PRESS PLAY BEFORE READING MOM!
Four score and seven years ago today, a very special lady celebrated her first birthday. Did she have cake to crumble and icing to smear? Did her mom have to make cake from scratch in the 1920s? Three full years before the great stock market crash of ’29? Was she the apple of her mama and papa’s eyes as they had not yet given birth yet to her two brothers?
Was she an easy baby? Or was she fussy? Did her parents ever tell her? Does she remember? Have I ever thought to even ask?
Her childhood for me is but a remnant of out of focus and scattered black and white photos with so many people I never knew but have a deep need to know now so I will always remember.
I’m talking about my mother. Today she turns 88. Double eights. In her grandson Tyler’s world, that would make her a mere teenager, a ripe 16 year old. But we know differently. Time passes quickly and in a blink she surely must have gone from being a baby to a child to a lovely teenage woman coming of age at 14 when World War II started when Germany invaded Poland. Her Sweet Sixteen was eclipsed by Japan bombing Pearl Harbor. So many young men died; so many young wives and mothers cried.
Perhaps that is why she hates to see American soldiers, young boys and even girls now, shipped off to distant lands like Iraq and Afghanistan because it brings back memories of the boys of her youth who never came back. When the war ended she was my daughter’s age now. At twenty years old, just like her granddaughter Caroline who is enrolled in college, she too was enrolled in college in the big city of Manhattan……Manhattan, Kansas that is. Good old K-State.
Before long she was out and working full time at Boeing. What was it like mom? Making airplane parts? Being the first generation of women who worked full time? Dating flyboys in bomber jackets with big egos who probably smoked cigars and drank everything “on the rocks” while dancing to Benny Goodman or Glenn Miller. I look at pictures of you in slender skirts and pearls with a wave in your hair just so with your Bette Davis eyes and I think I can almost hear Glen Miller’s “In the Mood” and I want to go back in time with you.
I want to be there in the dance halls where the smoke was thick and the women were all beautiful and hoping their man would be safely home this time next year. I want to stand with you when American Pride was in full swing as much as the music that characterized your generation. I want to look into your young eyes as you were waltzed off your feet to “Moonlight Serenade” by….. By whom mom? Did you tell me? Why can’t I remember? Will you write your stories down for me so I will always know?
I want to be the one that pins a fancy jeweled brooch on your tweed herringbone suit. I want to position your hat just right and then we’ll go to the movies and come home and sneak a smoke. I’ll pretend I’m Veronica Lake and you can be Lana Turner and we’ll hit the streets of Wichita and turn heads everywhere we go.
Maybe our food will be rationed but our imagination and wanderlust to see the world outside this state of wheat and sunflowers, this dust bowl smack dab in the middle of tornado alley, will never be stifled.
I’ll go with you and I’ll fuss the boy out who left a tack on your chair for you to sit on when you first starting teaching high school English, Latin, and the merits of Shakespeare in Syracuse, Kansas. And then I’ll quietly fade to the background when your long legs, superior intellect, and proper grasp of the King’s English captivated my father’s heart several years later when you taught Freshman English at Wichita State.
Yes, he was so lovestruck he wrote you poems and tried to impress you with his writing as well. You were a pioneer in that area my dearie too. Long before there was Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, there was my mom who easily got away with marrying her student nine years her junior, because after all, who could tell the difference? What are mere years when two hearts fall?
I’ll ride in the backseat of your Peugot as you and Dad make your way to Alaska to live in Fairbanks. I’ll put on a fur parka and enjoy taking a dog sled ride with you across this frozen tundra where the dark of night sometimes lasts only a few hours. We’ll watch the Northern Lights and then I’ll sit by the fire with you and Dad in the log cabin he built as you plan your dreams for the future, not knowing then what we both know now. Some of our dreams come true; others don’t. And yet life still has a way of working out for the best! While your friends from rural Kansas were making babies and cooking Friday night pot roast, you were off exploring new lands. I was with you then in spirit. You just didn’t know it yet.
Soon you were off to Athens Greece. That’s where you both made me. I started out so small and unaware that someday I too would have another sister, my beloved sister from another mother, who also calls Athens home. But that would be years later.
It was back to Omaha, Nebraska so you could bring me into the world. Dad was given the news overseas in Greece where he promptly passed out cigars to his fellow Athenian workers to announce the birth of his “son”. It’s okay now. I watch Mad Men. I get it. The sexism. The 60s. The cocktail parties. It all went together.
Several weeks later, off we went again. This time to Oberhochstadt Germany where I would live for the next four months. Back to Nebraska and Kansas to see family and then Pasco, Washington. Why can’t I remember the photo of the baby girl in curls kissing her red puppy dog Rudy? I want to remember this in a way that is real and not observed by looking at a picture.
By the time I turned four, we had moved to Raleigh, NC where we established deep and permanent roots. I went to school all twelve years with the same neighborhood friends, a rarity that doesn’t exist now. When I was very young, I remember we were always having company or going to see family. Meals and traveling in our yellow convertible Cadillac and playing with cousins and favorite aunts and uncles were common. It was what families did back in the 1970s.
We must have traveled like every weekend or something until my 8th birthday. It was May 17, 1973. I was bedridden and covered head to toe with a wicked case of poison ivy. While my friends’ moms made Watergate salad, I watched Watergate hearings and President’s Nixon’s scowling jowls wave in the wind as he insisted “I am not a crook” before he ultimately resigned. Years later I would vote Republican anyway and become politically obstinate in my own views. I guess you can blame it on the poison ivy. It made me sympathetic towards Nixon I guess.
Suddenly it was just the two of us. Two little women in a huge house, alone, with no brothers or men, just our wits and creativity and a hatful of kittens to propel us forward. And on we marched. While other moms traded meatloaf recipes and made new creations with Jello, you quit smoking and took me to the mountains as we watched falling stars. You took me to the mountains in upper New York State and also to Corning Glass Works and watched glassblowers turn sand into liquid glass and form it into works of art in front of our very eyes. We went to the mountains of Georgia and I learned yoga at an early age. We went to Myrtle Beach a lot and I rode my raft in the ocean and played shuffleboard! We were not only hippy chicks, we were hip.
And when I was twelve we went to San Francisco and rented a tiny car and you drove us on the twisty Lombard Street of San Francisco. I thought I had turned into the Beach Boys’ California Girl, if only for a week. We went to beautiful Monterey where we saw sea lions crack clam shells as they floated on their backs. I went to camp in the wine country of Napa Valley where all the kids asked me to “speak” like a trained dog because of my southern accent that came out anyway despite your best attempts to teach me to talk correctly.
The years passed quickly after that. My rebellious teenage years collided with your transition to the full-time work force again. Other moms stayed home and continued to play bridge but you knew there was work to be done, and a teenage daughter to deal with, and bills that had to be paid. Still, you found the courage to date, and even become the President of the Capital City’s premier group for single parents and their families. You didn’t wither up and shrink into depression when Dad left, instead you thrived, and we became brave and adept at traveling and creating our own adventures and defining our destiny. You sought leadership outside the world of homemaking and had the solace and comfort and coffee of a dear neighborhood friend. You thought I was out playing, but I was watching too.
I was watching and learning. I learned that the world is full of endless possibilities. Sometimes we will choose right and sometimes we will choose wrong, but God can use both kinds of choices to teach us and guide us towards becoming who He already knows we are capable of being. I learned that fried green tomatoes are tasty. I also learned that eating cereal for supper won’t kill a kid and is one of my favorite family suppers to this day when I have other things I need to do. Perhaps it is the secret of slim. Or at least for the first few decades of life.
I learned what kind of mother I wanted to be someday. I wanted to be a mom who created her own destiny, not just be “somebody’s mother” or “somebody’s wife.” You taught me it is okay to have shared dreams as well as dreams of my own. And that is a good thing.
When you retired after many years of working for the state, and then ultimately as a bus driver for the airlines (go mom!) that is when you best found your niche in life: Helping me by helping me with my kids. Oh how they have been so blessed by your presence dear mother. Having a baby in the 80s, 90s, and then the “oh-ohs” as I like to call it, was made more special because you have been in it. Like you, I knew 40 was plenty young enough to still have a baby.
Three decades you’ve faithfully served at “watching” my kids when I worked or maybe just worked out or ran errands. You have always been there, more steady and true than the rocks at Stonehenge. Just like my childhood, you’ve shared with my children the love of many a cats, and now a beloved dog.
Every morning the local radio gives the “weather on the 8’s.” Well here we are mom. The time is on the 8s! How is the weather? How is the view? Here it is, the third of May and yet it feels like Autumn with a cool 60 degree morning in Raleigh, North Carolina. It may feel like Autumn in your life too. But this much I know is true:
You have lived a long life. Indeed, you have lived a blessed life. God has blessed you with so many years, and with a strong body and mind that still is going strong. I know your body has slowed somewhat, but your heart is still strong. Your will is still firm. And your love is long. It is eternal. It is the song that goes on and on. Long after you’re gone, and I’m gone, all that have come through me, and beyond are gone. It is our Sentimental Journey that transcends time and place and keeps us as one until God carries each of us safely home.
Happy Birthday Mother! May you be blessed today and always.
From the daughter and the family who loves you more than words can adequately describe.
PS – I apologize in advance for all spelling and grammatical errors. It’s not for lack of teaching. But I too am getting older, and sometimes I forget what you taught me. But I’m still young enough to relearn. 😉