Thursday, December 06, 2012
Some days are more difficult than others...
I miss my mother.
Today is the fourth anniversary of her death.
We had a rocky relationship in many ways, my mother and I. I was always closer to my father, and I'm not sure how Mom felt about that. But she was my mother. I loved her, and I miss her a lot. I still have times when I'll see or hear something that I want to tell her about. And then I will realize that I can't.
My mother was born in 1924, in Oklahoma, then lived for a few years in Arkansas until her family came to California when she was about nine years old. I always kidded her that she should write a book. She could have written about living in a log house, about going to school in a two-room schoolhouse, about going down to the river with her mother to wash clothes. She had great stories about her childhood.
She could also have written about being part of the high school class that spent pretty much their entire time in high school during wartime (she graduated in 1945), in World War II. It's an interesting generation. I went with her to the last high school reunion she attended. I wish I had thought to take a recorder to get down the stories she and her classmates told about that time. I wish that I had just recorded her stories; I could have written a book from those.
I don't think I ever really knew my mother very well, apart from the stories she told about her childhood and adolescence. She was not a talkative person, and didn't share much of herself. If she was around people she didn't know, she wouldn't talk at all sometimes. In that, I think she was a lot like her mother. I didn't know my Nina very well; she died before I was two years old, and I only have two specific memories of her. But I understand that she, too, was a very quiet woman who kept herself to herself. My mother kept herself to herself, as well.
I think part of my mother's reticence was that she came from a family that was spectacularly dysfunctional. I'd go so far as to say it was amazing that my mother turned out to be as normally functional as she was, considering how much of a mess some members of her family were. That's all I'll say about that, but suffice it to say that a psychologist or psychiatrist would have had a field day with some of my maternal relatives.
Then again, my mother always described herself as the odd one out in her family. And she was contrary. Her grandfather, her father's father, was a Southern Baptist preacher, and he and my great-grandmother expected the whole family to be in church twice on Sunday and on Wednesday nights. They also expected the women in the family to always, always wear dresses. Trousers just weren't acceptable dress. As a result, my mother was no fan of organized religion, and she always told stories about making sure she wore trousers every time she knew she would be going to her grandparents' house for a visit. I never knew her to wear a dress unless she absolutely had to.
Mother always spoke with pride, though, of the time that her father told her that she was the only one of his children with any common sense. Which was the truth and might have been enough to make her the odd one out all by itself.
That difference from others did not end with her differences from her family, however. Even though my mother had me at the relatively (for the time) late age of 31, she was the only mother on the block who would come out and play when I was a child. It always amazed the other kids in the neighborhood that she would play hopscotch with us, and jump rope. Sometimes, she'd even sit down on the sidewalk with us and play jacks. And she always spoke if not disparagingly, at least disapprovingly, of the parents on the block who never did anything with their children.
It wasn't all sweetness and light with my mother, however. She had an issue with emotions. If she got angry or upset, she would just sort of retreat into herself and go very, very quiet. If I got angry or upset or sad...anything but happy, really...well, she had problems with that. I was supposed to be happy all the time, and since I wasn't (what kid is?), there was a certain amount of conflict between us about that.
I have been known to joke that I was her Alien Child, and she really didn't understand where I came from or what to do with me. Although I kidded her about this, it was true in many ways. I'm not really much like her. I am interested in things she didn't care about. I am a reader; she wasn't. I like to be by myself; she never liked being alone.
But, she had a wicked sense of humor that was one of the last things she held on to as the dementia took over in her old age. An example: For years, we lived in a mobile home park where most of the residents were senior citizens. One of the rules of the park was that no one could come in trick-or-treating on Halloween. Every year, for years, she would say, sometime during the day on Halloween, that we should get dressed up and go knock on doors and see how many people reported us to the manager of the park.
She never would have actually done that, of course. But the very fact that she thought about doing it speaks well of her, I think. Most people get more conservative as they age. Not my mother. She got considerably more liberal as she got older. She also finally got to the point where she wouldn't let people walk all over her. That tendency to let people push her around was, I think, another result of the family she grew up in. I like to think that I had at least something to do with her learning to say no, especially to her family, to the extent that she was finally able to do that.
One of the best things about my mother? She loved Disneyland, and was always up for a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. After we moved away from southern California, we sometimes made the five hour drive to Anaheim on a whim for a visit. Other times, we would buy five-day passes and make a whole vacation of it. Even up to the end of her life, when she couldn't remember much of anything else and sometimes didn't even recognize me, she would always ask if we could go to Disneyland.
Mother would probably be telling me to shut up, already, right about now. She wasn't one to wax sentimental about the past. But, I'm glad I took this time to remember her, and pay a tribute to her. She wasn't always the easiest person in the world, but she did her best and overcame a lot to be the mother she was to me.
Love you, Mom, and I miss you.