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Happy Mother's Day to a woman who taught me the value of education, hard work and never giving up

My mom is one tough gal.

Most folks her age—she celebrated her 80th birthday not so long ago—aren't still going to work every day.

But Mom—Margaret Tilton, as she's known to her friends, or Miss Margaret, as she's called by her young students at Outer Limits School—still heads off to the job every morning.

Mom doesn't need to work. She's financially secure, and she owns her modest midtown home free and clear. But she loves taking care of kids.

She's been doing that almost all of her life, starting with her own seven kids—six boys and one girl. (For the record, I'm the youngest.)

I have Mom to thank for my love of reading. I grew up in a house full of books, and we made regular trips to the library, where I devoured all manner of pulp fiction, from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Ian Fleming to Stephen King.

She encouraged my early writing efforts, patiently helping me type up crazy adventure stories I created for elementary-school assignments, which would typically find Tarzan teaming up with James Bond to stop the evil Blofeld from unleashing an army of zombie dinosaurs from the center of the Earth on Washington, D.C.

She also taught me to love the beach. When I was young, that meant trips to the Jersey shore or, on vacation weekends, out to the town of Mattituck on Long Island, where the grandparents had summer homes.

But most of all, I have her to thank for teaching me about the importance of getting a good education, working hard and never giving up on your dreams.

My family ended up in Arizona after Mom married my stepdad, Bob Tilton, whose Army career led us to Fort Huachuca. A few years into the marriage, Bob had a massive heart attack and had to retire from the service. We moved to Tucson to be close to the Veterans Affairs Hospital here.

Mom and Bob both took advantage of his benefits to attend the UA. Bob, who passed away a few years after graduation, studied history, while Mom got the college degree in early education that she had to give up pursuing when she started her family back in the late '40s.

She's been working with kids ever since she finished college more than 25 years ago. She's always trying to figure out ways to teach them about all the opportunities this world holds for them—reading them stories, staging Olympic games or introducing them to different cultures through song and dance.

But she doesn't just work with kids. After Bob's death, Mom became active with the Society of Military Widows. She ended up as the national president of the organization, traveling to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of the group to ensure that women didn't lose any of their spousal benefits.

Mom doesn't treat herself to too many luxuries, but a few years ago, she started taking summer trips to Hawaii to visit my brother Chris, who was stationed in Oahu when he was serving in the Navy.

It's a long way from Long Island, but she's fallen in love with the Hale Koa, a hotel for members of the military in the heart of Waikiki. A few years ago, she scattered Bob's ashes near the Nu'uanu Pali lookout, a state park with a sweeping view of paradise. She says she wants her ashes spread there as well, although we're all hoping that day is a long way off.

Mom has had a pretty rough year. She got knocked off her feet by a severe ear infection that landed her in the emergency room in February. One bug led to another, and she ended spending an entire month in the hospital.

She gave us a pretty good scare, but like I said, Mom is plenty tough. She's on the mend now, going to physical therapy and regaining her sense of balance, which was knocked for a loop by the bug.

Through it all, it seemed like her biggest worry was getting back to those kids at Outer Limits. She went back to work a few weeks ago, although she's cut back on her hours. And she's had to ask for a few weeks off in August so we can make another trip to the Hale Koa.

She may be a little unsteady on her feet, but she's not letting anything slow her down.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you.

More by Jim Nintzel

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