and chorus, in which I sang alto. Now learning an instrument and engaging in art is recommended to keep seniors centered and enhance their memory — which underscores your point.

  3. My three kids were attending the local grade school when the school came to me and asked it I could head up a music program there for them. I had been singing since the age of 8, but didn’t feel I had quite enough knowledge to teach – even if they were willing to have someone without a teaching certificate do it, so spent the next year taking music theory and music history classes at the local community college. I remember my kids laughing and pointing when I sat down at the dining room table to do my homework. But the following year I took on the job and what a ball. Besides teaching classroom music and putting on holiday music programs, I had a 75-student 5th – 8th grade chorus that I took to various club luncheons around town to entertain which brought welcome money to our music treasury! I spent 6 years in all teaching music before funding for the program was cut. What a shame! Anyway, bravo to your Mom for getting her masters against some pretty stiff odds!!!

    1. My mom was as enthused about music education as you were. I believe that’s what drove her ambition to further her career — to impart her love of music to future generations.

  4. My mother was a teacher too but fortunately she was one of several teachers in the grade I was in so I was never in her class. I see the day coming when my daughter will be her children’s teacher, so that will be fun to watch from the sidelines!

    Your mom sounds like a gem, a well-balanced combination of high standards and warmth.

    1. Thanks, Wendy — she was. And yes, having her as a sub in my class was the definition of awkward. Wishing your daughter and her children luck when their time comes 🙂

  5. Yeah that would have been weird having your mother as teacher, especially since it was just once in a while so no time to get used to it. Good for her getting her degree!! That bread looks really good, are the eggs raw when braided into the dough?
    My dad went back to university at night when I started high school, to get his B Sc. Not easy since he was a morning person. For English Lit he would give his books to my brother and I to read then write a summary. Helped us all I guess, though NOT my kind of read. I guess the best of them, because I remember it, was the story of Mahatma Gandhi. We were all proud and cheered for him at his graduation ceremony at Place des Arts. My brother and I were surprised to see our beloved history teacher getting a degree at the same time, and with no cheering section, so we all cheered for him too!

  6. She sounds like a wonderful person and extremely determined. I’m sure there were challenges for her in getting her masters degree while balancing family life. What an inspiration that she stuck with it. Weekends In Maine

    1. Over the years, I have spoken with some of her sorority sisters who went to college with her — and they were also impressed with how far Mom was able to go while raising a large family.

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