On August 3, 1992, 17 days before my 24th birthday, my mother died.
deLeslin Freeman Lammé experienced her share of challenges that would break most people. As a child, she was raped by her father. She was widowed at 23 years of age — not knowing that she was pregnant with me. When I was a toddler, she was briefly married to another man whose name I do not know — a man who physically abused her. Her third husband was my step-father, and he abandoned her when she got cancer, as he did not want to deal with her illness. In and out of remission for years, she struggled with chronic pain that resulted from chemo treatments.
But, Maman deLeslin never gave up, and she never stopped fighting for others.
No matter where I have lived in the years since deLeslin Freeman Lammé died, I made the trek to the cemetery in Olema, California to visit her — until 2017.
In 2017, I was unable to go due to work. Without telling me beforehand, someone else made the trip for me. Although that person is no longer a part of my life, I am still deeply thankful that she carried on the tradition of leaving a pack of Marlboro Red cigarettes and a can of Pepsi at my mom’s grave. She and my mom had a curious bond, and to this day, no other has understood deLeslin quite so well.
One of the things that this individual thought on a lot was my mother’s legacy. She wrote a poem about my mom where she stated that deLeslin’s legacy would be “through the actions of her son.” To some extent that was true, but I see one of the greatest things my mom accomplished is embodied in the building of Papermill Creek Children’s Corner in Point Reyes Station, California.
Across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco is Marin County. The western part of the county extends out to the coast. A rural area, covered with dairy farms and the like, services are at a minimum compared to the rest of Marin County. When my mom was alive, the only preschool was the progenitor of Papermill Creek Children’s Corner. It met in different people’s living rooms. Obviously, such made it difficult to serve more than a handful of children, and not very well at that. In some respects, it was little more than a playgroup.
deLeslin felt that it was unconscionable that the children of West Marin did not have a proper preschool to prepare them for their education. This was especially important for the living in poverty.
So, in the late 1980s, despite being on the edge of poverty herself, deLeslin set out to give the kids of West Marin a proper preschool. Working with my grandmother (an attorney in Connecticut), deLeslin helped get Papermill Creek more formally legally structured. And then, she started pounding down doors asking for money. She worked on grant applications. She explained, to everyone possible, the need for a preschool in West Marin.
Some weeks before my mom died, Papermill Creek Children’s Corner had its grand opening in a brand new building at 503 B Street in Point Reyes Station. One of my most vibrant memories of my mom is from that day.
We were sitting next to each other on a couple hay bales outside the new building. It was a warm summer day. Kids were running all over the place. There was the smell of BBQ in the air. Music was playing. It seemed like all of West Marin had come.
My mom suddenly started crying — deep wracking sobs. I held her, and I asked her what was wrong. It took her a few minutes to stop crying, but eventually she said that she was crying because she was never sure if the school would ever open. Here was my tiny little five foot tall mom, who always exuded the most stalwart confidence, expressing to me that she was not confident. I was floored, as Maman deLeslin had always been my rock. She could have taken out a marauding rhinoceros with a mere stern look.
A month-and-a-half after my mom died, a plaque was affixed to the wall of the building — not in the lobby and not by the front door. It was placed on an external wall around back — facing the playground.
I got my love of children, my protective nature of such, from deLeslin. Sometimes, when I go back to see my mom at the Olema Cemetary, I will stop at Papermill Creek. I will admit that I have hopped the fence a few times and walked up to that plaque. Running my hands over my mom’s and dad’s names, I think of the legacy my mom helped give generations of kids of West Marin.
In a sense, perhaps Brittany was actually correct, and my mom’s legacy is in my actions, but that school is the physical manifestation of the Lammé family’s dedication to fighting for others.
And now, my ask…
If you believe in fighting for others, if you believe in overcoming the most difficult of adversities, if you believe in children, please donate to Papermill Creek Children’s Corner directly or through this Facebook link. Hell, if you are just happy that I did not die last year, please contribute and remember the life and struggles of one of the most badass women I have ever known.
I love and miss you, mom. Thank you for being a mom to so many…
Rocky soil and simple space
The perfect metaphor of her life
Brutal and sparse, the very representation
Of the grace that rose beyond her strife
Though in silence, here she lies
With naught but memories, and her son’s grief
Her strength sings out in muted whispers
That grants the living, pain’s relief
For in the time she tread this earth
She endured the world and all its pain
She reconciled herself to it
Yet fought it daily all the same
She fought for the dreams
That by life and time, she was bereft
Never failing in the hope of victory
From the constant song of death
And though she knew
That song at any moment could bear her away
She also fought for those who would live
To learn and love beyond her days
It is in the lives of those she knew not
Her legacy abides
And with the actions of her son
Whom on her strength relies
And in myself, another woman
Who battles too, and rises again
She is beacon, of what can be
An unknown mother, and silent friend
And if by chance, when I here too lay
A stranger takes courage as they read my name
I will know, as she must now,
The struggle was not in vain
Though here in peaceful rest she lies
Her resolve and strength to all is rendered
For she is never more alive
Than when she is here, remembered
-Brittany Lea Erway