A Most Admirable Woman

Lucille Russell-Lawson (High School 1923)

Lucille Russell-Lawson (HS Sr. 1923)

To the best of my knowledge my mother never spoke poorly of anyone, and very seldom of any thing. It was a remarkable quality…but one that I assumed was motivated by a conscious determination to always ‘act properly,’ regardless of circumstances. It was not until I was in my early twenties that I learned the underlying truth.

We were having lunch together one day, and I was carrying on about what a jerk my father was. As poorly as he had treated her, she typically refused to join in my little rant. Instead, she looked me straight in the eye and countered with a glowing summary of his many admirable qualities. And that’s when I finally asked her how it was possible to always be so positive…to never (literally never) speak ill of anyone or anything. She smiled, thought for a moment, then said the following:

“I know you probably think it’s an act, or that I’m either too stupid or idealistic to recognize the negative side of things. But that’s not it at all. When I was young I certainly turned over my share of stones. Enough, at least, to learn that most had worms underneath. Learning that, however, didn’t convince me that the ‘underside’ of things had any more right to claim my interest or attention than the ‘upside.’ In my mind, the only relevant question was which of the two I would allow to dominate my thoughts and feelings. The one was typically unpleasant, the other was not. Early on I decided which view I wanted to guide my life. Put simply, you can spend your life on deck, where the air is fresh and the view is promising and far…or down in the boiler room. It’s entirely a matter of choice.”

Lucille Russell-Lawson, Alpha Gamma Delta Sorority, Nebraska Wesleyan University, 1928

* * *

Thoughts of my father still hover somewhere below the waterline. But whenever I think of my mother, I now see her standing ‘topside’ next to the rail, looking to the horizon…and beyond.

Elnora Lucille Russell-Lawson, Born in Shenandoah, Iowa, September 6, 1905 – Died (age 83) in Selah, Washington, May 11, 1989. (She was the eldest daughter of Benjamin Franklin Russell & Rachel Hannah Miller-Russell)

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15 comments on “A Most Admirable Woman

  1. I read it several times, & I think you have captured
    Mother very well. She always had an upbeat attitude,
    Sometimes I thought that she lived in her own little
    world, & that she didn’t see the real world, but what
    she said to you, puts a different light on things. Always
    loving & always caring she was very special.
    I asked her one time why she hadn’t told us the truth
    about Dad, & she told me I wouldn’t have believed her, &
    only would have hated her for saying anything against
    him. I loved him so much, & felt closer to him than I did
    to Mother. She was a special person, & I know she really
    loved you.

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  2. I agree with Barbara that you captured your mother very well, or that she knew herself very well. As I look back on my experience with her, she always treated me very well, in that year on the dairy in Oregon, she frequently defended me against Dad, and always treated me as her own after he left. I would have preferred to stay there with her when Dad had me come back to California (much as I had missed the Glendale I had known as an independent newspaper boy).

    Then, after I had had enough of problems there with Dad, I left without talking to him about it, and drove that old car I had to your home in Eugene, where, broke as I was, I was welcomed by your mother. and got a job with the railroad that allowed me to buy that piece of property and start to build a garage apartment, where I could live when I went on to college at the University of Oregon.

    I went to Alaska that summer of 1950 to make enough to build a house on that property while I went to school. Then came the Korean War, my applying for Navigation School, and coming “home” to Eugene to marry Naomi. Your mother helped in planning the wedding and loaned us her car for our honeymoon.

    Then we got in trouble with our car, then I found out I wasn’t supposed to be married, Naomi went home to her folks in Eugene, and then lost the baby, your mother stood as my mother in all of that. Then she took Naomi in after I left for Okinawa,* and treated her as well while I was gone.

    As I look back I think I should have appreciated those qualities you noted as special in you mother more than I did, and that, in spite of the fact that she never made a point of it, she was indeed one of the most generous spirits I have ever known. I was comfortable around her–trusted her judgment and values–particularly when I was in some kind of trouble. Thanks for bringing her back to my memory this way.

    My love goes out to her.
    Bob

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    • Bob (Robert N. Lawson) was the navigator on a B-29 bomber that flew 29 missions over North Korea…and in many ways resembled the character Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22. When the war ended Bob returned to college, got a Ph.D., and became a professor of English Literature at a university in Kansas. In later years he developed an interest in Japanese literature and soon became a leading expert in the field. He also wrote a novel, and many poems, plays and short stories over the years…some of which can be seen on his web site, The Bridge of Dreams (which is also the title of his novel).

      Bob died in March, 2013, at the age of 85, in Topeka, KS…almost a year after the death of his wife, Naomi. I miss them both.

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  3. What a fabulous article! I found it via Google, as I’m looking for Lucille Russell Lawson, a member of Alpha Gamma Delta sorority who’s on our lost sister list. Based upon her initiation date, she would be over 100 years old. In seeing her sorority photo, is this by chance her? Did she attend Nebraska Wesleyan University? Thanks so much!

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  4. I really enjoyed reading this. My father was like that. He never said anything horrible about people. It actually amazed me as a child, and still does, even though he is dead in the corporeal sense, but not in my memories. By the way, your mother is a beautiful woman. :-)

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    • “…dead in the corporeal sense, but not in my memories.” I know exactly what you mean. Just as your father has, my mother remains very much alive in my mind. And over the years the strengthening of that memory has brought me much closer to her point of view. I suspect much the same has been true for you. ;-)

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      • Yes, in the corporeal sense only. There is no death. Life is not about a beating heart or electrical activity in a brain. Life is awareness and knowing. People come and go. Bodies are buried but who ever buried the Consciousness or can attest to its demise as well. We are not physical bodies experiencing consciousness but infinite and eternal Consciousness experiencing temporary bodies

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    • Fortitude? Perhaps. But she also had an unusual ability to tailor her expectations within the context of reality. And that hugely increased her ability to gain pleasure from what is…rather than dwelling on what isn’t. ;-)

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  5. What a gift Amongst all the ugliness of this world there shined a beautiful person holding a beautiful outlook How blessed you are she was your mother May you have the strength to hold that gift

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  6. Wow! At 45 I see my grandma through a new lens. By the time I really became aware of her, she had lost much of her short term memory and it was said that she viewed life through rose colored glasses. I was pretty sure that was meant as an insult instead of a compliment, so I had little respect for her. I am sad now for my attitude and would love to turn back the hands of time and have a “do over”! It has taken me years to appreciate the good and extend love and forgiveness to the bad. I am thankful to be able to pass this new way of approaching life on to my kids and so thankful to you, my dad Russ, for sharing the real Lucille with me. What a striking woman! I will pass her memory on to the next generation so that her legacy will live on. And what a joy to read Aunt Barbara and Uncle Bobs replies! How very special-thank you! Love to you from your joy “full” daughter, Flensea

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