This is how it all supposedly begins isn’t it? Our mothers. A good mother-daughter relationship is a treasure to behold. The relationship with my mother felt something like this:
Born in 1935 in rural Kentucky near Fort Knox to parents who were sharecroppers, she was the youngest of eight children. She had a tough young life. At one point, things were rough at home so she went to live with her sister, Maxine. I know hardly anything about her childhood.
She told me of a Christmas when she went out in the fields and took down a small tree. She brought it to her bedroom and decorated it with those construction paper chains. She was excited about this as any child is on Christmas Eve when a Christmas tree is involved. Her excitement and hope evaporated Christmas morning when she awoke to nothing under her tree. Now that is sad.
She was sharp as a tack and it served her well throughout her life. She was valedictorian of her high school class. She had a boyfriend named Garland. I wonder if she wanted him to be “the one.” She spent some summers on farms planting tobacco. She said how painful that was on her hands. It was from the toxicity of the mature tobacco seedlings.
Meeting My Dad
I tread lightly here because it is not something easily shareable, although it happens all the time. It occurs in workplaces, at least I saw it happen in law firms. Their marriage was the result of an affair. My dad was married and had three boys who became my half-brothers. He was 12 years older than my mother.
My grandparents, understandably, were unnerved by this. They probably considered this quite an humiliation to the family if people around town knew. Along the way, her parents would keep her from getting in the house by locking the gate of the fence surrounding the house. I don’t know how she managed to get in. Boy, don’t you wish you had asked more questions about things while people were still here who could give you the straight answers?
The boys were not a part of my life, but yet in a weird way they were. The one I was closest to, Larry, has died. He served in the United States Marine Corps. He would take leave and sometimes come for a visit when we lived in Tampa. He once bought me a Beach Boys album and this was way cool. I am not in touch with the youngest, David. I get an occasional text from Arthur Lamar, the oldest.
In fact, several years ago, my husband and I had lunch with Arthur Lamar. It was quite unsettling because he looks exactly like my dad did. Eerie. I just couldn’t get past that, and it was distracting, to say the least, in having a conversation. He’s a good guy and enjoys his charity work. He does a lot of it. Kudos to you, Arthur Lamar.
As a child, some Sundays my dad would drive to the town where the boys lived. Mother and I stayed in the car outside the house and waited until the visit was over. I remember Mother being so bothered by that $22 weekly child support payment my dad had to pay. He never paid her any for me. She never sought relief from the courts. So there’s the beginning.
I loved my aunts. In the back row, left to right, Aunt Louise, Aunt Virginia, Wilma (my mother); front row, left to right, Aunt Maxine (although we called her Aunt Meanie) and Aunt Corria. All wearing similar-looking glasses.
This picture was taken when my mother organized a get-together of the sisters. They knew it would be the last time all of them would be together. They met at a hotel, and I think they got rooms. There was food galore.**
Mother set up an audio recorder with cassette tapes. I have a set of these tapes. It is neat hearing their voices, their talking, laughing, their carrying on and enjoying each other. It was around Christmastime, and Mother made each of them wreath pins (pictured). Mother had a great heart deep down and could be so loving and kind and so generous to me and others, but her soul was tortured.
**My aunts were always eating when they were together. All were great cooks. After Sunday lunch one time, my grandmother spread a tablecloth over the food on her table and removed it later when it was suppertime. My aunts were sitting around the kitchen table still talking and one of them said (let’s say it was Maxine), “Where’s the Sears & Roebuck catalog?” To which another aunt said, “Well, Maxine, do you want to eat that, too?” Hilarity broke out. I’m laughing now and crying. I am thankful that God has blessed me with a good memory. I believe we all cherish the things we remember that make us laugh and smile.
There were three: Uncle Chuck, Uncle Jim, and Uncle Paul. Unfortunately, no pictures. They were good men. Each served in the military in a different branch. I wasn’t close with any of them. Even as a child though, I could recognize how handsome my Uncle Chuck was. He had dark, thick sable hair that was smoothed back with a slight part, and a smile that put a smile on your face.
Good Times with Mother
There were fun times. All was not gloom and doom. Looking back it’s hard to remember a lot of good times though. I usually walked on eggshells not knowing when something might trigger in her. I tried to be on my best behavior at all times.
We both loved to laugh (and my dad, too) although Mother could not laugh at herself. I laugh all the time at the idiotic things I say and do. I loved hearing her laugh. Once we were standing in the kitchen before bedtime. Her pajama bottoms caught on the handle of a kitchen drawer. She took a step and almost pulled the drawer completely out. I just couldn’t stop laughing. Not funny to her.
Or the winter day she walked out onto an iced-over front porch wearing flip flops. She slipped and did a little dance to keep from falling. In reality, this is not funny and is dangerous. As a kid though, it was hilarious to me. I think I remember these incidents because I got called down for laughing. Sound familiar from an earlier post?
We played Scrabble. We didn’t keep score because we were just playing for the fun of it; it wasn’t a competition. We played checkers. We played Monopoly on her childhood set. It has wooden everything. No iron, no sports car, or top hat for your piece. The pieces were different shapes and colors of wood. It didn’t even come together in a box. I still have it.
We played other games, too. There came a point when we stopped playing very often because she said I was winning too much. I doubt that. She enjoyed playing badminton such as it was. Sometimes we played with a net up, sometimes we didn’t have a net. We just stood a little distance away from each other and batted the birdie back and forth.
Domestics with Mother
Mother was a great, absolutely fabulous seamstress. She made all my clothes and all of hers. She made belts to match her dresses, the kind of belt that came as a kit. The garments were nice and showed her creative style. Ingrate that I was as a child/teenager, I didn’t appreciate this. I wanted to buy clothes from the store like the rest of my friends. Once in a rare while, she might buy me an Easter dress.
At 16 she bought me a store-bought dress. I was ecstatic. It was a purple, black, and white knit. Within the first time or two of wearing it, a hole appeared in the left arm sleeve seam. She didn’t say this, but she had to be thinking, “That’s what happens with store-bought clothes.” I’m just saying. She bought that dress at Maas Brothers, a high end store for us. For a single mother, this was an expensive dress. So many times she did nice things.
She taught me to sew. Oh, that was a horrible experience. She was so good. She had no patience – zilch. She didn’t understand why I couldn’t get the hang of it. It was so basic and easy for her. I eventually got better thanks to Home Economics in 9th grade. The time came when I no longer had to sew, and I was so thankful.
She was a good cook. I loved her fried chicken and milk gravy. Salisbury steak, with thin ground beef patties with tomato sauce, was a favorite, too. She told me that my dad never complimented her on her cooking. She said she didn’t mind though because he never complained about it either. Mother was an excellent baker and candymaker. Great birthday cakes and all kinds of cookies. At Christmas, she made peanut butter divinity, or just plain; chocolate and peanut butter fudge; and, chocolate covered cream bourbon balls. One Christmas she made a bourbon fruitcake. Best fruitcake I have ever had. Now I buy Claxton’s. It is okay to like fruitcake; really, it is.
In October, it will be two years since Mother died. She had Parkinson”s Disease and was 84. I understand she was having none of this. She fought and struggled to the end, meaning an unpeaceful death. I learned of her death three weeks later. There was no published obituary. This was no surprise. I kept up with her legal life via the Internet. The last thing I learned was that she had sold her house. I contacted the seller to see if he knew anything about where she might have gone. Oddly, he knew she was going to a nursing home but did not know the name or location.
I contacted an attorney-friend of mine in Tampa. He said he’d check things out. He’s the one who told me. I was hoping I could find her to say “goodbye.” It never would have happened. She would not have let me in to see her, no doubt about that. I wanted to see her one last time. I don’t understand why this was important to me considering all we had been through. I guess it’s natural. She had my compassion and empathy. As I used to say to people, “Mother and I go back a long ways.” We had been estranged 11 years when she died..
It was difficult being her daughter because she was unpredictable. My dad felt the same way. He would say, “Life is too short to go around being mad all the time.” He was right. I have landed safely on my feet. Mine is a nice life. I hope yours is. Peace to you.
Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.
—Robert Louis Stevenson
Coming next Wednesday: “Heeere’s Sage!“