Remembering a very special mom

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 19:00

As we begin to observe Mother’s Day, I started thinking again about my mom and what a remarkable person she was. Of course I’m biased. That’s an importantpart of a son’s job description, I would think.

Kathryn M. Redline, my mom, was born in a small Pennsylvania community on May 1, 1915.

They lived on a farm in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Her grandfather and the rest of the family’s forbearers immigrated from Germany beginning in the early 1700s. They were all hard-working farmers who acquired a considerable amount of land in southern Pennsylvania.

She married Kenneth D. Baker at age 18, and they moved to Pittsburgh, where I was born. My dad worked for Westinghouse, Inc., on the Manhattan Project, the highly-secretive project that involved building the atom bomb. In this position he was exempt from military service during the World War II years. Like many others who made components, he didn’t know what he was building.

When the war was over in 1945, he was caught in a massive layoff at Westinghouse, and began actively seeking employment. His search took him to the Territory of Alaska, and he found a job as a longshoreman on the docks in Seward. At that time Seward was the territory’s only seaport and he had all the work he could handle.He bought a small house and sent for us the following year.

My mom, a music teacher, insisted on having a piano in Seward, which was then a frontier town.

She acquired a piano and was quick to open the community’s first private music studio. During the rest of the 1940s and throughout the 1950s, she taught piano, accordion and voice. She had the distinction of organizing the town’s first accordion band, with many of its members high school students. Can you imagine 12 accordionists playing at one time? She pulled it off — and the band performed at several venues around town.

After a divorce from my dad in 1955, mom and I travelled quite a lot in the lower 48, and she continued her teaching wherever we lived. We ended up in Anchorage, where she remarried and continued teaching piano lessons for many more years, augmenting her teaching with regular employment.

And that, in my recollection, is one of the most remarkable things about her. She could get a job anywhere. She was not afraid to talk to anyone, at any time, and had an uncanny knack for convincing employers that she could do a particular set of tasks. Without any training in broadcasting or journalism, she landed a job with a Pennsylvania radio station as a copy writer; and at an Anchorage radio station, KENI, a position as continuity director. When we moved to Minnesota for a brief duration in the late 1950s, she worked as a clerk for Timkin Roller Bearing in Minneapolis.

She had such a positive attitude and believed in herself so strongly that she unwittingly made others feel the same. And that can-do spirit certainly benefitted her music students.

She built confidence in everyone with whom she came into contact.

She taught me to read before I even went to kindergarten. She taught me to be communicative, about which my lovely wife Rebekah unmercifully teases me. She observes that I randomly talk to complete strangers wherever we go, noting that “you’re just like your mom.” Perhaps my mom is responsible for my drive to write so many opinion columns!

But the thing I remember most about my mom is her empathy for others.

She was a giver, not a taker. She gave to others all her life, whether it was her time in music tutelage, mentoring young people, or in lending a hand to someone in need. At our family

Thanksgiving dinners in Seward, we often had a stranger at our table — someone who was down on their luck and needed a little help. In her later years, it seemed things started flowing back to her, even though she didn’t expect anything in return.

She gained even more “Alaska toughness” in the 1960s when she moved to a remote lake to the north of Anchorage with her second husband. There was no road to their small cabin, no electricity or running water. But she took on an austere “bush life” and continued teaching piano to the lake’s few residents.

Before she died in 1992 at age 77, she told me something that has stayed with me all my life. She said that being kind to others, nurturing others and treating them with respect, is the most important thing we will ever do in this life — far more important than success at a career or mastery of a certain skill.

I’ve been focused on my career for most of my life and probably haven’t lived up to her admonishment. But I keep trying.

Like many others who lived through America’s Great Depression in the 1930s, my mom never took good fortune for granted, and was always appreciative of what she had. She believed in hard work, was fiercely determined and possessed what was essential during her time: raw courage.

To this day I am very proud of my mom, who in 1946 left a civilized, secure urban environment in Pittsburgh to boldly venture north to Alaska which was then mostly wilderness — bringing my sister Phyllis and I to an untamed land that we would come to love and treasure.

I would be remiss to close without saluting all the moms out there who are the bedrock of our families and society as a whole. They should be reminded often how deeply they are appreciated for all that they do, 365 days of the year.


Frank Baker is a freelance writer from Eagle River. Write him at [email protected]

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