It was a scene that played out many times in my childhood. We'd be in a store or on the street and my mom would break into song -- a clear, unembarrassed voice singing something from Bob Dylan, or maybe the chorus from "My Sweet Lord".
As a kid in the '70s I knew my mom wasn't like the other moms. She taught Transcendental Meditation and drove a VW bug that was forever stalling at stoplights, prompting her to flag down the nearest pedestrian -- "Yoo hoo! Can you give us a push?" She was into health food before it was a thing, sending me to school with rice cake and raw goat's milk cheese sandwiches. People always said of her, "Oh your mom, she's such a character!"
But she also had character. We lived in a small apartment, where she gave me the one bedroom while she slept in the living room. At times we got by on food stamps but she still managed to send me to private school on a scholarship.
What stands out to me now is not some hippie parent, but a mom who made sure I had opportunities, and who had the strength to stand up to obstacles and pull us past them.
I remember a cross country trip we took, just the two of us in our under-powered little car. As it labored up a winding highway through the Rockies, dark clouds let loose a torrent of rain. My mom leaned forward, wiping at the fogged glass, and at that moment an 18-wheeler passed, splashing a lake's worth of water onto us. The struggling wipers couldn't clear the glass and our tires started to slide. I braced in terror, sure that our car would careen off the mountain. But my mom didn't waver. She looked toward the truck, still blowing clouds of mist at us as it receded, and shouted "Thank you!" as she drove us on, safely through the storm.