Here we are again… another month and I and my crazy life are
both still a hot mess. I desperately need a vacation.
Rather than bore you with details, I thought this was a
great time to talk about my Mom.
This is not a romanticized version, but about Helen, the
I don’t think I visualized my mother as a person until after
she passed and I talked with two of my other siblings. If the other 4 of my brothers
and sisters told their story of growing up, you would think we were talking
about 5 different people. After all, we were spread across twenty years. My oldest
sister grew up with teenage Helen and I got pre-menopausal Helen.
I wish I had talked to her more and asked for the details of
her life. We tend to not talk about personal things with our parents. Some things
I know, like she grew up very poor, in the bottomlands of East Texas as the
child of an alcoholic and her family struggled. Sometimes her behaviors
reflected the trauma she endured growing up, and that was hard for me to
understand as a child.
She was the oldest of several children. I wished I had asked
her about her feelings when two of her baby siblings passed shortly after birth,
about her miscarriage, and about how she met my dad.
She witnessed more pain and sorrow in her life than any one
person should have to endure. In that era, life was raw, and life was real.
She married my dad when she was 15. He was 24. They eloped
to a small country church. I saw a photo of them once on their wedding day and
she commented about how young she was wearing bobby socks with her Mary Janes.
My oldest sister was born a year later, and then three years
after that, my other sister. Dad went off to war and there’s a story about how my
mom went out to the East coast on the train all alone, barely twenty and with
two young children, to see my dad.
When he returned from the war, they bought a farm and had
the last three of their 5 children. This was before birth control, and the last
two of us were “accidents” which happened a lot back then. I often felt like by
the time she had me, she was tired of raising kids and I really could not blame
her for that.
She told stories of how family planning really happened prior
to birth control, and sometimes the sad and tragic endings. Mom was empathetic
and a chronic worrier. Unlike many people born in the 20’s, she was very
progressive and supported women’s rights and policies for the less fortunate.
Every two weeks, when dad got paid, we drove fifty miles to Texarkana
and my Mom would shop for hours– going up every single aisle in Kmart and if
lucky, caught a few blue light specials.
She was an original environmentalist, saving every butter
tub and cookie tin and loved garage and estate sales. Even today, when I look
at the knickknacks I inherited from her, I don’t truly know if it was a family heirloom
or a garage sale find.
When she was in her mid-forties, she received her GED by
mail and got her driver’s license.
She loved her neighbors and to visit and was very nosy. She might
indulge in a bit of gossip, and possibly even take a peek in your medicine
cabinet and had this habit of staring at people in public who were different.
She was what we called back then, a homemaker. Today we call
them SAHM, or stay at home moms. Later in her life, she worked part time as a
substitute cook. For all the years she lived with my dad, she woke early and
cooked him a full, hot breakfast every single day.
After my dad passed, she began a new chapter in her
life. After being a dedicated wife for all those years, she took every
opportunity to travel. She flew to Maine and California and never turned down a
road trip with her kids. She even learned how to use Facebook in her late
Helen was smart, funny, brave, and a woman before her time.
If she had any regrets in her life, she never mentioned or dwelled on them.
From my mother, I inherited her looks, my sewing abilities, my “can do anything” attitude, and her chronic depression.
The biggest thing she taught me is that we are all flawed heroines of our
own story, and regardless, or maybe because of her upbringing, she loved deeply and made the best of her life.
I asked her once to tell me about the good old days and she
smiled as she told me, “I am living them right now”