Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

Lesson Plan

Filed in Stories, voices :: March 23, 2012

Today’s Nest-Making guest post in honor of women and Women’s History Month is by Kelly Letky. Every day as I post these, I marvel at the stories and try not to editorialize (too much) in these introductions, but I love this post about “what really matters.”


My mom never graduated from high school.

I can’t remember how the story went exactly, I think it had something to do with a fight with a teacher who mocked her for being poor, but that is not what really matters anyway.

Years later, when I was in my twenties, she went back to school and got her G.E.D. I have always been incredibly proud of her for that. But for this story, that is not what really matters either.

What matters is how much my mom taught me, and my three siblings.

My mom taught me to always stand up for myself. She taught me to be kind and generous, she taught me to help those less fortunate, she taught me the importance of family.

She taught me manners and protocol, not to wear white after Labor Day, to never go out in public wearing holey underwear, just in case you get in an accident or something.

She taught me how to keep house and how to cook dinner, how to fold laundry and how to hem a pair of pants, how to get over a broken heart and how to keep going when I wanted to give up.

She taught me that money isn’t everything, that what you give is more important than what you get, that everyone is valuable, that loyalty matters.

She taught me compassion, how to laugh at myself, how to be brave and honest and hard-working. She taught me all these things despite the fact that she herself had learned very different lessons as a child.

My mom taught me how to survive.

Because that is what she did. She came from a background that would have crushed most people, one that did crush the rest of her family. Out of eight children, my mom is the one that got away. From the abuse, the alcoholism, the poverty. Not only did she get away, she built a better life, for herself, for her husband, for her children.

Together with my father, she made certain that we had the kind of childhood that she never had, that we were always cared for and safe and knew that we were loved.

We never had a lot of money, but she always made certain that Christmas was magical, that we had a new outfit to wear on the first day of school, that no one ever went hungry or had to hide in fear beneath the bed.

She yelled a lot, we drove her crazy sometimes, always fighting over who got to drink from the blue cup, or eat the last handful of M&Ms, or who got to sit in the front seat when we all went out for ice cream.

She never learned how to drive (by choice), never went to college, never got a job until we were all well into adulthood. She adopted too many pets, collected too many dolls, ironed too many sheets, drank too much coffee, let the world hurt her feelings too many times.

But she has always been there, with her shining heart of gold, ready to give a piece to anyone that needs it. She would give me, or you, a perfect stranger, the shirt off her back if she thought you needed it more than she does. She gives too much and takes too little. She talks too loudly sometimes, but she always listens more than she talks.

She can’t walk past a baby in a store without stopping to make google eyes and silly talk. She has been known to hug strangers in the hospital, simply because she thought they needed one. She spends her evenings crocheting hats and blankets to give to anyone who can use them.

She isn’t perfect, but she taught me how to love someone even when they are not.

My mom never graduated from high school.

Yet she taught me everything I’ve ever really needed to know in this life.

Perhaps we can all learn something from that.


Kelly Letky works as a freelance graphic artist and jewelry designer. She is also a writer, photographer, wife, mother, sister, daughter, crazy cat lady, friend, runner, knitter and gardener who makes regular attempts to be kind, loving, generous, artful and immersed in every moment. Sometimes, it works.

You can find her art and writing at and you can also find her on twitter under @mrsmediocrity or facebook under Kelly Letky.


Looking for more Nest-Making posts? You can find them here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.


Filed in Stories, voices


  1. Alana

    Kelly, this is beautiful. What a wonderful glimpse into the history that shapes you. I love the expression on her face in the photo…I want to know the sparkle that lies behind those eyes.

  2. Julie Daley

    Kelly, Such a beautiful piece about two beautiful women. She does have a fire in her whole body, that seems to shoot straight out her eyes.

  3. wholly jeanne

    your mother is one of the smartest, strongest, wisest women ever. and beautiful – did i mention beautiful? one day i’ll cut loose with what i think about so-called formal education, and i’ll prop this post up to shore me up as i write. one day, i might just march right up there to meet you to your face, and i hope your mother can join us for lunch. i’d like that. i’d like that a lot.

  4. Angela

    Kelly, As with all the posts in this series, I find myself hard pressed to choose what I like best here. But this is it, I think: “She adopted too many pets, collected too many dolls, ironed too many sheets, drank too much coffee, let the world hurt her feelings too many times.” I love the things about your mother that are too much, the things that make her just right. Thank you again for this post.