Saturday, May 12, 2012
This is the only picture of my mother I have on my computer. I have others that need to be scanned in, if I ever find that box.
Her wedding day. She was 31 when she married my dad; certainly "over the hill" for that time (1936).
She had a difficult life. Born in 1905, the second of four children and the oldest girl, she learned early on that girls were less valuable than boys. Her mother died when she was 9, and she and her siblings were shunted from her grandmother to a "maiden aunt" (I kid you not--that how she referred to Aunt Ethel), who raised the little family. In traditional style, the girls waited on the boys and did all the chores: cooking, laundry, cleaning, as well as polishing the boys' shoes, etc. This would have been during and after WW I.
She never graduated from high school, being math-challenged. According to Aunt Ethel, there were two careers open to women--teaching and missionary work. Teaching was out, without that high school diploma, so Mom spent a year or so at missionary school before deciding that was not a good fit. She eventually became a nurse, which, at that time, didn't require a high school diploma. She worked in OB, psychiatry, OR and eventually found her niche in home nursing.
I never did find out why she quit driving, except for vague references to a bad accident. I don't know if she was injured, if she caused it or if anyone was killed, but she never drove again.
She was born in the U S, but grew up in Canada, where she met and married my very English father. They went to England in 1938, just in time for WW II. Dad was in the RAF, and mom held down the fort in Coventry. Of course, she was bombed out (twice), and eventually decided to wait out the rest of the war on her home turf. She travelled back to the U S on the Queen Mary, which had been fitted out as a troop ship, and worked in a Rosie the Riveter job till the war was over. Dad joined her in New York for a while after, and then they returned to England.
Mom was the stuff of which pioneers were made. I can totally see her living a Laura Ingalls kind of life. She worked very hard, all the time. Cleaning, cooking, sewing, splitting wood, gardening, knitting, crocheting, making rag rugs...there was nothing to which she wouldn't turn her hand if her hand was needed. I remember a night on our epic trip across the continent when she ran off a bear with a broom and a rubber boot. See HERE for a full account.
We were at odds most of the time, because I am, compared to her, a lazy person and always have been. When people ask me how I manage to do as much as I do, I am always tempted to say, "Huh! You should have seen my mother!"
So, nothing I ever did was good enough. I never worked hard enough or fast enough, or did a job that was good enough for her. Whether it was cleaning a chicken coop or a stove pipe, making a potato salad, sewing a dress, ironing a shirt, planting a garden or canning green beans, everything I did was inferior. Because, of course, she had done a better job at ten than I did at sixteen.
So my feelings about her are still ambivalent. I caught myself being snarky about her on Facebook the other day. Somebody posted one of those memes, "If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would you pick?" Many picked their mothers, and I responded, "I'd choose mine, but then I'd have to listen to a four hour monologue on what hell was like."
Because she wasn't "nice." She rolled her own cigarettes (and taught me how, which made me quite popular in college) and coughed up a lung every day. In the morning, no one could do anything right. Even the cat would avoid her. The coffee was too strong, the toast too soft, the cereal too soggy, the newspaper had too many ads and my hair was too stringy. I couldn't wait to get out of the house. When I got home from school, she acted as if I'd been on vacation all day, rather than dodging bullies, and chore time commenced. Nowadays, we praise our kids for reading books, but reading was slacking as far as Mom was concerned. Never mind that I had to ask permission to leave the room, let alone the house. She was verbally and physically abusive to me and to my dad.
In short, she had superb survival skills and lousy people skills. Like most of us, I suppose she did the best she could with what she had to work with, and I thank her for that.
The worst thing she did to me was make me afraid to sing. She got so annoyed at my tuneless attempts that she put me in the church choir, hoping they would teach me how. They just threw me out, because her incessant, "Oh, for heaven's sake, Veronica, either get on the tune or shut up," took its toll on my confidence.
The best thing she did for me was to tell me, over and over, "how would you feel if somebody did that to you?" I heard that every time I did something that hurt anyone else, by word or deed.
So, as Mothers' Day is upon us again, my memories of her bubble to the surface, along with the guilt that comes with unresolved conflict.
She has been dead for nearly 35 years. You'd think I'd be over it by now.