For My Mother, Born August 7th 1935, Support the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace

Mom’s 70th Birthday with my niece and nephew


There is so much about my work at the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace and my life in West Virginia that makes me think of my mother.  She would have hated the snakes and loved the birds!  She would have loved the country homes, but hated the widespread poverty.  I often find myself taking pictures of things in the Pearl Buck Birthplace, brightly colored birds, or unabashed wildlife staring at me defiantly from my yard and thinking, I can’t wait to show this to Mom!

She would have been very proud of my work here, though like my father is now, she would have been concerned about me getting by on the modest stipend of an Americorps Volunteer.  Still she would have approved.

Mom was a big fan of John Kennedy and it was she that first read me the famous line from his Inaugural AddressAsk not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  We even had an LP at home.  Mom was a very giving person.  This was a woman who cut out Doonesbury cartoons from the paper every day I was in Morocco with the Peace Corps and sent them to me in the mail.  This was also a woman who helped me collect, box, stuff in mail bags and ship enough books to start two regional English resource centers for students and teachers of English in Morocco!

The bed and cradle in the room where Pearl S. Buck was born.

I wish I could ask her if she read Pearl’s novels.  I’ll bet she did.  My mom read a lot and Pearl Buck was one of this country’s best selling authors for decades.   A House Divided, the last book in her Good Earth Trilogy was published the year my mother was born, and she may have had to read The Good Earth itself in school as many children used to.  I think she would have liked it.

I know that she cared about many of the same causes that Pearl did, because we’ve talked about them: adoption, children’s rights, racism, women’s rights.  My mom was quiet and kept to herself, but we talked a lot.  Another thing about the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace the reminds me of Mom is its mission.  Pearl Buck hoped that her mother’s house would be “a gateway to new hopes and dreams and ways of life.”  That sounds like Mom to me.  I confess that five years on I still sometimes feel at a loss without her.  She always did her best to see that the hopes and dreams of her children and loved ones were realized.

Both my parents always have, but it is Mom I am thinking of today, because tomorrow, August 7 would be the 77 birthday of my mother, had she not been taken from us by pancreatic cancer in April 2007.  I miss her so much.  I am not a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author, and people will not visit my birthplace, nor is was I born in my mother’s childhood home, so I cannot honor my mother by having her house declared a National Historic Landmark.

But in it’s nearly 40 years of operation the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace has touched the lives of so many, here in Pocahontas County and around the world, and what I can do is have my mother’s name associated with it.  I can assure you that were she with us during this time that I have been an Americorps volunteer here, my mother would have done her part for the Birthplace, too.

It is in need.  The economy and poor leadership have hit the birthplace hard in recent years, not to mention the storms a few weeks ago.  But we have a new director, and she is fantastic.  Our Board are supportive and if anyone can turn things around, she can.  I will do all I can to help, even from Massachusetts.

Major donors to the Birthplace.

I’ve just landed a new job in the Libraries at MIT.  It’s my dream job really, uniting my interest in North African, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies with my geeky interests in technology and pedagogy.  I start when my service ends here at the beginning of September.  I can feel my mother’s encouragement and support, and I always have.  I want to thank her by having her name placed on the wall of the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace.  For that I need to raise at least $1000 to support the work of the Birthplace.  My personal goal is $2000.

It would mean so much to me to see it up there before I leave in September.  Then I’d know that in spite of the storms and the recently discovered leak, all the other good things we did this year, including the program I started at the Middle School, can continue and even expand.  If I can’t raise the money before I leave, I assure you her name will be there someday.  This place has gotten in my blood, and I know Mom would be proud to be associated with it!

Please help me reach my goal of raising $2000 for the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace by clicking on the link below.  You can also send a check.  Please make a note, “In Memory of Arlene J. Toler”





2 thoughts on “For My Mother, Born August 7th 1935, Support the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace

  1. Hi Michael,
    Your mother, my sister, Arlene was so proud of you and I am too! This is a wonderful tribute to her. Your efforts for Pearl S. Buck birthplace will be remembered.
    I did not see a place to post donation in memory of Arlene J. Toler so I have mailed my check and note
    marked to your attention.
    Love & Blessing,
    Aunt Sandra

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