Family Friday: A Mother’s Patient Ear

Last night I uncovered the most adorable anecdote submitted by Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard for the 1912 edition of “The Arrow of Pi Beta Phi: Volume 29.”  I immediately called my mom to read it with her. She is the best person to have as a research/adventure companion.

On August 20, 1895, a Wyoming photographer took two portraits of Grace Raymond Hebard and her mother, Margaret Elizabeth Dominick Marvin Hebard one in profile and another with hats. The photos were probably given to Alice Hebard by Grace as her name appears on the back of the photos with the date and signed by “Grace.” They are kept in Hebard Family Photofile at the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, erroneously titled as photos of Grace Hebard and her sister Alice.

The other two photos were taken by none other than this Wyoming amateur photographer on August 27, 2017, my golden birthday– 27 on the 27th. My mom, Ronna Sue, made it a special birthday for me, as clearly evidenced by our silly swanky hotel selfies. She and I have been on several adventures over the years: traipsing through cemeteries to find old family headstones; exploring our ancestral homelands in Arrow Rock, MO; road tripping to the Oregon coast to visit my cousin; taking route 66 and partying at weddings. She is spontaneous, fun, and always ready for a good time.

She is also my strongest advocate. She is a constant ear to my worries and the ideas I have to sort out. While other people will tire of hearing the same sounding thing over and over again as I turn a certain event or piece of evidence around, she is a constant sounding board for my ideas. A process of mulling over evidence, talking it out, doing more research, more mulling, more talking is incomplete without someone willing to talk to you. Whether it is the work I create as a historian or just life in general, she is always willing to listen to me sort through my thoughts out loud.

Her company is indispensable to me now with my latest ventures. I always thrived in seminar-based learning because I sharpen my ideas through conversation. Research and writing are lonely pursuits and without a multitude of conversations, many of which are repeats or remixes of each other, I can find myself facing a disorganized and overwhelming writer’s block. My ideas clog without conversation. I would not have been able to finish my Master’s thesis if my mom hadn’t of been willing to listen to me talk about Jewish slaveholders for hours on end, day in and day out over the course of a year.

Now, I call her to read her this anecdote about Grace Hebard’s childhood and her “two hundred word” response to the question, “Why are you a suffragist?” poised by her honors society magazine. Grace recalled accompanying her sister to school as a small child and reciting a poem promoting woman equality then having to defend her ideas ever since. She concludes by writing, “Two hundred words to say why I favor universal suffrage! Give me two thousand and I will write a short introduction to a reasonably long article on the subject.” [pg.388]

My mom laughed, having patiently listened to me at my most long-winded, and said that sounded familiar. Sitting on the phone with her, I wonder at the close relationship Grace and Margaret had with each other. Out of her siblings, Grace spent the most time at home as a child, being homeschooled by her mother for all but two years of her primary education due to poor health. Yet, Grace was also the first child to officially move away from her mother’s home and not just temporarily in pursuit of a degree. In 1891, when Grace made the move to Laramie, WY she left her brothers, sister, and mother in Cheyenne. Newspaper society pages show her going home to Cheyenne often, especially on long weekends. Then in 1904, the newspapers show notice of Grace Hebard settling the accounts of her mother’s estate. Surely, Grace Hebard’s passion for education and self-improvement came from her mother– a woman who moved her four young children to Iowa City upon the death of her husband because that is where the university was located. Due to her determination to educate all of her children, in 1879 the first to earn a degree was her daughter Alice. Alice and Grace developed a lifelong passion for learning and often enrolled in summer courses or attended lectures throughout their careers. [Box 61, Folder 15]

For me, my mom has developed a lifelong passion for solving a puzzle. She is an incredible sleuth, piecing together records to uncover our family genealogy. The absolute best help when it comes to a tricky transcription. She taught me to look for patterns and to take notice of small details. My mom helped to shape me into a historian growing up and conversation by conversation she continues.

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