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Words were important to my mother, Mary Jane White Underbakke.
From reading the small, pink baby book my grandmother kept about the birth of her first child, I know kind words were spoken about my mother from the moment she was born on a hot Iowa day in the summer of 1937.
My mother loved school and learning about the world around her. From an early age, she loved to read. My mother continued her studies in college. She became an elementary school teacher and taught for three years prior to the birth of her first child, my brother. At this time her love of words, reading and writing was passed on to my my brother; and then on to me nearly seven years later. My brother and I grew up in a literate household where literacy was celebrated, encouraged, supported. This upbringing has served us well throughout our lives.
For my mother, words took on an entirely different importance when our family moved from Iowa to Alabama. My father’s work bought us south. The move was challenging for my mother. She missed her family and friends. Words spoken swiftly via long distance calls and words written in letters sent as well as words read in letters received were my mother’s salivation.
The last time I heard my mother’s voice was on an uncharacteristically warm and balmy January evening. My mother was in the fight of her life. She was suffering. Having beat cancer once a decade prior, we were sure she could beat it again. Attempting to soothe her in the wee hours of the morning, she spoke her final words to me. I will always remember them. I will always hold them close for they are a part of my very being; her final gift to me.
My mother was just 64-years-old when she died nineteen years ago. People still speak kind, sincere words about her. Family, friends, even people who didn’t actually know her, speak of her lovingly.
Words keep her alive.
Clark Underbakke February 26, 2021 Fairhope, AL.

Cashmere, thread, buttons
17.8 x 25.4 CM(7x10”)