Friday, February 15, 2008

My Mother



This time of year is somewhat bittersweet for me. Yesterday, February 14, Valentine's Day, was my Mother's birthday. She would have been 79. She passed away January 30, 2001.

Mother grew up the younger sister of two girls in Oklahoma City in the depression. Her father was a butcher and an alcoholic. He wasn't violent in any way - just a typical depressed Irishman. She graduated from Central State (now OCU) with a teaching degree. Her first job was in Liberal, KS. She found a better job in Cimarron and moved there. That is when she met my father. Mother was always a pretty independent sort - she got tired of waiting for Dad to ask her to marry him, so she got a job in Topeka. Dad chased her there and won her heart.

I arrived a little over a year after their marriage. My sister arrived almost five years later. When Mother thought Sis was old enough - I think she was in first or second grade - she returned to teaching. The farm wasn't producing enough income. Mother showed her independence in several ways - Dad had the idea that Mother should pay for all the household expenses, plus she should turn her check over to him to do what he pleased. There were many bitter arguments about overdraft charges. Mother couldn't feed and clothe us and have play money for Dad. She opened a separate account in her name and started depositing her checks there. Suddenly, the only overdrafts were in Dad's account.

It wasn't like Mother was blowing the money. She took up sewing - making Sis's and her clothes. Egads did I ever get tired of fabric shops when Mother went shopping.She didn't sew for me - she said boy's clothing was harder to sew, and she didn't think she was good enough. Mother had crooked teeth. She made sure Sis and I didn't. Sis's mouth took a fortune to fix - but that was something Mother was adamant about. Yearly eye checks were also part of our care. Usually that meant new glasses every year for us kids. All this might not seem like a big deal now, but it was back then, particularly with no insurance. A lot of my contemporaries didn't have it that good.

It also meant cooking economically - so no instant this or that, no canned junk, no Pop Tarts or Tang. We got orange juice in the frozen cans. Occasionally, we'd get breakfast rolls. She'd try to hide them from Dad - he'd eat all of them and us kids wouldn't get any. We popped our popcorn in oil - no expensive Jiffy Pop for us. I am not complaining at all - we got superior food at the expense of convenience for her and helping relieve her budget.

She was a good teacher as well. She taught kindergarten at a neighboring town for many years, and she is still remembered in high regard to this day. Sis and I were the beneficiaries of Mother's education. She passed on a love for reading and learning. She had us listen to classical music and some of her favorite musicals. We did get a bit of culture out on the windswept prairie.

I think she put up with Dad until she thought I was old enough to get out on my own. I had just graduated high school. She'd tried for years to get Dad to go to counseling with her, but he wouldn't have any part of it. It didn't bother him to be threatening, either. So, when she had him served with papers, one set was restraining orders. Now Dad wanted to go counseling. He learned rather quickly that the rights he thought he was due as a husband was a pipe dream. Mother was just tired of fighting. The divorce settlement was just enough cash for Mother to get moved and set up in Oklahoma City. She didn't want half the farm. Dad complained bitterly about the cash settlement one too many times to me - I reminded him that she could have made him sell out and give her half. He didn't bother me about that issue after that.

So, yeah, I blame Dad for the failure of the marriage. There is a lot I'm not mentioning. He never was physical - his was more of a mental abuse. He sure threatened on the physical side but he never followed through. In his defense, he never screwed around on Mother, nor was he a drinker. His crimes were being selfish and thoughtless. I can guarantee Mother spanked me more than Dad ever even considered.

And not that Mother was perfect. She took Sis with her to Oklahoma City and pretty well turned her against him. Sis was Dad's favorite - she'd whine for a toy around Dad and generally always get it. Me - not so much. He really tried to connect with Sis, but they didn't allow it. He had no clue, either. He bought her a guitar thinking in his dreams she would play for him, but he neglected to consider what she wanted. It ended up in a pawn shop somewhere. In his world, kids were supposed to like what he wanted them to.

But, my Dad is a post or fifteen for some other time. This is about my Mother. She taught in the OKC school system until she retired. Her idea of retirement was to sit at home, reading and watching her favorite movies. And eating. And eating more.

She would not get out and walk or do anything physical at all. Sis couldn't handle her. Sis would ask me to berate Mother when I'd visit. "Oh, I'm exercising more every day and I'm cutting back on eating fattening foods" she told me one day. When I pointed out she was lying to me, she started to get pissed until I pointed out she was stuffing her mouth with Christmas candy. It didn't matter, she was bound and determined to do it her way.

It turned out she had arthritis, particularly in her knees. Her patellas were basically gone. She had knee replacement surgery. It also turned out she was suffering from a mild case of senile dementia. Apparently, the condition can be accelerated by anesthesia. It was the beginning of the end for Mother. She came home from the hospital, but she fell and called 911 to get her up too many times. Sis couldn't be there 24-7 - she had a job. It was the nursing home for Mother.

It became a full time job for Sis to look after Mother and keep after the home to care for her properly. Sis's job is nursing home administration, so she knows a thing or two about what constitutes proper care and who's butt to chew if the care is substandard. Which I think it is by default - I've sure never seen one I'd want to stay in. Mother began to drift - maybe she was "there" when you spoke to her, maybe not. She had a flash of her old self one day - she was in a wheelchair out in a common area, and I was talking to her there. I seemed to be getting nowhere, and I said something like "I hope you don't mind my being here and talking to you." She responded rather tartly "Of course not!"

She also started throwing up everything she was fed. Sis said Mother had heard some of the staff making fun of her about her weight, and she was all of a sudden self conscious about it. At any rate, she wasn't eating or holding it down, and she was losing weight. Sis was going nuts - if there was just one more thing she could try, she'd save Mother. Mother was trying to die, period. She just wanted to go out a bit thinner.

Mother was getting more sickly - I'd made several quick trips to OKC thinking I might not make it in time. One evening after I'd been in town a day or so, the Hospice volunteer, Sis and I discussed Mother's future, which wasn't great. The next morning, Mother was gone. She slipped away, not bothering anyone. Typical. She didn't want to bother anyone. She didn't want to die in front of her kids, so she didn't.

I stayed with Mother until the funeral attendant arrived. I had to help him put Mother in his big zippered bag and move her to his stretcher. It was the least I could do for the woman who raised me and gave me a good head start on life. She gave us all she could - we were her entire existence.

I miss my mama.

6 comments:

Bob said...

This was a beautiful post. Your mother was a beautiful woman, inside and out.

threecollie said...

Thank you for sharing your heart this way. Your mother must have been very special...she was certainly very beautiful...

Tim said...

What a great post. I enjoyed reading about your mother very much. Hope you are healing ok.

RT said...

I'm very sorry about your mom. She sounds a lot like my grandmother in life and how she chose to die.

My grandmother was like a second mother to me. I took from her what she taught me about all facets of life, just as your mother taught you. That's all we can do, and we owe it to them, and what they were trying to impart to us, to live well and treat others well.

I miss my grandmom, too. :)

ptg said...

Nice post. I miss my mom, too. If my Dad hadn't drummed the "men don't cry" thing into me so well, I'd be tearing up.

Mo K said...

Wow, Jeffro. What a heartfelt and touching post. Your mom reminds me of mine. She always puts others first. I was really worried about Mom last year after the loss of Dad and then her accident. She was quite depressed and lost a significant amount of weight, but she's springing back mentally/spiritually. Some days better than others.

I can see why you miss your mom so much. I can't imagine life without mine.