Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mama

Today is my mother's birthday. She was 18 when this picture was taken, and 19 when I was born. Mama is the oldest of five children, three of whom lived to grow up. Not an unusual happening when she was young -- my father was one of four, two of whom lived to adulthood. Until she started going gray, she had black hair. She has lovely brown eyes, which are very expressive. And wonderful legs. She is still a very pretty woman, and when she was young she was a complete knock-out.

Mama has been married and widowed twice. Both times, she was the light of her husband's life. She is so sweet and so pretty that men are attracted to her like bees to a flower. And, she never notices! If you tell her that a man is interested in her, she is always surprised. Indeed, she just assumes that most men are very polite.

She has had a hard life. She buried two husbands and two children. She wanted to be an attorney, but in the 30s girls didn't get to do that, and farmer's daughters didn't go to college, so her high school talked her out of taking college prep classes.She finished high school during the Depression, and when she and my father were first married they were broke because he was deeply in debt because of that. He handed the money management over to her, and she set out to get him out of debt. Which she did -- it took her seven years, partly because they had his emergency appendectomy, my birth, birth and a long hospital stay for my brother Storm, Storm's funeral, and finally Forrest's birth in addition to the original debt to pay off. They were barely free of that debt, when my father died, leaving my mother with two small children to raise, and the usual preparation for that which a woman would have in 1948.

Mama started life light hearted and fearless. She undertook adventures with a gayity that was absolutely delightful. When she married my father, they eloped to Nevada in a small plane, returning the same day so that no one knew they were married except my Aunt Flo. I'm told they flew through a thunderstorm.

After my father died, she didn't even begin dating for over two years. But, she was unable to keep Forrest and me with her and so she set about finding another husband. Daddy fell for her, just as my father had. By the time she met him she had encountered men who were interested in her until they found out about us, and so when they were introduced (at his request, as she knew), she immediately informed him that she was a widow with two kids. Their first date was to bring Forrest to Saint Mary of the Palms to meet me -- Daddy had passed the litmus test.

Her second marriage lasted 38 years. Daddy was 20 years older than her, and he was very sick for the last nine months of his life. He didn't want to go to the hospital, and she and Aunt Flo took care of him so that he didn't have to spend much time there. It was a harrowing experience, because as he got weaker and less able to help himself, he got demanding and impatient and much more than cantankerous. He spent some time in each of the three hospitals in Stockton, because he was so mean to the nurses that none of them would take him back. But to Mama, it was a deal. He raised her children and allowed us to be together, and she was as good a wife to him as she could be. She certainly loved him, although it wasn't the grand romance for her that it was for him.

Mama taught me to laugh at myself and to care about other people and to keep my word. She taught me to read and to love reading. All through my childhood, she would bring me books that she thought I would like, and I can't remember any of them that I didn't. When I was little it was books she had read as a girl and books she had encountered during the time she was an assistant librarian in the children's section. Later it was books and stories she had just finished reading.

Mama moves fast. Walking with her and my Aunt Flo is like walking with Richard and Julie when they were little. Mama is always at least half a block ahead and Aunt Flo is always at least a half a block behind. And I'm in the middle. She does everything fast, actually somewhat slapdash if the truth be known. I was startled when I was in my 30s and I realized that I was a much more thorough housekeeper than she is. She is so focused on what is up ahead, that she just wants to get this task done as soon as she can. I don't think she is much of a rose smeller.

She loves music. Music was a big part of her relationship with my father, and also with Aunt Flo. Once the three of us were in a casino at Lake Tahoe, in the buffet line, and people would come in or walk by and the two of them, without even looking at each other, would start to sing the same song at the same moment. Mama is so auditory, that same trip, my first and only time during the over 30 years that the two of them went, we decided to go to a restaurant around the Lake that they wanted me to see. Aunt Flo was driving, and they were in the front seat talking and occasionally breaking into song, and I was in the back seat enjoying listening to them and watching the passing countryside. At one point, I mentioned that I hadn't realized that we were going to be going through desert. I was pleased, since I hadn't been in the desert in years, and I really like it. One of them said something like, "Yes, Joy" and we drove on. Until I asked Mama if Carson City wasn't where she had gotten married, and she said yes, and then asked why. And that's when we discovered that we had been off the proper track for an hour and a half. We should have never left the lake. They had driven that road for at least 27 years at that point, and got so busy talking and singing and laughing that they didn't notice when they left the Lake or, later, when we entered the desert.

Until last year, Mama and Aunt Flo took care of four of Mama's great-grandchildren while my niece, Kristie, went to college. Two women in their 80s, four kids under seven. When Kristie needed money, they tightened their belts and helped her -- at one point I went to visit and they were eating toast for breakfast, popcorn for lunch, and cold cereal for dinner in order to help Kristie. Colleen died in 1995, and Mama feels that helping Kristie is doing something for Colleen.

There have been times I have worshiped my mother, and times I have struggled to become an independent person and times I've been angry with her. But, I have never doubted that she loved me. And she has given me so much, not the least of which is an example of how to play the cards you're dealt with grace.


kenju said...

Such a wonderful post, MG, and a great tribute to your mom and also your aunt.

J said...

I wish Grandma read blogs so she could see this. She's the best Grandma ever.

Starshine said...

You mother sounds like a very special woman. Happy birthday to her!

Gina said...

Happy Birthday to your mom! As J says, she sounds like one of the best moms/grandmas ever!

Excepting mine, of course! ;)

Joy Des Jardins said...

What a beautiful tribute to your mom J. Happy Birthday to her. She's a very strong and special woman....who produced another very strong and special woman.

Ron Southern said...

Sounds nice. Very likeable ladies in your family!

Ginnie said...

Wow...she certainly was a knockout. I think she resembled the young Elizabeth Taylor in "National Velvet." Isn't it interesting to look back on a life and see how it breaks up into 2 or 3 different "lives"?
A very nice tribute and I wish her a happy birthday...pls pass it on.

Betty said...

Lovely tribute to your mom. Please wish her a happy birthday from your blogger friends.

Jill said...

"And she has given me so much, not the least of which is an example of how to play the cards you're dealt with grace." What a wonderful trait!!!!!!