RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The StoryCorps project is recording everyday Americans telling the stories that have shaped their lives. Two people who know each other well go into a recording booth and interview each other. This is happening across the country and on this Friday before Mother's Day our story comes from Louisville, Kentucky. That's where Wanda Zoeller grew up. She was the youngest of six children. She came to StoryCorps with her partner, Susan Herndon.
Ms. SUSAN HERNDON: Who would you say is the most important person in your life?
Ms. WANDA ZOELLER: Oh, definitely it would be my mother. I think I had the greatest mom in the world. We were very poor and, you know what was the beauty of it: I didn't realize we were poor probably until I was a teenager, and I attribute that to my mother.
She always kept a nice house and I can remember at times sitting in the dark, and of course, kids, you know, it was a game for us. But you know, we had the choice between food or utilities. So we had a lamp in the living room. If we wanted a lamp in the bedroom, we'd take this light bulb out of the living room and carry it to the bedroom. They might have one or two light bulbs that moved around the whole house. And it got to be a joke in the family because my dad would always add to the grocery list when we were growing up light bulbs and toilet paper. Mom would never get the light bulbs or the toilet paper because you'd have to get food instead.
And you know, my mother, bless her soul, she pretty much let me do whatever I wanted to do. And I'm sure there's a lot of things I did she probably preferred she didn't know about. But she never hit us or whipped us, although there's - trust me, there's times I wish she would have just spanked me instead of sit down and tell me, you know, that she was disappointed. She set down and basically taught us that there's consequences to everything you do and if you can live with those consequences then go ahead and make those decisions.
And when Mom died the whole family was with her. I was laying in the bed next to her, holding her, and telling her it was okay to let go because I knew it would probably going to be hard for her to let go of us. So we had to make sure she knew we were going to be okay. And the very last thing she said to us was that she loved us. And she was a huge influence in my life.
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MONTAGNE: Wanda Zoeller with her partner, Susan Herndon, in Louisville, Kentucky. Wanda's mother, Ethel Zoeller, died five years ago. This conversation will be archived along with all StoryCorps interviews at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. And you can subscribe to the podcast at npr.org.