Showing posts with label mother's day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mother's day. Show all posts

Friday, May 4, 2018


I think Mother's Day is coming soon. I don't pay too much attention to the date, now that I don't have a mom. Special days are always more important for those who celebrate the honoree than they are for the one being honored. I think my mom was mostly embarrassed about the attention we heaped on her on that day. Mom was nothing if not keenly aware of anyone making a spectacle. She reminded me many times, mainly through disapproving glances, that I needed to dial it back, . That may be why I went the other way -- I loved being the center of attention, albeit outside my mother's sight line.

When people talk about the strong bond they have with their mothers, I nod, perplexed. My mom and I had more of a "handshake" relationship. And that was during the good times. It was partly her fault; partly mine. She was very reserved while I was had no blueprint for how to display emotion. So, it was a standoff. For all my growing-up years, I knew that she disapproved of me. I wasn't the daughter she would have chosen. We had nothing in common. I was artsy; she was practical. We both preferred to be left alone with our thoughts. I never once saw her display any modicum of imagination; my whole life was imagination.

Home life was tough. My older sisters might know a different mother, but when I was growing up, my dad was a crazy alcoholic and Mom had her hands full. She eventually resorted to pills, and thus she became crazy, too. At thirteen I would have called myself my own mother. And I was woefully unprepared to be one. I was barely a teenager and I was expected to be responsible for two toddlers. I didn't do a good job. It's a wonder my little brother and sister aren't insane. Turns out they're better human beings than I am. Resilience is a wondrous thing.

About the time I turned forty, my mom finally decided she approved of me. I could sense it in the way she spoke to me when I visited -- sort of in awe of what I'd become, which didn't amount to anything, really, but I had a corporate job with responsibilities, and maybe she was astounded that I'd actually assumed any. Too, I had kids who were normal. My mom loved my kids far more than she ever loved me, which was okay. That's what grandmas are supposed to do. Grandmas are more relaxed; more laisse.

The last time I saw my mom was after Dad had passed away. She was tranquil; resigned. She knew (although I didn't) that her end of life was near. We sat in her living room with the TV on -- the CMA Awards show played in the background. I think that was the year that Faron Young was honored posthumously. Mom said, "You really liked him, didn't you?" I was astonished that she knew that. It was as if she was trolling her memory to recall pieces of me. If it had been my older sister in the room, Mom would have dredged up an old favorite recipe.

Mom was telling me that she loved me, as messed up as I was. Telling me while there was still time.

Maybe I'll do that, too. My kids are special humans who think I don't care about them. The truth is, the absolute best years of my life was when I had them all to myself.

Life repeats itself, and it's messy, isn't it?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Things My Mom Taught Me

My mom's been gone now for more than fifteen years. It doesn't seem that long. Occasionally I dream about her, but in my dreams she's always passing me by, on her way somewhere. She never stops to talk. If she did stop, I don't know what we'd talk about anyway.

My mom grew up during the Great Depression. She was a severe woman, who only knew hard work. Mom was never sentimental. There was too much to do. When I was little and still hanging around the house, she didn't converse with me in the course of her household duties. I was just there, someone to vacuum around. I was never much of a talker anyway, so it didn't bother me. Moms didn't really talk to their kids back then, so my life wasn't a novelty. I lived inside my head and maybe she did, too; or else she was mentally ticking off her list of chores.

Really, that's what I remember most about my mom from my earliest memory until around age ten -- she worked. She cooked and baked and got down on her hands and knees and scrubbed the kitchen floor; then squirted Klear floor wax on the linoleum and swiped it around with a sponge mop. She canned green beans and beets and she made jam. She weeded her huge garden and ran out with plastic pails when frost was in the forecast and plopped them atop the tender plants. She drove the grain truck alongside my dad's combine in harvest season. She made supper at ten o'clock at night for my dad and brother, after they'd come in, black-faced, from the fields; she squeezed wet clothes through her Maytag wringer washing machine in the basement, then hauled them up the creaky basement steps and pinned them on the clothesline. She ironed, even the sheets. She got pregnant, twice more, and still didn't slow down. Sunday picnics were no picnic for her. While the men sat in the shade of a cottonwood bullshitting and guzzling Grain Belt, she was in the hot kitchen pulling pies from the oven and boiling potatoes for potato salad. My aunts kibitzed with her and helped where they could. Any self-respecting housewife would not find herself outside lazing with the men, kicking back, puffing on a smoke. Women had defined roles and men had theirs. Weekdays, the high point of Mom's afternoon was sitting down at 12:30 to snatch a few minutes of As The World Turns.

Mom didn't have time or use for dreams.

She bore three babies long before I came along, most likely not a joyous surprise, and turned me over to my older sisters, who toted me around like a bald-headed baby doll. But, by the time I was eight, my sisters had moved out and we had two new babes in our household. I was self-sufficient. I colored and I played my record player upstairs in my bedroom. I was not Mom's helper in any sense of the word, although eventually I needed money of my own to purchase '45 records, so she made a deal with me: I'd get twenty-five cents a week for dusting the furniture and performing other non-taxing chores. I begrudgingly performed those tasks as seldom as I could get away with, but she forked over that quarter every Saturday, well aware I hadn't held up my end of the bargain. I was as lazy as Mom was hard-working.

My eventual role within the family unit was that of the "novelty". I had a tiny bit of musical aptitude and I was good at memorizing. Thus, I got to take music lessons and I brought home straight A's on my report cards. My teachers had me (and Mom) convinced I possessed a superior intellect. Only in hindsight do I realize that it was all a trick. I just remembered things well, plus my big sister had taught me how to read at age four, so I was miles ahead of everyone else in my class.

Although Mom didn't spend any quality time with me, she did teach me some lessons:

1. Don't steal.

I don't think I was even in kindergarten yet when I accompanied Mom to the corner grocery store - Nellie's. There were no supermarkets then; simply little stores that held everything a late fifties housewife would need. One Saturday, as Mom was writing out her check for twenty-one dollars to pay for a package of frozen fish sticks, a four-roll pack of Charmin, two loaves of white bread, a can of cherry pie filling, and various other odds and ends, I spied the candy bars on a shelf below the counter. I wanted one...or I took them. Rhodes scholar that I was, ensconced in the back seat of our Mercury, I commenced to chomping on one. Mom glanced back and was aghast. "Where did you get that?" she demanded. I had no plausible response."You're marching back inside and telling Nellie you stole them," she directed. She fished inside her purse and pulled out a couple of dimes, clamped them inside my tiny palm and pointed toward Nellie's front door. "I...stole these," I stammered, quivering in the presence of the aproned matron behind the register. I don't remember what Nellie said to me, but I remember my mortification. That summer Saturday was the first and last time I ever stole anything, ever.

2. "Don't embarrass me."

Throughout my adolescence, I gave my mom many opportunities to be embarrassed. My cousins and I had a little trio, borne of our shared music lessons, and we did appearances at nursing homes and parades and park band shells. I was a natural ham, so I became rather effusive during those performances. Until I spied Mom in the audience scowling at me, disapproval reddening her cheeks. So, I swallowed my show-off gene and retreated into the background; turned translucent, only my alto warble betraying my presence on the stage. You can be good, but don't let anyone know you think you're good, was Mom's message. To this day, I rein myself in when I sense I've gone too far. I self-censor. Because Mom told me to.

3. Keep your cards close to the vest.

I'm not sure Mom ever proffered an opinion in polite company. She was a master at gauging the room. She agreed with whatever sentiment dominated, offering an "I agree" or an "uh huh", to keep the conversation flowing. Oh, she had opinions - definite opinions - but those she saved for home. My lesson: Don't say what you're really thinking, because people will judge you; judge you harshly, and who needs that kind of grief? As I've grown older, I've forgotten that admonition a few too many times, and forgetting has not served me well.

As Mom grew older, she relaxed a bit. She never once stopped cooking and baking and cleaning, even when she could afford to hire someone to do those things for her. She either liked doing those things or they were so ingrained, she knew no other way of living.

In Mom's last years of life, she became someone I'd never before known -- a supportive mother. She and I did a few things together -- went to concerts, played bingo. After I moved out of state, she wrote me chatty letters. I would have liked to get to know this New Mom better, but time ran out. Maybe that's why I dream about her sometimes. I'm still yearning to get to know her, but she just breezes past me; signaling that she's someone who can't be known.

I never even knew that she loved music until she was in her later years. We could have shared that, but she kept it inside her. Close to the vest.

She was a good woman. She did the best she could.

That's all any of us can do.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

If I could spend today with my mom....

I would say, what would you like to do today, Mom?  And she'd say, "Oh, whatever you want to do.  I don't want you to go to any trouble."

My mom never wanted anybody to do anything for her; to fuss over her. 

So, I would most likely take her out for brunch.  

From the time I was about twelve, I'd order my mom a corsage.  I didn't have a ready cache of money, but I could afford that; so I'd call up the florist a week or so before Mother's Day and order one for her.  I'd tell them I'd send a money order to cover the cost.  They always trusted me to keep my word.

Mom would wear it, too; even though I was too stupid to realize that it was kind of hideous and large.  

There were six kids in our family, so a competition inevitably ensued; to see who could give Mom the best Mother's Day gift.   My two sisters and my brother were older, and had actual income, so they could at least afford a presentable bouquet.  My younger brother and sister had cuteness in their favor, so they could put crayon to paper and create touching masterpieces.

I had neither income nor cuteness.

I sure wasn't Mom's best friend.  We, in fact, barely spoke to one another.  

It took me about forty years to even make peace with my mom.

Even so, even when I was twelve, there was a grudging acknowledgment that I respected her, and that she accepted me; albeit with reservations.

I was not a good daughter.  Kids view life through a very narrow prism.  What are you doing for me?  What are you doing to me?  I had a hell of a time; decades really; coming to terms with my mom's inability to handle a daughter who was filled with resentments that she didn't understand, and that I certainly wasn't going to explain to her.

I turned around one day, though, and realized that she was a great grandma to my boys.  She loved those kids unconditionally, just like she loved each and every one of her grandchildren.

The way to a woman's heart?  Love her kids.

This softer Mom was a revelation to me.  It gave me permission to extend my hand; to ask her to do things with me.  We did some things.  We went to bingo together.  She loved bingo.  

We went to the Garth Brooks concert together.  All through my life, Mom had cloaked herself in a veil of disdain regarding music; my first true love.  Who knew that she'd suddenly become a teenaged fanatic?   She had way more fun at Garth's concert than I did.  Granted, I was spending my time vigilantly watching to make sure she didn't collapse from a hypertensive episode; but Mom stood through the whole concert; there in the second row; and I could swear she even swayed to the music.

I realized that there were tons of things I didn't know about my mom; and there was no way she was going to tell me those things.  My mom never once talked about her childhood.  I don't know if it was that bad; or if she'd just been raised to not talk about herself.  

I can count on the fingers of one hand the details my mom shared with me about her life.

If I could spend today with my mom....

I would ask her a bunch of questions.  Not like an inquisitor, but gently.

What was her life like as a kid?  What was her favorite thing to do?

What was her relationship with her mom like?

How did she meet my dad?  What attracted her to him?

What was early married life like for her?  How did she manage being poor?

What did she want to be when she grew up?

My dad wore his heart on his sleeve.  My mom buried her heart under clouds of mystery.

The things I know about my mom:

She loved my dad through thick and thin.  And trust me, there was a lot of thickness and miles of thinness.

Her heart filled with joy whenever one of her grandchildren bounded through her front door.

She was smart as a whip.

She didn't suffer fools gladly.

She was the best cook in the world.

When all others had cast me off as hopeless, she claimed me.

That last night, in intensive care, when we'd finally reached my hometown after a marathon drive, I didn't know what to do.  Her breathing was labored.  She didn't open her eyes.  

I'd never really been able to talk to her.  But now, in that dark room, I rubbed my hand up and down her arm, and simply said, "It's okay; it's okay."  

It is okay.  But that doesn't stop me from missing her.