Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mom...Miss You A Lot

My mother was a Christmas Eve baby, born on this day in 1924. It was the day that Albania became a republic, and just six days before astronomer Edwin Hubble announced that the Andromeda nebula was really a galaxy separate from our own Milky Way galaxy and that there are many such galaxies in the universe. She was born just one day before writer Rod Serling, who gave us, among other things, "The Twillight Zone", and she was just a month and two days older than actor Paul Newman, who was born on January 26, 1925.

So, today, I wanted to commemorate my mother's birth, 89 years ago today. She wasn't always an easy person. She came from a spectacularly dysfunctional extended family - this was the family that, when they had family reunions, every family group within the extended family sat together, apart from the rest, and some branches of the family barely talked to the other branches during the gathering. And, for years, we lived in the same mobile home park as one of her cousins, our houses a minute or two's walk apart, but we sometimes never saw that person for a year or year and a half at a time. The same with other members of her family that lived in the same town for those years. Often, we only saw them on Christmas Eve, and wouldn't have seen them then if we hadn't made a practice of delivering Christmas cookies and candy every Christmas Eve.

That was one of our Christmas Eve rituals - we played Fattening Fairies and spread calories all over town, and we always had fun doing it. That came after breakfast out for Mom's birthday. I'd always take her birthday present along and make her open it in the restaurant so that she'd get that as far away from her Christmas presents as possible. And then, on Christmas Eve evening, we'd do Christmas presents - that had become the family tradition around the time I was eleven or twelve, when it got to where I would wake up at 4 or 4:30 a.m. on Christmas morning and insist that it was time for presents. Mom and Daddy decided that since I had long since figured out that they were Santa Claus, we'd just do presents on Christmas Eve so that they could sleep in on Christmas morning.

Mom was an extremely shy person, and very quiet until she got to know you. After the got to know you, though, she was bright and articulate and very, very funny. She could also be snarky before snark was a thing. And she was the only sixty-something-year old mom I knew who would go to rock concerts. She always acted, beforehand, like she really didn't want to go, but then she'd get there and have a great time. It was interesting, watching her get older. Most people get more conservative as they get older. Not my mom. She got more open, more liberal, more accepting of people different from herself. That was quite an accomplishment, coming as she did from a family that was from the South (ish - she was born in Oklahoma and lived until she was about 9 years old in Arkansas) and had the usual prejudices so common in that part of the country at the time she was growing up.

I think she didn't really know sometimes how to take me, her Alien Child, who was the reader she wasn't, who loved science fiction and science and school and learning. We used to have these arguments when I was a child. I'd be in my room, or in the living room in front of the television, reading a book. She'd come in and tell me, "Go do something." I'd say, "But, Mom, I am doing something. I'm reading." Her reply was, "Go do something." And we'd go around and around about whether reading was "doing something." If it was nice weather, and it usually was since we lived in Southern California, I'd usually solve the problem by taking my book and going outside to read for a while.

But, she was also the only mom on the block who would come out and play with the neighbor kids, who all always seemed to be in our front yard - even when I would have rather been hiding somewhere reading a book. She'd play hopscotch with us, and jump rope, and badminton. Well, she'd play badminton with us until she killed the net one day with the lawn mower. She thought she could mow around the poles holding the net up. Except, not so much, and she knocked over one of the poles and the next thing she knew, the mower had eaten the entire net. After that, it was netless badminton for us, which wasn't nearly as much fun.

Mom and I actually didn't have all that much in common; I grew up much closer to my father than I was to her, but after Daddy died, it was just the two of us, and we had lots of good times together. Even after we left Southern California, we'd go to Disneyland at least once a year. It was her favorite place in the world. Even in the last stages of her dementia, when she didn't even know who I was half the time and when she was in no shape to go, she'd still ask on a regular basis when we could go to Disneyland again. We also went on epic trips to Las Vegas, where she would always win at the slots, and I got to where I wouldn't even play them because I'd always lose.

And, sometimes, we would take impromptu road trips just for the hell of it. The best one was the time I got up one morning, during a time when I wasn't going to school and happened not to have a job at the time, and I felt like doing something. So, I asked Mom if she felt like taking a little trip. She asked where to? I said, "I don't know. We could just see where we end up." This was about 10 a.m. The problem facing us was that we needed new brakes on the car. I called the mechanic we always went to and explained the situation, and he said he had time to do it if we could get the car to him right away. And so we did, and by around 2:30 that afternoon we had new brakes on the car, had packed, and were on the road. We spent that night in Sacramento, drove as far as Crescent City the next day, stayed the night there, and turned around and headed home the next day, spending a night somewhere north of San Francisco before making it back home. It was a great trip. Other times, we'd just head out to the coast for the day.

I miss Mom a lot, and even after her being gone for five years, will still catch myself seeing or hearing or reading something and thinking, "I can't wait to tell Mom about that." And I miss her most of all on her birthday, when it was always so much fun to make sure she got a birthday that was separate from all the Christmas stuff going on.

So, Happy Birthday, Mom. Love you. Miss you. I'm still your Alien Child, after all these years. You'd think I was nuts for dressing up in medieval garb and going camping and pretending like it's the Middle Ages, and for sitting and watching Doctor Who marathons. But I'll bet you'd have gotten into the spirit of both, just like how Daddy and I used to have to sneak off into my room to watch Star Trek when it was first on, but how, later on, when the movies started coming out, you were the one who always talked me into going to see them in the theater rather than waiting until they came out on video.

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