My mother was full of gumption. On the first day I remember her, Irene Duffy Kuhl was soaping up the back of the bathtub so I could slide down it. She was still showing off her gumption the hour she died as she complimented a nurse on her “beautiful blue uniform,” while letting her know the chicken soup at lunch was a little too salty.
Irene worked at banks for most of her 89 years. Her title was executive secretary, but she acted as if she was president of The La Grange State Bank. Many clients and employees may have thought she was, too. Brimming with confidence and competence, she was known by most of the “important people” in our Chicago suburb.
But I knew her most as mom. She made each of her four children feel very special. I was her youngest and grew up with lots of love. However, Irene Duffy had high expectations for each of her children, too. We all had part-time jobs by the time we were nine, and every penny went into our personal accounts at her bank. I failed at numerous things as a kid, but hearing my mom describe my accomplishments to anyone who would listen, I was a superstar. She convinced me I was, which had both its upsides and downsides.
Irene Duffy Kuhl died on May Day of 1999. I’ve thought of her every day since. As I age, I recognize the significant role my mom played in each year of my life. Only recently do I give her full credit for the good that came to me through her love and gumption. At the same time, I take personal responsibility for those areas where I could have done better.