Originally Published: May 12, 2012 10 p.m.
If it wasn't for her mother, Gretchen Pahia mightn't be a strong woman.
And if it wasn't for her grandmother, her great grandmother, her great-great grandmother - and even her great-great-great grandmother - Gretchen Pahia mightn't be a strong woman, either.
"I grew up with a lot of strong women in the family and they instilled in me the belief that I could do pretty much anything I set my mind to," said Pahia, who lives in Peoria. "That's something I knew before my mom wrote that story, but I'd never heard it told that way."
Pahia's mother, Sharon Atkins, lives in Prescott Valley and wrote the piece in question, "Hazel Instilled a Love of Education," for "Remembering Mothers," a Mother's Day story contest on www.mocavo.com.
As of Saturday, before voting closed, when you clicked the "Vote For Your Favorite Story!" tab at the top of the homepage, the story was the top of six finalists, listed fourth from the top.
Atkins' story is about her grandmother, Hazel Hungerford Howland, born in the last decade of the 19th century. It includes a three-generation picture with her grandmother's mother and her grandmother's grandmother.
"When I put this story together, I came to realize how many strong women we had in the family," Atkins said. "Education is a big part of that and so is strong female role models, and we've had both in our family for a long time."
On Mother's Day, she suggests you reflect on the blessings of your own families. Oh, and don't forget to call your mom.
A grandmother, a teacher
In Atkins account, Howland isn't just a character; she had character
After graduating as high school valedictorian in 1911, Howland spent several years taking and retaking the state education exam to teach in New York City, determined to get her teaching certificate.
After teaching at a small school for two years to save up money for college, Howland studied at St. Lawrence, graduated and passed the state exam in 1916.
"I remember she was very interested in my education, and particularly in grade school," said Virginia Strachan - Howland's daughter and Atkins' mother - who lives in Scottsdale and was, herself, a home economics teacher. "She gave me a spelling test every week to make sure I could spell everything for the weekly spelling test at school."
Later on in life, Strachan appreciated her mother with adult eyes.
"She had made a way for herself first on a farm, then as a school teacher and finally getting a job in a bigger town, all before she was married," Strachan said. "That's was really something then, even today."
More stories are there for the telling - memories of other relatives, lost summers on the beach and life lessons, both pleasant and not so pleasant - but names and details tangle into thick knots.
Luckily, during the last three decades, Atkins has fleshed out an extensive family tree.
Genealogy meets Mother's Day
"Genealogy, that's been my hobby since 1981 or 1982," Atkins said Thursday, seated in the Prescott Valley Public Library's genealogy room.
Back then, you had to scour family archives and lean on long-lost relatives for information. Today, a few clicks on Google or myriad websites - both with and without the word "genealogy" in their web addresses - yields mountains of information.
"That's not the good stuff though," she said, minimizing a browser on her laptop.
The good stuff is the handwritten diaries her far-flung relatives wrote years ago, one with a paragraph for every day. The good stuff is the questionnaire she asked her mother to fill out in February, in the second month of the year she's to turn 90.
"Take the time to ask your mother to tell her story, either with some writing prompts and questions, or a tape recorder, or a video recorder - whatever works," Atkins said. "When you're older and look back, you wonder about your own history, and having something like that is an invaluable gift."
The bonding experience isn't without its pitfalls, however, as Atkins discovered.
"One of the questions was something like, 'Can you remember a time that frightened you the most?' and she wrote about the time I was hit with a car when I was 9," Atkins said. "I felt so guilty, I called her and apologized."
Pahia filled out a similar survey per her mother's request. The process, and stories like the one Atkins compiled, illustrate a bigger point, she said.
"Her mom is important to her and my mom is important to me - that's why we should all try to make Mother's Day every day," Pahia said. "You should try to make your mother feel loved every day."