My mother Eleanor’s birthday.

by Roger Black

Every few years, it falls on U.S. Labor Day.

She would have been 110 today! And if the medical profession had kept up with her she would still be running everything. Never mind the family and countless protegés—there were the Girl Scouts, the PTA, the Community Theater, the Red Cross, the Community Chest (precursor to the United Way), and the Unitarian Church. All formed from raw earth in West Texas, or otherwise made to bend to her will. And most had no regrets. We may have been terrified, but we all loved her.

Her expectations were supreme. Not only was the human race perfectable, each of us individually were going to succeed. Beautifully. You *would* go to school, and you *would* do well, and you *would* do anything you wanted, go anywhere, be anyone, no matter where you started. Objections were not tolerated. I remember when she went to down to the bank and explained that they *would* give a home loan to her longtime housekeeper, Ethel Robinson. I could hear her say, “I’m just not interested” in what the First National might think about her class, her income, her color.

Ethel got the loan. I got to be the art director for The New York Times (where Eleanor got her first job, back in the 20s). Her granddaughters went to Stanford and Harvard, or rode in the rodeo, or communed in Ojai, or ran the finances for Planned Parenthood.

One thing she often said, I remember every day: “Surely you can do better than this.”

I was the only boy in two generations, and I did better than I would have without her, too. And I never minded the matriarchy, always assumed she would be right. That women would get equal rights, and African-Americans, and gays. (She never talked about the last category, but had a number of younger male friends, “confirmed bachelors,” whom she pointed out as possible role models for me. One a bright engineer who was an excellent Italian cook, and another an “Asia hand,” diplomat and, probably, spy.)

She was always right.

Vale, Eleanor.