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Discovering a Mother's Hidden Talent

When Cynthia Rahn was growing up in Appalachia in the early 1960s, she lived "very far out in the country."

"So I went to kindergarten with a lot of kids from town that I didn't know," she says. "I looked poor to everybody else, and certainly everybody else looked rich to me. And so I felt a little intimidated."

One kindergarten memory stands out for Rahn. Her class was designing a diorama of life on the farm. And for homework, students had to find something they could contribute to the assignment.

When Rahn got home, she changed out of her school clothes and went outside to play. After coming in, eating dinner and preparing for bed, she realized she had forgotten to prepare for her assignment.

Her mother had just gotten home from work and was tired.

"Oh my gosh, I've got to get something that represents a farm," Rahn told her mother.

They looked around.

"We had nothing," she says.

Rahn started to cry.

"I can't go to school tomorrow and not have anything," she told her mother.

"It's too late," her mother replied.

"This was ... 1962 in rural Appalachia. I mean, there were no Wal-Marts. You couldn't just ride out and get something."

Her mother told her, "You should have thought about this when you got home."

The next morning, after her mother had left for work, Rahn went downstairs to discover a barn, made of paper, sitting on the kitchen table.

Her mother "had taken just plain notebook paper and folded it. She folded the walls, she folded the roof, she folded doors that open so horses could go in and out. It was like magic."

There were no staples or tape. Like origami, her mother had folded a barn.

"I had no idea where she learned to do that or how she knew how to do it," Rahn says.

When Rahn arrived at school, "everybody was so amazed at my barn. And I just felt like queen of the day, and I knew that she cared."

Produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon and Vanara Taing. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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