Welcome to a very special Mother's Day edition of the Hypothetical Library. This week I am featuring Marilyn Orr—my Mom. The book, Hair to Bones: The Evolution of an American Woman is her first (hypothetical) book.
(Dad, guess what you’re getting for Father’s Day.)
It's safe to say that without my mother, I wouldn’t be here today, so I thought I'd take this opportunity, and public forum to pay her the proper respect.
As you move onward into adulthood you begin to appreciate your parents with what starts as a begrudging acknowledgment and turns into amazement, coming to understand the things they have navigated in life. That’s followed by embarrassment, as you realize how you missed that effort while it was happening. Finally, with gratitude you understand good parents simply accept their lack of acknowledgment for guiding their children into adulthood.
It took awhile, but at some point in my late 20s I began to consider what my mother had actually accomplished in her life. A child of the 1950s, not quite a baby-boomer, and missing the summer of love—my mom was more Elvis than Hendrix— she evolved in her own way and on her own schedule.
She started college at the age of 40 after raising two children, and a lifetime of working, even when she didn’t always need to. Her working life happened at a time when many—if not most—women stayed at home. The incongruities of the workplace for women in the 60s and 70s were a defining force in my mother’s life and are what I think made her finally demand equity in her own way—by changing her own life. It wasn’t easy with one son in college already, and one heading there soon, and the impact on the family finances was considerable, but with her own war chest and a supportive husband, she made it happen.
And that is what Hair to Bones would be about if this hypothetical book were ever to be written. There is nothing hypothetical about my mother’s drive and ambition however, and I hope to capture that with this entry. To paraphrase a fellow New Jerseyan—she did it her way.
The one thing my mother’s life has taught me is that there is always time to realize who you are, and what you want to be, regardless of how busy you are.
I started at the beginning of this post with a dumb joke about “how I wouldn’t be here without my mom,” but what I meant was that I wouldn’t be here, now, at this time and place without her love and support. I wouldn’t be pursuing my dreams in New York City without her patient influence. I wouldn’t have my sense of humor, I would have never had a grasp that there is a larger world outside of south central Ohio. I would have never pursued art, or felt loved and safe enough to risk comfort or security, without her quiet strength or example. I wouldn’t be me without her.
Thank you, Mom. I love you.
“From the dime stores and beauty parlors of 1950s Tenafly New Jersey to contemporary archeological sites spanning ancient midwestern earthworks, to 7th century B.C. digs in Cypryss and Greece, Marilyn Orr’s life has been a journey of experience and growth. Never settling, and always patiently moving forward, Ms. Orr bares witness to and describes her path through America’s most defining period in its history. A dizzying jumble of jobs, careers and motherhood Ms. Orr recounts her triumphs—becoming an anthropologist in her early 40s—and travails—attending college while managing a household, and a troubled teenager*—with concise and often hilarious prose. Hair to Bones: The Evolution of An American Woman, is a book for all those who have followed their hearts, to become the people they always knew they were."
*The troubled teen mentioned is me, and I wasn’t really a “troubled teen” but it sounds more dramatic than “argumentative little jerk”. I'd like to take this opportunity to formally and publicly apologize to my mom for the years 1983-1989 when I was between the ages of 16 to 22. Sorry mom, I'm much better now (depending on who you ask).
Marylyn Orr is the co author of the paper Stature Variation Among Civil War Soldiers. which was published in the Smithsonian Newsletter of the African American Archaeological Network titled African American Archaeology, Spring 1991. She has worked as a physical Anthropologist for the Ohio Historical Society, and The Ohio Department of Transportation. She has also worked on two excavation projects overseas for the Ohio State University: Atheniou Archaeological Project (Mallora), Cyprus, 1992 field season, and Excavations at Isthmia—Sanctuary of Poseidon Project, Greece 1993 field season, doing field work and artifact analysis. She is currently a Fellow of the Explorers Club.
She has worked as a beautician, a secretary (when she types it sounds like machine gun fire), and a paralegal. She has painted, acted, and advocated for historical preservation of buildings in Ohio. She is the mother of two boys, Keith and Charlie Orr; and grandmother of three unbelievably beautiful grandchildren, Kaleb, Carlie, and Kelsey Orr.
Next week: Neil Gaiman... week