2014/02/02

Remembering my mother

I have no idea what any of the groundhogs did today. Apparently there was also a big TV program with lots of fancy commercials, some musical entertainment, and American football interspersed throughout. And actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead from a heroin overdose.

All I really care about is that my mother left us earlier today.

It wasn't a surprise when Sweetie and I got "the call" from my older sister. We had been waiting for it. My mom had had a stroke a little over a week ago. Per her instructions, she was receiving only palliative care. She was 94. She was tired. She had outlived two husbands, her only brother, and most of her friends. My sister wouldn't let her drive anymore (with good reason). Her life was becoming narrower. She wanted to go.

It's difficult for me even to imagine how it was for her to have been born in 1919 and to have lived through all that she did. Two huge events marked her early life: the Great Depression and the Second World War. She grew up with Depression values that stayed with her throughout her life. What for her was necessary frugality turned out to be what we now consider to be sustainable, ecological living. After high school and a couple of years of business college, she worked at the Prudential Insurance Company, leading a relatively independent existence when that was not common for young women. When the United States entered the war, she enlisted in the navy (much to her mother's chagrin) and served as a W.A.V.E. at a naval air station in Minnesota.

She and my dad married in 1949 after he had completed his undergraduate degree thanks to the G.I. Bill. They reared four children during the 1950s and the turbulent 1960s, when everything changed. She saw a president and two great leaders assassinated, huge social change take place, and a divisive war fought. The lunar module of Apollo XI landed on the moon on her 50th birthday.

In the 1970s, with her kids mostly grown, my mom went back to work part time as a bookkeeper at a local dairy. In 1981 we lost my dad. A bit later she retired to the seacoast of New Hampshire, not far from where she had grown up. A few years later, a man she had known and almost married when she was younger, now widowed himself, found her, wooed her, and eventually married her. Their story was published in Yankee magazine.

My mom lived through the computer age, but she never learned how to use one. In some respects, she was quite set in her ways. Yet she was also surprisingly adaptable. She had never been that much of a traveller, but the first time she went overseas, she had quite an adventure--joining my younger sister, who was then living in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, for several weeks. Many years later, she flew to London, again to spend some time with my sister. She came to the left coast twice to visit us and was an excellent tourist.

I was the black sheep of the family, and I wouldn't want to have been my mother for all those years. I gave her plenty of heartache. Yet she came through it all, and in the end we had a better relationship than we had had for most of the rest of my life. With so much in me that she disapproved of, she seemed to have decided that I had actually turned out OK.

At the beginning of January, Sweetie and I had gone back east for my niece's wedding and got stuck in Boston due to weather cancellations. That seemed pretty disastrous at first. But it meant that we got to pick my mom up at the hospital where she still volunteered and take her to a medical appointment, giving my older sister and brother-in-law some relief, and then take her out to lunch. Later, I went back to her house to help with some problem and spent some time just sitting and chatting. We had more of that the next day. Sweetie and I drove to Boston later on, so that was the last time I saw my mom.

I learned more from her than she ever realized she taught me. I acquired an early love of classical music from records we had in the house. I picked up a lot of basic cooking techniques from watching her. We shared a love of fashion and style. Until late in her life when she stopped caring, she always had a strong sense of propriety, dressing well for an occasion. She used to put on lipstick whenever she left the house. Sweetie and I never tired of her relating family history and stories from her past. And although I am much less frugal than I used to be, it's still a basic instinct.

I can't say I learned feminism as such from her, but she was the kind of woman who, in the context of her time, put a lot of feminist ideas into practice. She had an independent streak, and she encouraged all of us to be ourselves and not follow the crowd. She was strongly Catholic, but I remember being surprised at how hands-off she was about a woman's right to choose. She was a strong believer in individual conscience.

I have a lot of memories, both good and bad. That's always going to be the case. When we were kids, she sang to us before we went to sleep. When I was 12, I sustained a head injury that eventually required a surgical procedure. She was tireless in helping me through that. She hardly ever drank, but I remember one extended family Christmas gathering when I had brought a six pack of greenies, and she had two. She got as joyous as I had ever seen her! Even though rock music was definitely not her thing, she went to Portland, Maine, once to see our band play.

In the spring, I went to visit. We spent a lot of time just talking. We went out for meals, but the last night I was there I told her I wanted to make supper for her. I bought some beautiful fresh scallops and seared them simply with a butter and lemon sauce and some veggies. Her appetite had not been great, but she devoured that meal, and talked about it several times later on. For someone who loves to cook and to feed people as much as I do, there couldn't be anything more satisfying. She fed me when I was growing up, and I got to return the favour. That is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Rest in peace, Ma. You deserve it. And thank you.

1 comment:

MarysiaFlower said...

What a lovely tribute to your mum. She sounds like a strong and interesting woman. My condolences for your loss.